There is no time limit to “the rest of the story,” and this recent tale involves one of the most famous home runs by an opponent in Dodger Stadium history. Although Opening Day 1977 is best remembered as Tommy Lasorda’s first game as Dodger manager (not counting the four games at the end of the 1976 season credited to Walter Alston’s record) and Frank Sinatra singing the national anthem, San Francisco’s Gary Thomasson hit a memorable home run on Don Sutton’s first pitch of the game.
Before the game, Sutton was told the first pitch was going to be sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Apparently nobody bothered to tell Thomasson, a left-handed hitting outfielder who later played for the Dodgers. After the game, team vice president Fred Clare told Sutton something along the lines of the Dodgers could’ve mailed the ball to Cooperstown instead of having Thomasson hitting the ball that far. The joke was possible because Sutton pitched brilliantly that afternoon in a complete-game 5-1 victory.
Turns out the ball was caught by a young Dodger fan named Todd Derrick. Many years later, Derrick was driving in his car after an evening MBA class at USC when he heard Scully mention the Sutton-Thomasson story and that the Dodgers were looking for the ball to give to the Hall of Fame. Derrick called his parents to see if they still had the baseball in storage. Derrick learned his younger brother took that home run baseball, along with a bag of other baseballs, to UC Irvine to play college ball. Derrick asked, “Where are the baseballs now?” and was told they likely were used during batting practice that first summer.
So the baseball destined for Cooperstown took an unexpected exit in Irvine.