High-5-Hundred: N.J. Fan Snags A-Rod’s 500th

A lucky Rutgers University graduate student - a lifelong Yankees fan and a season ticket holder - made the catch of a lifetime, beating dozens of Bombers fans to grab Alex Rodriguez's historic 500th home-run ball yesterday.

Walter F. Kowalczyk, 29, a former sheriff's officer in Mercer County, N.J., could fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars for the ball - with A-Rod himself first among a parade of potential buyers.

"He has no idea what's he's going to do," said his mother, D'Ann Mangarelli.

She said her son, who is getting a Master's in public policy from the New Jersey school, celebrated by going out to dinner with his gal pal.

Mangarelli wasn't too surprised her 6-foot-4 son beat out hordes of rabid fans for the goods.

"He's a big boy," she said.

He called her to tell her the exciting news from the ballpark's security office, where he was negotiating with Rodriguez's lawyers.

"I definitely want the ball. I have the bat," the beaming slugger said after the game.

"It's his ball. I'm happy for him," said the third-baseman. "And, hopefully, we can negotiate something to get the ball back . . . But if not, I congratulate him for catching it. Nice catch."

Memorabilia maven Brandon Steiner is also in the hunt.

"We're interested in the A-Rod ball," said Steiner, founder and CEO of the sports auction house Steiner Sports.

"We had some different ideas for that one. If the Yankees work something out with the kid and A-Rod, then so be it. Players like working out deals with their fans."

Jen MacClaren, who works at the American Legends sports memorabilia store, said "it could start at $20,000 and go up from there."

She believed it could even reach "a couple hundred-thousand."

"There will be a stronger market for the A-Rod then there was for the Bonds ball," she said of San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds' 500th home run. "To date, A-Rod is clean. He's not tainted by scandal within the game."

Kowalczyk, who was in a field-level seat between sections 114 and 124 near the leftfield line, was whisked from the stands by security after his catch.

A source said the he was going to "sleep on it" before deciding what to do about the ball.

The long wait for Rodriguez's career milestone ended early in the first inning yesterday when A-Rod smacked the first pitch from Kansas City Royal Kyle Davies down the leftfield line.

Suddenly, everyone in the stands made like All-Stars chasing down the soaring long ball.

"I lost it, then I saw it, and then all of a sudden there were 50 people on the ball [and] I jumped in there," said Mel Hathaway, of upstate Clifton Park.

Kowalczyk clawed through the scrum and then leaped on the prize, trapped it against his chest and curled up in a fetal position, using his body to fend off the other fans who tried to pry it away from him.


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