Girl's Lawsuit Against Phillies Hits Home Run

When 12-year-old Jennifer Valdivia caught the Philadelphia Phillies' Ryan Howard's 200th career home run earlier this summer, it sparked a legal battle. The Phillies approached the girl immediately after her catch, and traded it for a signed, regular ball. Her attorney, Norm Kent, sued Monday for Valdivia to get back the original ball. By Monday afternoon, the ball was hers again. Kent shares the story.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Now a story about a girl, a home run and a lawyer. Back in July, 12-year-old Jennifer Valdivia caught a home-run ball lofted into the stands when the Phillies were in Florida playing the Marlins. It was the 200th career home run for the Phillies' Ryan Howard, who became the fastest player to get to 200 homers in Major League history.

Ryan Howard wanted that ball back. And soon after she caught the ball, Jennifer Valdivia was escorted to the Phillies' clubhouse, where she agreed to hand over the home-run ball in exchange for another, autographed baseball. That's where the lawyer comes in. He's Norm Kent of Fort Lauderdale.

BLOCK: The Philadelphia Phillies' team representative, knowing not only the historic value of that baseball but its financial value, sent a team representative to Marlin security to retrieve young Jennifer from the stands. And she was there, 12-year-old Jennifer, with her 15-year-old brother, neither of the age of majority, offered her some cotton candy and a baseball worth 100 bucks in exchange for one that was worth thousands.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Kent, we don't know how much that baseball is worth. We do know it is worth a whole lot to Ryan Howard, who just had hit his 200th career home run. Why shouldn't he get that ball back?

BLOCK: Well, first of all, historically there's nothing more American than a fan who captures a baseball in the stands keeping it. The ball belongs to the 12-year-old who caught it. And no adult representing the Phillies had a right to try to contract with her. If they wanted to the next day call her parents and say, we'd like the ball back for Ryan Howard, perhaps what you're trying to advocate might have some validity.

BLOCK: Mr. Kent, I know you're a lawyer and you were the one who filed the lawsuit, but I wonder, can't you appreciate this from Ryan Howard's point of view? If you were he, had hit your 200th career home run, wouldn't you think the right thing to do would be to give the ball back?

BLOCK: There was a time and day, an era when that argument might have had some merit, Melissa, but this is an age when that ball has more than just historic significance. There's nothing to say that Ryan Howard would not, years from now, auction off that ball as other professional athletes auction off their rings and jewelry to generate money from themselves.

BLOCK: Mr. Kent, you probably would not be surprised to know that the comments that have been flooding in on the Miami Herald Web site are not favorable to your side, and I wanted to read one of them to you. Way to teach a 12-year-old how to extort money at an early age. And you know that extorting money for baseball, ball hawking, is becoming a big business among fans.

BLOCK: I think that if there was extortion that occurred here, it was the Phillies holding the baseball hostage from her for two months after they unlawfully deprived her of it.

BLOCK: But they gave her another ball.

BLOCK: Those people - and how many times do I need to say to you, Melissa, that the value of the property they returned to her was not commensurate with the property, or of comparable value, with what she gave them.

BLOCK: So it's all about the money, you think?

BLOCK: No. I think that it's about who had lawful ownership and rights to keep and retrieve that baseball. But it probably says something, Melissa, does it not, that the day I filed the lawsuit, the Phillies voluntarily and willingly returned the baseball to her. And your hard questions should be directed towards the Phillies' team representative, who said to young Jennifer: Here, Jennifer, take this other baseball, which is worth next to nothing, and we'll take the one worth thousands of dollars. That's the question that should be asked here.

BLOCK: Well, Norm Kent, thank you for talking with us.

BLOCK: Have a good afternoon, Melissa.

BLOCK: That was lawyer Norm Kent of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We did make repeated calls to the Phillies. They declined to comment on this story.

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