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Priceless Catch Home Run Ball Finds Oakdale Fan
There was no shortage of hoopla and media attention after Oakdale resident Frank Burke, right, caught the home run ball hit by Travis Ishikawa that gave the Giants a 6-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals to win the National League pennant and move on to the World Series. With Burke is friend Greg Leutza, who accompanied him to the game. - photo by Courtesy Of Frank Burke

The most dramatic hit in the era of the modern day San Francisco Giants – a three-run, pennant clinching blast off the bat of journeyman Travis Ishikawa – landed in the hands of Oakdale’s Frank Burke.

Now, it is back with the man who hit it, sending the Giants to the World Series, and Burke has his place in history.

He also has four World Series tickets to the Friday, Oct. 24 game at AT&T Park, the first game in San Francisco after Tuesday and Wednesday games in Kansas City against the American League champion Royals. Thursday is a travel day, with Game 3 of the series on Friday in San Francisco.

A lifelong Giants fan and Bay Area native, Frank Burke said it was really the pieces falling into place that saw he and his friend and employee, Greg Leutza of Millbrae, in the stands on Thursday night.

A salesman for Burke’s AG Transmission Repair business, Leutza is also battling pancreatic cancer and Burke said the two just want to make memories and enjoy time together doing things they both love, including rooting on the Giants.

So when Burke said he wanted to take Leutza to a playoff game, he suggested Tuesday, Oct. 14, the first game in San Francisco and the third of the National League Championship Series.

“He said no, he had chemo that day and he knew he wouldn’t feel good on Wednesday either so he said we should go Thursday,” Burke explained.

But that would be Game 5 and – if the Giants were to sweep the Cardinals, there would be no Game 5. Still, Leutza said that was a chance he was willing to take and the Oct. 16 tickets, above the brick wall in right field, were procured.

Fate took over from there, both with the game – which the Giants won in come-from-behind fashion – and for Burke, who was in the right place at the right time to catch the three-run homer off the bat of Travis Ishikawa.

“It was a great game all the way through,” admitted a still excited Burke, recounting the moment multiple times over as TV crews, newspaper reporters and radio stations contacted him on Friday.

“When Ishikawa hit the ball, I saw it coming our way,” Burke explained of the 2-0 pitch with one out and two on in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth inning. “I thought it was going to hit the wall and then I realized, ‘that ball is going to hit me’ and I just started thinking ‘soft hands, soft hands’ and just get the ball sewed up.”

After he got the ball, newfound friends in the stands wanted to touch it, take pictures of it, take pictures of them with Burke with it … a whirlwind of selfies. And even as the Giants celebrated the 6-3 victory and a return trip to the World Series, Burke said he knew what he wanted to do.

“I had to get the ball authenticated, I wanted Travis to have this ball, that was my intention all the time,” Burke said.

Getting escorted from the area so the ball could be authenticated, Burke and his friend were then taken down to the clubhouse, where the wild celebration was ongoing.

Ishikawa came out of the locker room, with teammates still inside spraying champagne around, and gratefully accepted the ball from Burke. He then went back and brought out a bat that he signed for Burke in exchange for the ball. Burke may also still receive a signed Buster Posey bat and perhaps a ball signed by the team and though he asked for World Series tickets, he was told they weren’t available.

That changed, however, during a radio station interview with the Giants flagship station KNBR on Friday morning, Oct. 17 and, within a few hours, Burke had four tickets to the Series and a hotel room for Friday, Oct. 24.

While many people would have been tempted to keep the ball, selling it off for thousands of dollars, Burke said there was only one place he wanted it to go.

“He needs this in his trophy case,” Burke said of Ishikawa. “I have plenty of home run balls of my own, he deserves this one.”

The flurry of media attention made Burke realize he was getting much more than his ‘15 minutes of fame’ but he has enjoyed the ride and is anxious to take his wife Michelle, friend Greg and one other lucky recipient to the game.

With four children and four grandchildren, Burke said he might have to just put all the names in a hat and draw the ‘winner.’

“It’s just luck, I just bought the right ticket,” Burke added. “I just had to keep pinching myself the whole way home.”

Wife Michelle, who was with the couple’s two teenaged daughters at high school volleyball while he was at the game, found out about the historic catch while getting fast food.

“When we were coming back (from volleyball), I had the radio on listening to KNBR to the game, which the girls didn’t want,” she said, laughing.

Stopping at the local Wendy’s to pick up some food, Michelle said they had the game on TV and she saw the game-winning home run and noticed it was very close to where her husband was sitting in the stands.

“I was waiting for my food and my phone rang, it was Frank saying “I caught that ball, I’m holding that ball,” – I put my phone down inside Wendy’s and just screamed to everybody that was in there that my husband had caught the ball.”

A memorable night, a piece of history for an Oakdale man, and – for the Giants – a third trip to the World Series in five years.

“This was a once in a lifetime thing,” Burke said. “I think part of it for me, too, was just representing Oakdale, this is a nice, tight-knit classy community and I hope my actions represented my community, that I love so much, well.”