CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — On Sunday, Houston Astros, and former Corpus Christi Hooks, outfielder JJ Matijevic hit his first career home run, and hit, at home on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.
“I just looked up, looked around the stadium, and took it all in,” the rookie said. “It’s something that I always dreamed of, and I did it. Rounding second, I really just tried my best to take it all in. It was a great feeling.”
The ball, hit to left field, found its way to Rylan Freeman.
“It ended up hitting someone’s head, hitting another guy’s head, and it was right between my dad’s legs,” Freeman, a Corpus Christi native, said. “As soon as I got it, I hugged my dad immediately, ‘let’s go, let’s go.’ Me and [my brother] Weston were hugging.”
Freeman is fresh off winning the Class 3-A state baseball championship with the London Pirates. His family was in Houston this weekend for a baseball tournament, and his dad decided to get some last-minute tickets for the Father’s Day game.
“I said, ‘ya’ll want to go home or go to the Astros game?’ and immediately it was, ‘stros game,’ that was it,” said Jim Freeman.
The Freemans are big Astros fans, and also big Hooks fans. They remember watching Matijevic play at Whataburger Field.
“When he got up to bat, we said, ‘wow, there’s JJ from the Hooks,’” Jim Freeman said. “Never in a million years would we dream he’d hit a home run to us, so that was really, really cool.”
Matijevic said having Hooks fans catch his first home run ball was special.
“I loved playing there in Corpus, the fans were great there,” he said. “Just knowing fans from there caught the ball, it’s really cool.”
Shortly after the ball landed, a representative with the Astros approached Rylan to get the ball back to Matijevic.
He said he asked for a signed jersey from his favorite player, pitcher Justin Verlander, but the representative said they couldn’t get him that. He agreed to six tickets to a future Astros game, with passes to get on the field for batting practice, and a signed ball from Astro's second baseman Jose Altuve.
During the game, Rylan was interviewed by ESPN’s Buster Olney, and Rylan told the story to the nation.
Word must’ve gotten back to Verlander because Rylan received a text during the game.
“My friend texted me and said, ‘Justin Verlander is signing a jersey for you right now on national television,’ and as soon as I heard that, I freaked out, it was awesome,” Rylan said. “They brought the jersey out and I just couldn’t believe it.”
Jim Freeman said it was a successful Father’s Day for him and his boys.
“I would say it’s the best Father’s Day yet,” he said. “This one is going to be hard to beat, that’s for sure.”
Matijevic has special plans for the ball he hit. Since it was Father’s Day, the ball will be going to his dad.
“Once I hit it, I knew right away I was going to give him the ball,” he said.