Sports Collectors

Teen Passes Up Payday, Returns Wander Franco’s 1st Home Run Ball

It helps to have some baseball skills when you’re chasing one of the biggest pieces of game-used baseball memorabilia in 2021.  It also helps to have a plan.  

Ryan Hoefling of Ft. Myers, FL had both.

The 15-year-old baseball player and Tampa Bay Rays fan has been following Wander Franco’s rise from intriguing international talent to number one big league prospect.  After learning of Franco’s promotion to the majors Tuesday, he checked with his grandparents to see if they’d drive to Tropicana Field.  They declined so he hopped a ride with a small crew of older friends.  They studied spray charts of where Franco’s minor league homers had landed and bought their tickets in the left field stands just 30 minutes before the first pitch.  

In the fifth inning, Hoefling’s moment came and he was ready as Franco pounced on Eduardo Rodriguez’s pitch.  Leaping across and in front of another fan, the high school sophomore-to-be snared the first of what will likely be many more Franco homers to come.

It would have paid for a nice chunk of his college education or a really nice first car–at least–but Hoefling decided to give the ball back to the Rays’ young star.  Hoefling told a local TV station he was offered $4,000 by another fan.

According to local media reports, the Rays gave the sophomore-to-be ten autographed balls, an autographed Franco bat, two hats, and the chance to meet Franco after the game.

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Teen Passes Up Payday, Returns Wander Franco's 1st Home Run Ball

So how much would it have brought on the open market?  We checked with a few auction companies and estimates ranged from $25,000-$50,000 if it would come to market quickly. 

“Certainly there is a good deal of hype surrounding his call up and so I would expect that the interest would have been pretty strong,” David Hunt of Hunt Auctions told us.  “If the ball had gone to auction I could have seen it bringing $50,000 or more based largely on speculation as to what it could bring down the road.”

Just five years older than his number one fan, Franco already has a plan for the ball.

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โ€œAt home, back in the Dominican, I have an area where I have a lot of things from the Major Leagues, like a memorabilia area,โ€ Franco said. โ€œSo I plan on putting it there with all that stuff.โ€

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