- Associated Press - Friday, February 11, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Fifty years later, Sal Durante was back at Yankee Stadium _ the new one _ and thought about the afternoon that made him a little bit famous.

Roger Maris hit home run No. 61, breaking Babe Ruth’s 34-year-old record that had been thought to be unbreakable, and the ball went into the right-field seats and landed in the palm of Durante’s right hand on that October afternoon in 1961.

Maris‘ record lasted until 1998, when Mark McGwire hit 70. Three years later, Barry Bonds hit 73.

“How ‘bout if I just say Roger deserved it,” Durante said Friday. “He did it on his own, you know, the skill. He deserved it. Roger I still think holds the record.”

McGwire admitted last year he used steroids when he broke Maris‘ record, and Bonds goes on trial next month on charges he lied when he told a federal grand jury he didn’t knowingly use performance-enhancing drugs.

Durante, now 69, walked around the ballpark for the first time Friday, looking at pictures on the wall of the suite level of himself posing with Maris a half-century ago. In the Yankees Museum, he examined the locker once used by Maris and later Thurman Munson, and out in Monument Park on the chilly morning he read the words on the plaque put up in Maris‘ honor in 1984, a year before his death.

Frankie Prudenti, a Yankees batboy from 1956-61, also came along for the tour along with Rosemarie Durante, Durante’s fiance at the time of the catch and now his wife.

Sal Durante remembered back to that Sunday morning Oct. 1, the final day of the regular season. The powerhouse Yankees, led by Mickey Mantle and Maris, already had clinched their 11th AL pennant in 13 years.

Durante lived in Brooklyn at the time. He recalled it as a quiet morning.

“It was like kind of boring,” Durante said. “How ‘bout if we go to the Yankee Stadium? I said it’s the last game. I’d like to catch something in practice, that’s really what I wanted to do, catch any baseball in practice. It wound up that she paid for the tickets, because I had no money.”

Years earlier, a foul ball had glanced off his hands at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. He wanted another chance.

“Turns out I didn’t get anything in practice,” he said with a smile, “but I got the big one.”

When they got to their seats, three were together in one row, with one in the row behind. Sal and Rosemarie went with Sal’s cousin and the cousin’s girlfriend at the time. Rosemarie originally took the solo seat.

“Just before Roger hit it, I guess it was the inning before, I said, ‘You know what _ switch seats with me. Let me sit up there, I know the game. And that’s what we did. We just happened to switch in the nick of time.”

There was a sparse crowd of 23,154 that day. Maris‘ fourth-inning smash off Boston’s Tracy Stallard went to Durante’s hand on a line drive.

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