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Court TV

Fans take the stand to describe melee over record-setting ball

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) -- Barry Bonds' record-setting 73rd home run disappeared into a mass of fans in the right field stands of Pacific Bell park on October 7, 2001. But was it nestled in the glove of one man or free on the ground for another to grab?

That's the question behind the trial pitting Alex Popov, who rose above the crowd that day and got a glove on the ball, against Patrick Hayashi, who claims he plucked the prized souvenir from the ground.

On Friday, Popov's second witness, Contra Costa, California, dentist Douglas Yarris, told the judge deciding the case that he landed near Popov at the center of the scrum that ensued over the ball.

Yarris, 44, brought his son, Travis, then 13, to the season-ending game. Like Popov, the dentist positioned himself on the walkway behind right field where Bonds was most likely to hit one out. When Bonds connected with Dodgers' pitcher Dennis Springer's pitch in the first inning, Yarris thought he had a chance to grab a piece of baseball history.

"It was such a slow pitch," Yarris testified. "I thought it was coming right at me."

But it was Popov who caught the ball, Yarris testified, causing the crowd to surge. "It was the momentum of the crowd behind us," he said. "You had everybody heading towards that area at once. We got hit by all the weight of everybody else. Next thing we knew, we were all on the ground."

Soon after, Yarris told the court, Hayashi crawled toward the pile-up, and reached in toward Popov's mitt. He then pulled away quickly and left for the fringe of the pit.

This much is clear from footage shot by local KNTV cameraman Josh Keppel, who was in the standing-room-only section to catch history on tape that day. As on Thursday, the first day of Popov's trial to regain the ball estimated at more than $1 million the tape was played and replayed, frozen, slowed down and rewound.

Defense attorney Michael Lee whittled away at Yarris' testimony on cross-examination, mining the holes in his recollection of the event.

His memory, Yarris admitted, was limited to seeing Hayashi move for Popov's glove, and then dart away quickly.

"It's true that you never actually saw a ball stolen out of Mr. Popov's glove?" Lee asked.

"Yes," Yarris answered.

On Thursday, Popov's first witness, Kathryn Sorenson, testified that she saw Hayashi bite the leg of another fan near the melee, causing the fan, Brian Shepard (expected to testify) to cry out and pull away.

Drawing on his professional experience, Yarris backed up her testimony Friday. "It was a cry out in pain. I'm a dentist ... I don't want to say I inflict pain, but I know how it sounds," he told the court.

Yarris characterized the pit as a whirlwind of flailing arms and legs, but when pushed admitted that he never saw anyone other than two men, purportedly baseball officials, acting violently.

John and Gail Chun-Creech, who own 17 season tickets, both said they had never seen a pile-up of this sort before. "I'd never seen anybody jump on someone who had caught the ball before," said Gail Chun-Creech, 54. "Usually a person catches the ball, the ball is theirs."

Both witnesses added more detail about the vortex of fans that sucked Popov down after his contact with the ball. "As you see the flowers of a petal open up, everything went like that down on him," John Creech, 49, said, miming the opposite of a blooming flower with his fingers. "He disappeared."

On Thursday, lawyers delivered their opening statements after a fourth attempt at a settlement failed. The possibility of a settlement will, however, remain open throughout the trial.

Court will resume Monday at 9:30 a.m. PDT.

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