In the summer of 1987 I was just a young lad - coming into my own as a baseball fan. Of course, I had some guidance and following in my father's footsteps, I was to become a Milwaukee Brewers fan - like my father, and his father before - wait, before that they were Milwaukee Braves' fans. So I guess that doesn't work so well. Moving on...
So, it was the summer of 1987 and my father took took me to my first baseball game. I still remember the day, thanks to the lone photograph from that event. It's a picture of me with one of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome security bubbas - yep, something about kids and their affinity toward Police Officers and Firemen. I was no different, and so took my picture with him. As I recall (from memory, not from the photo in hand, it's buried in a box somewhere in my parent's basement in Wisconsin) this police officer had quite a substantial mustache - perhaps this is what I saw in the man, after all.
I remember walking up the stairs to the field level, the place was like the Roman Colliseum: pillars, throngs of people, wide open walkways. Here was the place I would urinate, for the first time, in a trough. Imagine that! Now my mind was opened like never before. Miles and miles of "Dome Dog" stands, and walls of neon Miller Lite signs - truly, a paradise, a "garden of eden" if ever there was one. Nothing would prepare me for the sight of the baseball field, though - complete with artificial turf and everything. The huge wide open space was what caught my breath, here the boys of summer made their magic. How truly blessed I was to be a part of that.
We sat about halfway up, on the third base side of the dome. We watched batting practice, and watched the guys play catch. Robin Yount. Jim Gantner. Dale Sveum. And the one and only, Paul Molitor. He was playing catch right down below us, we could read the letters on his uniform, see his stubble we were so close.
And then fate stepped in. With a loud, booming call of his voice, my father yelled "Hey, Paulie!" Immediately Molitor looked up, and saw my father and I waving to him. He reached into his glove, took the ball into his hand, and in one smooth motion sent that artifact toward two fans. My father caught the ball, looked at it, looked back down at the field toward Molitor, and yelled "Thanks! Thanks alot, Paulie!". Never in my life did I hold onto anything as tightly as I did that ball. For 2 1/2 hours, it was as if a growth had developed between my hands the shape of a baseball, complete with threads and all.
I don't remember how the game ended up, who won, how badly they beat the other guys, or how long the drive back home was. I couldn't wait to get home to tell my mom and my brother the events that had transpired that day. The ball would always occupy a place on (or in) my father's dresser - and the story became more and more grand each time it was told. It's quite possible the events that happened that fateful day in 1987 didn't go anything like I just explained. I do know, however, that I have a baseball that Paul Molitor threw to me and my dad.
You've seen the movie "The Sandlot", and how the main character himself met fate - in the form of a huge St. Bernard and a baseball that some old lady had signed for HIS father (father in law, but who's keeping track). Well, we too played games upon games of baseball as kids, and almost identical to the movie, we didn't hold jobs until high school and had no way of paying for new baseballs once they'd been hit too deep into the field behind our house. The only baseball we knew up in our house was the Molitor ball, and on more than one occasion it was used to decide epic battles out back between my brother and myself. It always found it's way back, though, my Dad's dresser before he got home from work. God forbid something should happen. I'm sure it wouldn't have been that big of a deal to him, Paul Molitor certainly was no Babe Ruth. Nor was it autographed by him. But to us, that thing was an idol. A small, quiet relic that belonged in a cathedral, let alone our house.
1987 and the Paul Molitor ball. It's still in my father's dresser I think. For safe keeping.