09/17/09 8:20 AM ET
Phillies dad a hit with parents all over
Family receives gifts from team during appearance on 'Today'
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Then his 3-year-old daughter Emily threw it back.
It was more than just one of those many little moments in the course of a long baseball game when Jayson Werth fouled back a pitch during the bottom of the fifth inning in the Phillies' 5-0 win against Washington at Citizens Bank Park. This moment was truly Beyond Baseball.
It was the real glory of the game right there, a father hugging his little girl to assure her that she did nothing wrong, a public rite of passage to which so many parents can relate. And that is why the highlight is one of the hottest videos on MLB.com right now, and why the whole family was on NBC's "Today" show on Thursday morning -- and were surprised with four Phillies jerseys and an encased ball signed by Werth.
"Looking back, I should have said, 'She gets a ball from her Dad, she's gonna throw it,'" Monforto said, reliving the moment. "My first thought was, 'I've been waiting so long to catch a foul ball, and over the edge it goes.' I didn't think I was going to ever get it back."
Watch the video, and you can see Monforto reach over the rail in the first row of the 300-level seats to make an impressive two-handed grab. Other fans in his section were cheering. After trading fist bumps with nearby fans, Monforto high-fived Emily, who was clad in a pink T-shirt and Phillies cap, and handed the ball to her. It was the natural thing for any father to do, right?
The Monfortos were there from Laurel Springs, N.J., and sitting a seat to Steve's right in the video is his wife, Kathleen, who has their other daughter, 15-month-old Cecilia, on her lap. Kathleen's surprise reaction is visible as Emily takes the ball and fires it over the rail, to somewhere down below. Where it landed, no one knows. Steve's immediate reaction was to hug the little girl amid all the noise -- and that is the biggest part of this story, one parental display that an amazing number of people obviously have related to already.
"I think she was a little startled by the reaction," he explained. "I just wanted her to know it was OK."
"Today" host Meredith Vieira told the family that the moment was "endearing, wonderful, funny and sweet." Emily just smiled bashfully when Matt Lauer asked her about the now-famous throwback. Then he asked her what she likes best about going to Phillies games, and she said: "Raul Ibanez ... hot dogs and cotton candy."
"We have been inundated with calls from national and local media -- everyone wants the story because it's so heartwarming," said Bonnie Clark, the Phillies' vice president of communications. "The family is a great family. [Steve] has been coming to Phillies games since he was three, and now as a season-ticket holder, and he said he's never caught a foul ball. He just happened to get these seats at the last minute, took up a friend on his offer, so he sat in a different location.
"The rest is history. I told him to embrace his 15 minutes."
The family was sitting near the suites of Phillies executives. Monforto said he was pleased when the club promptly delivered him a replacement ball.
"After Emily threw the ball down, (Philles senior VP of operations/administration) Mike Stiles, who sits in the executive box where our TV is, could see it happen. Mike went out to deliver a ball to her -- not the ball, but a ball -- and on his way back from their seats he was first met by Scott Palmer, who's our director of public affairs. Scott was en route to deliver one as well, and Mike indicated to him that he had already taken care of it. Then Mike was met by (general manager) Ruben Amaro, who was on his way to do the same thing.
"Everyone had the same mindset," said Clark. "We all wanted to do the same thing. Great minds think alike."
The Monfortos' story has hit home with baseball fans everywhere, and one example of that is Kimberly Taft. A Braves fan in Talladega, Ala., she saw the story Wednesday and said on Twitter: "Reminds me of my father and me." @MLB asked her there to elaborate, and she emailed back:
"I'm an only child, and a daddy's girl. My dad taught me everything I know about softball, and seeing that little girl reminded me of my dad and me. I recently moved to another state for school, but baseball is one thing my dad and I still talk about daily. My favorite team is the Braves, and I still think this is a great story, despite Steve being a Phillies fan! Steve Monforto did a great job of reminding us what's really important about the game, no matter where our allegiance lies. What he did is something any father-daughter team can relate to. Not to mention he made a great catch -- I'm sure little Emily will pay him back one day."
Clark said "everybody who's a parent can relate. You've been in that situation where a kid did something so innocent, you don't want to reprimand them. She thought she might have done something wrong, and he quickly reassured her that she didn't do anything wrong. Any parent can relate to the whole scenario."
Clark said Kathleen's reaction was "that she was just concerned that whoever's below them might have gotten hit. She was like, 'Did someone get hit by the ball?'"
For the record: Don't throw foul balls back. But this was an innocent situation that people can't get enough of.
Producers at "Today" contacted the Phillies, and they booked the Monforto family on Wednesday. It was about at that point when the show's Al Roker watched the video clip and told Lauer jokingly that he wasn't sure "whether it was a loving embrace or whether he was squeezing the life out of her."
That night, Werth hit a grand slam.
The Phillies are on course for a shot at baseball's first repeat title since 2000.
They are one big, happy family right now.
As the Monfortos were presented with their surprise gifts, Vieira looked at the ball in the display case and said, "Here you go -- keep it for Emily or give it to her and she can throw it."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.