- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 22, 2006

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — Jeffrey Maier tried to grab Derek Jeter’s fly ball. Instead, he caught national notoriety.

Now, a decade after the play that made baseball history, Maier is making a name for himself with a bat.

The 22-year-old Wesleyan senior has set the school record for hits. Yet like it or not, he realizes he’ll forever be tied to that moment in 1996.

“Being 12 and kind of being thrust into the limelight was a very different situation,” Maier said recently. “We ran with it for a day and unfortunately people wanted to run with it for 10 years.”

When he reached over the right-field wall in the 1996 American League Championship Series, Maier deflected the ball before Baltimore’s Tony Tarasco gloved it, and it wound up as a game-tying home run for Jeter. The New York Yankees won the game and began their run of four World Series titles in five years.

Some folks have a hard time forgetting, and in some cases, forgiving Maier. He’s heard the trash talking on the field and heckling from the opposing bleachers.

It’s all part of being Jeff Maier — he’s dropped the Jeffrey.

“If opposing fans are giving you a hard time, it means you’re doing something well on the field,” he said. “If they’re not razzing me, I’m probably not performing the way I should be.”

There are no complaints from the Wesleyan Cardinals. The 5-foot-11 Maier, who throws right and bats left, has developed into one of the best hitters in school history with a career average of .373. His short, compact swing is fluid and efficient with little wasted motion. His 169th hit on April 12, a run-scoring double, was a Wesleyan record.

“Good for him,” Jeter said. “Now he has the chance to be remembered for something other than just catching a home run.”

Maier has tacked on seven more hits since breaking the record. He has only seven career home runs, but chooses to hit for average instead of power, coach Mark Woodworth said.

“He’s aggressive and he takes what the pitcher gives him,” Woodworth said. “He’s evolved as a hitter every single year. He does things that a lot of good Division I hitters don’t do.”

Maier is versatile in the field. He mainly plays center field, but filled in last season at third base when the team needed him. In Wesleyan’s last game — a 5-0 win over Springfield (Mass.) College on Tuesday — Maier moved to first base because a knee injury has slightly hobbled him.

He’s also a fixture in Woodworth’s office.

“He’s in my office every day talking baseball,” Woodworth said. “It’s great.”

The Cardinals have a five-game win streak going and at 11-11-1 are heading into the home stretch of the New England Small College Athletic Conference season. Maier has had eight hits and six RBI in the win streak.

“I just love being out there. It’s a great game,” Maier said. “I loved to be involved with it as long as I can.”

The goatee-sporting Maier is majoring in government with a minor in economics and hopes someday to make a career of baseball as ultimately the general manager of a major league team. He said he’s got the media relations part down pat now.

He weathered a firestorm of attention as a 12-year-old and most recently with his record-breaking achievement, and politely handles myriad requests from print, radio and TV for a few minutes of his time.

Maier has learned to accept his fate with humor. He appeared in a student movie spoofing his notoriety. “I Hate Jeffrey Maier” was about himself and an Orioles fan.

“It was something I hadn’t had the opportunity to ever do before. That’s the way I looked at it that it would be a good way to display my sense of humor and have a little fun with something.”

Attending college in New England has meant mixing with Red Sox fans. And that’s been just fine, although he acknowledges he still “bleeds pinstripes.” His girlfriend, Andrea Snow, a die-hard Sox fan, hails from New Hampshire. They survived 2004 when the Red Sox won the World Series after beating the Yankees four straight in the ALCS.

“Being up here, watching Red Sox games with my friends, I appreciate the way they play,” Maier said. “It’s really become a situation where, yes I’m a Yankee fan, but I’m just a real big baseball fan.”

A big Jeter fan, too.

One year after Maier reached for that ball, the star-struck youngster came face-to-face with Jeter at a baseball card signing. When Maier got to the Yankees captain, he was speechless.

“I’m sure at this point, I’d give him a much better conversation,” Maier said.

Associated Press writer Rob Gillies contributed to this article.

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