It was an emotional first for the family of New York Yankees shortstop Andrew Velazquez -- and an exciting one for a U.S. National Guardsman from the Jersey Shore.
Velazquez smacked first career home run during the Bronx Bombers' win over the visiting Minnesota Twins on Saturday. Frank Luna of Bradley Beach caught it.
"Of course I gave it back," Luna later said.
And asked nothing in return.
The main sidebar to the ninth straight victory for the Yankees on Saturday was a video clip of mama Margaret Maldonado-Velazquez and other family members clapping, cheering and crying after the home run.
Andrew "Squid" Velasquez, 27, grew up a Yankees fan in the Bronx. He was drafted by the Arizona Diamonds in 2012 and is now with his fourth team in four major league seasons, filling in for the injured Gleyber Torres over the past week and change.
It's become a magic carpet ride of sorts.
Perhaps by coincidence, the once-limping Bombers have accelerated their charge to the front of the American League wild-card standings, with their sights set on division-leading Tampa Bay.
Velazquez had nothing to show for two hard-hit balls in three previous at-bats when he stepped to the plate in the eighth inning late in the muggy, cloud-covered afternoon. He hadn't homered in his career, either.
“Some guy was screaming at me that I should hit my first one,” Velazquez later told reporters. “Every at-bat I got on deck, he was screaming, ‘Hit your first one down the line!’ So I went 0-for-3 before that. The final one, I said, ‘Let me take his approach, because mine ain’t working'."
On the very first pitch, Velazquez cracked a line-drive into the right field "short porch." A gloved Luna snagged it on the fly.
Velazquez had his first dinger -- and Luna had a story to tell -- as a stadium employee went to retrieve the ball.
"A while back I let a buddy and his wife stay at my place because their vacation plans fell through, so he offered me his tickets to Yankee Stadium for last night’s game (Thanks Steve!)," Luna explained. "Jill and I took the crew up to the game, met up with Cousin Tim, and had a blast.
"It was a pretty routine day until the 8th inning when Velazquez got up.
"I didn’t even see the ball off the bat," the Waretown native said, "but I reacted to the crowd and saw the rocket coming right in my direction. I made a leaping catch and celebrated with the crowd.
"I honestly didn’t even know who hit it until a fan came over and said it was Velazquez’s first career home run. Then security came down and told me they wanted the ball.
"The Yankees were incredibly gracious and offered to have us on the field for batting practice when things open back up a little," Luna said. "Good stuff all around.
"It's a good day when you catch a home run ball, especially when it's the Bronx's own Andrew Velazquez's first home run ball of his career," he added. "The kid's having an absolute fun season. It’s awesome to be a small footnote in the story."
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