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Court TV

Trial starts for fans battling over Barry Bonds baseball

By Matt Bean
Court TV

Barry Bonds, shown here in playoff action, hit a baseball last season for his 73rd home run that is the center of an ownership dispute.
Barry Bonds, shown here in playoff action, hit a baseball last season for his 73rd home run that is the center of an ownership dispute.

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SAN FRANCISCO (Court TV) -- Two fans clashing over Barry Bonds' historic 73rd home run baseball made their opening pitches in court Thursday after four attempts at settlement failed.

"Return safety and enjoyment to America's pastime, your honor," said Martin Triano, lawyer for Alex Popov, who first got a glove on the Oct. 7, 2001, home run ball. "Return this piece of baseball history to its rightful owner: Alex Popov."

Popov claims that he caught the ball, but was then overwhelmed in a crush of fans, including Patrick Hayashi, who eventually came away with the ball. It has since been valued at more than $1 million.

"Patrick Hayashi committed no wrongful act and his luck was impeccable," said Michael Lee, Hayashi's lawyer. "He was just in the right place at the right time."

In their opening statements Thursday morning, the two lawyers provided different interpretations of the scuffle that ensued on the walkway behind right field at Pacific Bell park.

Triano promised to produce 14 eyewitnesses, whom he called "good Samaritans" -- ranging from Michael Popov, Popov's brother, to Kevin Griffin, the owner of a plumbing business, who Triano says will testify that "it was a perfect catch."

He also pointed to an amateur videotape of the scuffle, which he claims shows Popov making a clean catch. "The silver lining is that it's not just Alex's word against Mr. Hayashi's. Alex caught the ball and Josh [Keppel, a local cameraman] documented the catch."

Hayashi's lawyer agreed that the videotape would be "where this case begins and ends" and showed a snippet in court. In the three-second segment, Bonds smacks the ball and the camera follows it into the walkway, where Popov grabs it with his glove and then collapses into the crowd.

"That's it, your honor. That's all the videotape shows," Lee said, addressing Judge Kevin McCarthy, who will decide the case. "Alex Popov simply did not have firm and secure possession of the ball."

But Triano said the pileup of 15 to 20 people was a violent crush of aggressive fans. And Popov has charged that Hayashi bit and scratched his way to the ball. "Alex caught the ball ... then his dream turns into a nightmare," said Triano, who donned Popov's tan Spalding softball glove during his opening statement.

Lee admitted that there was a lot of physical contact but said that the crowd was not violent. "Patrick Hayashi got the home run ball fair and square, and the court should confirm his ownership of the ball," he said.

Lawyers for both Popov and Hayashi said they want to protect the culture of the game. For Triano, this means making sure that families can go to games "as spectators, not as participants or gladiators." For Lee, it means maintaining the tradition in the stands of having a "spirited scramble" for loose home run balls.

In settlement talks, the most recent of which concluded unsuccessfully on Wednesday, the two men have seemed unwilling to budge from their core demands.

Popov, 38, a San Francisco health food restaurateur, says he wants to keep the ball but will "honor Hayashi" monetarily. Hayashi, 37, a software engineer from Sacramento, wants to sell the ball, which is valued at more than $1 million, and divide the proceeds, though likely with a larger share for himself.

Settlement talks will continue during the trial, both lawyers said. Meanwhile four men who were scrapping over another of Bonds' historic home run balls, his 600th, struck a deal Wednesday to evenly split the proceeds from sale of the ball.

Thursday afternoon, Triano will call his first witness, Kathryn Sorenson, who is expected to testify that she saw Hayashi violently jockeying for position in the pileup.

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