Memories come rushing back for Frankie Lasagna, one year after going viral

TORONTO — Memories came rushing back for Blue Jays fan Frankie Lasagna when he looked out at the stands beyond the left-field wall at Rogers Centre.

The restaurant owner was back at the ballpark a year after going viral when he came inches away from catching Aaron Judge's American League record-tying 61st home run ball.

"I think about that moment," Lasagna said. "I get to re-live it every other day when different customers come to the restaurant.

"Some of them haven't heard it all or some of them need a refresher. So I've talked about it a lot over the last year."

With Judge on the cusp of baseball history, the buzz was palpable every time he swung the bat in that New York-Toronto series a year ago.

Many spectators in the outfield seats brought gloves — Lasagna included — just in case they came close to snagging the ball, which would be worth big money to a collector.

When Judge went deep, Lasagna was one of a handful of fans who stretched their arms over the railing, hoping the ball was hit high enough to reach the stands.

It came up just short and bounced into the Toronto bullpen. The ball was later given to Judge, who tied Roger Maris's longtime record.

Lasagna's story, coupled with his unusual surname and profession — naturally his restaurant serves Italian food — quickly fuelled a social media fervour.

Memes, pictures and television clips were everywhere. 'Frankie Lasagna' was trending along with Judge. Even late-night TV talk shows got in on the fun.

"The next day was insane," Lasagna recalled. "(A) breakfast television (show) reached out and it was the first thing I did. My wife was rushing me out of my bed to get up and be proper for the interview.

"It was just non-stop (radio and TV) interviews and telephone calls for the whole day and throughout the night."

It didn't stop there.

A beer company later reached out and offered to fly Lasagna and a friend to New York for three days to see if he could catch Judge's next home run.

He hopped a flight and soon found himself taking in the action at Yankee Stadium.

"I was the only one wearing a Blue Jays jersey so I stuck out," Lasagna said. "As I was walking down to the front row, people were recognizing me and calling me out. People wanted to take pictures with me.

"I was holding people's kids and taking pictures. It was a super-awesome experience."

Lasagna took in a comedy show before leaving the Big Apple. One of his favourite comedians, Jeff Ross, was the closing performer and Lasagna met him outside the venue afterwards.

"I said, 'Hey man, I'm a big fan' and I told him who I was," Lasagna said. "Once he realized who I was, he knew the whole story of me almost catching it.

"He wanted to take a picture with me."

Judge set a new record of 62 homers a few days later against Texas. Spectator Cory Youmans caught that ball at Globe Life Field and it later sold for US$1.5 million at auction.

Lasagna, 38, took a moment on Wednesday night to reimagine the scene at Rogers Centre a year ago before sitting down with his friend to watch the game.

The stands, fence and bullpen area look different now after off-season renovations. Judge was his usual self though, swatting two homers in a 6-0 Yankees win.

Life went back to normal when Lasagna returned from New York last fall. The seemingly endless requests for interviews eventually petered out.

His father put a binder of press clippings together and it remains on site at the restaurant, a nice reminder of a whirlwind week.

"It was fun the whole way," Lasagna said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2023.

With files from The Associated Press. Follow @GregoryStrongCP on X.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press