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Forneris gave up ball but not his memories

ST. LOUIS. -- It has been more than six years since Tim Forneris became a national hero at Busch Stadium. Government proclamations followed. He met with the president and appeared on David Letterman. When the spotlight faded, Forneris went off to law school.

And as you might expect from the young man who gave the ball Mark McGwire hit for his record-setting 62nd home run to the slugger, thereby turning down more than $1 million, Forneris became a public defender. There was never any doubt. "I am a very fortunate person," Forneris said. "With everything that has happened to me, I wanted to give me to people who are not as fortunate as myself and find themselves in a tough situation." Forneris spends his days in law libraries and prisons, working on appeals for convicted inmates. "I do all kinds of cases, from car theft to first-degree murder," he said. "It is much different than a trial. It is much more difficult to win a case when the jury finds someone guilty. It takes a lot for the court of appeals to reverse a conviction. But it gives me a good opportunity, too, to see how good lawyers practice." In his spare time, Forneris still works at Busch Stadium on the ground crew. He was there last night for Game 3 of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox, just as he was there Sept. 8, 1998, when McGwire drove a shot over the left-field wall to break Roger Maris' single-season home run record. Forneris beat a number of fans to the ball, stuffed it into his shirt and ran onto the field with dozens of other employees as McGwire rounded the bases. Forneris then handed it over to Cardinals equipment manager Buddy Bates. It has become one of the game's most celebrated days, with lasting images of McGwire entering into the stands and embracing the Maris family and Forneris, then 22-years-old, presenting McGwire with the ball in a ceremony after the game. "Mr. McGwire, I think I have something that belongs to you," Forneris said. In an era in which fans sue each other over famous baseballs, Forneris' gesture -- giving up a ball that, at the time, easily could have brought him $1 million -- illustrated the way they value the game in the heartland. He was lauded for his selfless act, and six years later he treasures the memories of what happened to him more than he would a seven-figure bank account. "I have absolutely no regrets," Forneris said. "It was as real honor and true blessing to be part of that. I went on a trip to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown [where McGwire donated the ball] a few years later, and they had a display there with a photo. I was there wearing my Cardinals hat, and people were coming over to me, saying, 'Isn't that you?' To be associated with the Hall of Fame and to meet all the people I have over a baseball has been wonderful." Forneris grew up a Cardinals fan in Collinsville, Ill., the home of the world's largest catsup bottle -- a 170-foot water tower built in that shape. He was 6-years-old when the Cardinals won the 1982 World Series and 11 when they last played in the Series in 1987. He has seen a number of postseason games since he began working as an usher at Busch Stadium 12 years ago (his mother also works there as a concierge at the stadium club) but is enjoying another lifelong dream. He gets to watch a World Series close up, although last night he was pretty busy getting the rain-soaked field ready for play.

"I like this team," he said of the 2004 National League champions. "I felt like we had a strong team all year. I'll be disappointed if it doesn't go six or seven games, though. It's been a great postseason for baseball." He doesn't know how much longer he will be able to handle both his legal career and his love to be at the ballpark. "The Cardinals organization is like a family, and they have treated me great," he said. "It's a great atmosphere, and that is why I keep trying to stay as long as I can. This may be my last season. You never know. But I have had a great time." And he wouldn't trade it for a million bucks.

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