I counted up one time that I had been blessed to see at least 150 World Series games in person. I believe that number is conservative. What a treat, whether I was working, as was the case much of the time, or on hand as a fan. So I have a pretty good feel for what those involved in this World Series are experiencing.
I cannot relate to Chris Coste, the DH for Philadelphia in Game 1 last night (an 0-for-4, unfortunately, in the first game in his meteoric climb from five seasons of Independent Baseball) or Michel Hernandez, Tampa Bay's backup catcher, who spent part of 2007 in the Atlantic League. After all, I had enough trouble hitting at the most meager of sandlot levels during my youth in Nebraska.
But I can relate, in many ways, to others who have roles in the World Series. So, it was fun to have conversations over the last 24 hours with Phillies infielder Mike Cervenak, who is part of pre-game workouts every day as he stands by as a potential injury replacement, and Rusty Kath, the on-field Master of Ceremonies for the Tampa Bay Rays.
This is an Independent Baseball blog, I remind you, and they most certainly qualify. Cervenak played his first two years of what now is a full decade of professional baseball for the Chillicothe (OH) Paints of the Frontier League, hitting .306 and .357, respectively. Kath learned his trade with the St. Paul (MN) Saints, now in the American Association, before moving on to the Rays two years ago.
The phone rang shortly after noon Wednesday, some eight hours before the first pitch was thrown. It was Mike Cervenak, returning a call I couldn't have expected at that time.
Like anyone, I wanted to know some of the highlights of recent times for the personable first baseman-third baseman, a hitting machine at the University of Michigan and throughout the minor leagues, who had to wait until he was nearly 32 this summer to get into anything but a spring training exhibition in the major leagues.
"The fact I am going to the World Series and being on the bench," he said. (My heart would have been pounding.) He opened up about how "crazy" it would have been to even think of this possibility back in his Independent days.
I thought the personal game highlight of his first two months in the majors would have been his first hit, which came August 6 in Philly as a pinch-hitter against Florida. "I feel it was my first at bat," was Mike's response. "My parents (Mike, Sr. and Eva) were there, and it was in extra innings." He had told me in an earlier conversation that he hit the ball to the warning track (where it was caught) off Arizona's Connor Robertson.
Cervenak, who has a very calm and professional demeanor during interviews, became the most talkative when I asked if he had gone through the typical rookie hazing with the Phillies. I have to paraphrase, but he described, in detail, being selected to dress up as Brittany Spears "with a plaid skirt, really short, with a tie-up blouse showing my bare midriff and a blonde wig."
What a transition from portraying Brittany Spears to the feeling of being in the dugout during Chase Utley's two-run, first-inning homer or for the final out of a thrilling 3-2, Game 1 win.
I caught Rusty on his way to the airport to pick up friends on the morning after Game 1.
"I literally don't feel I believe it (being in the World Series), even after Game 7 (against Boston). It hasn't clicked." He quoted Phillies ace Cole Hamels who had said something like "we'll really enjoy this about holiday time."
Kath still is on the diamond pre-game in his role as MC, but expects to be "more buttoned up" and traditional, with word coming down to the staff that "we want a professional show" for the World Series. He does things we might get a glimpse of during the telecast of working with the youngsters selected to cry "Play Ball" and deliver the initial game baseballs to the umpires.
And, he is allowed, because he said both TBS (playoffs) and Fox (World Series) like it, to encourage the crowd to go a little wild just as the network telecasts begin.
What about the mohawk haircut, which has become a Tampa Bay trademark? "I have a beautiful mohawk", which was first cut with the "dog shears" the team mascot (played by a woman) carries. He got the cut during the postseason-clinching game. It has since been cleaned up, although Kath says "I look like an ugly 1980s punk rocker".
His tongue-in-cheek worry seems to be going back home to Minnesota, where his varied duties include many Minnesota Wild (NHL) games, because his mother-in-law, Dee Forkrud, told him "you used to be so cute. I may be sleeping next door, not even in the next room", said Kath, who married Forkrud's daughter, Angie, August 1.
Perhaps by that time being in a World Series will finally have set in.