Mike Hughes, 22, settled in to watch his beloved White Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays for the first game of the playoffs Thursday.
The Beverly native said he is a lifelong Sox fan and was at U.S. Cellular Field Tuesday night with his friends, Jake, Bob and Matt, when the team clinched the American League Central Division a win that was made possible once Hughes' hero, Thome, stepped up to the plate.
He wasn't doing so hot before, he was striking out, so we all said Thome's due for a home run. Soon as you heard the crack of that bat, we knew it was gone," Hughes said.
"I was kind of standing there looking at it. 'Man, that's getting close,' kind of started walking over. And then, once it hit, mayhem," said Jake Cullina.
"We all started running over there, and I just see Mike Hughes just dive like he was diving into home plate for the ball," said Bob Carroll.
Hughes had been standing near the fan deck in center field when the 461-foot homer landed. He found himself at the bottom of a pile of fans in a tug-of-war over the ball.
"Me and another guy had the ball half in each hand. I wouldn't let go of the ball," Hughes said.
Eventually Hughes prevailed. Hughes said he was thinking of the team when he agreed to give the ball to the White Sox so that Thome could have it. In exchange, they gave him an autographed bat.
"I found out later that he gives a lot of that stuff away to charity. So I'm glad I gave it away to him," Hughes said.
Hughes served one tour of duty in Iraq and doesn't know if he'll have to go back. For now, he said he just hopes the Sox go all the way.