Dean makes selfless donation to Hall
Fan sends historic home run balls to Cooperstown
HOUSTON -- Shaun Dean walked into a packed interview room Friday afternoon with his eyes wide and his hands full, a well-worn baseball glove on his left hand and three-year-old son Tyler propped up in the crook of his right arm.You had a pretty good feeling he wasn't going to drop anything. After all, this is the guy who caught both homers in the Astros' historic Game 4 comeback victory over the Braves that sent his hometown team to the National League Championship Series, so he's obviously got good hands. Good heart, too. Dean was a special guest Friday in a ceremony in which he handed over both those baseballs to the National Baseball Hall of Fame -- no cashing in here, except maybe for some good will and baseball karma. As he entered the interview room, Roger Clemens -- who will follow those baseballs to Cooperstown if he ever stops playing -- was wrapping up his press conference under the glare of the bright lights. Soon, a sure-handed father and a closely-clung son, both wearing Clemens jerseys, were chatting with The Rocket, getting his signature on the backs of those jerseys, and finishing off their little meeting with son Tyler delivering a high five to the right hand that has launched 341 victories and 4,502 strikeouts. "I've seen him play all my life, so that's pretty neat, as a baseball fan," the elder Dean said, moments after his first meeting with Clemens. You can drape that "pretty neat" part over the last week in the life of Shaun, Tyler, wife/mother Brandi and her father Ray Joslin, Shaun's seatmate in the Crawford Boxes that fateful day in Astros history. "Being a fan all my life, especially an Astros fan, it's been amazing," he said. Giving the baseballs to the Hall of Fame was something that came as naturally to Dean as snagging Lance Berkman's grand slam in the eighth inning and Chris Burke's game-winning solo shot in the 18th of the marathon classic. The original thought was to put the baseballs on a shelf in Tyler's room as the cornerstones to a theme of baseball memorabilia. Instead, they'll go on a shelf in Cooperstown, thanks to Dean's generosity matching his serendipity. "It was the right thing to do," said Dean, a 25-year-old comptroller for Joslin Construction. "These balls are part of baseball history." And so is Dean, as perhaps the luckiest fan who ever brought the glove he used in high school to a baseball game -- and followed through by making the play, twice. His coach back when he was a second baseman and outfielder at Central Christian Academy used to call his Spalding mitt the "trash-can lid," but it's turned into one golden glove years later. Following a press conference in which he answered questions he'd answered probably a thousand times in interviews on every medium imaginable the last several days, it was out to the field, where he enjoyed about 30 seconds of batting practice between photo ops and sound bites -- that glove on one hand and Tyler in the other all the way.
Once it was over, Berkman and Burke came over to chat with the Dean family and help start up that memorabilia display for Tyler's room with a couple of signed jerseys and signed baseballs. Berkman chided him for saying Burke's homer went farther -- "Oh, you must have been caught up in the moment," Berkman jabbed -- and the three enjoyed a few moments together, surrounded by cameras and reporters.Friday's presentation and appearance on the field was just the continuation of a fan's dream, one that started in Section 102, Row 2, Seat 15 at Minute Maid Park and will hit another peak Saturday, when he sits in seats behind home plate for Game 3 of the NLCS, courtesy of the Astros. Speaking of fans, Dean has won a couple of big ones in Berkman and Burke. "It shows that there are still good people out there, that he's not just one of those guys out to make $100,000 off a ball like that, or whatever it would be," Berkman said. "It's just neat that both balls are going to wind up in the Hall of Fame. I think all three of us can take pride in that." Said Burke: "It just kind of adds to the whole unlikely tale of that game. I really admire the guy for not trying to make a quick buck. It really seems like he's got his priorities in line." That was certainly the sentiment of the Hall of Fame's Jeff Idelson, who called the gesture an "act of selflessness" and returned the favor by presenting lifetime passes to Cooperstown to Shaun and Tyler, as well as an invitation to Cooperstown next summer as a guest of the Hall of Fame. Catching two historic homers and giving them up isn't without precedent, mind you. Remember Larry Ellison? He's the guy who wears an Arnold Schwarzenegger mask and cruises McCovey Cove in a kayak, and he snagged Nos. 660 and 661 off Barry Bonds' bat, giving both to Bonds and Willie Mays as godfather passed the torch to godson. Dean seems like, well, more of just a regular guy who was psyched just to be at a playoff game, brought his glove and put it to good use. Twice. You'd like to say you wish every fan were like Dean, appreciating the game the way he does, but it's pretty clear from the reaction he's received on his MLBLog and through all those seemingly thousands of pieces about his historic catch that he's not the only fan who'd do the same thing. In that sense, he's Everyfan, the guy who had the chance of a lifetime and grabbed it. Twice. Maybe not every fan has the same hands as this guy. But you hope every fan has the same heart.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.