Kragthorpe: Mientkiewicz happy to have a bat back in his hands
On a bright, pleasant June morning, Doug Mientkiewicz walked along the warning track of Lindquist Field, pushing a shopping cart stocked with several dozen baseballs.
Destined to be whacked in the batting cage hidden beyond the outfield fence, they were baseballs just like the ones Mientkiewicz knocked around Spring Mobile Ballpark in Salt Lake City, or the one he dramatically hit out of the Olympic venue in Sydney or the one he caught for the final out of the 2004 World Series. You know, the one that made his life absolutely miserable.
"I'm glad that baseball's out of my hands," he said.
And a bat is back in his hands. He's launching another cycle of baseball as the new hitting coach of the Ogden Raptors, opening their Class-A Pioneer League season Monday against Grand Junction.
Spending a few minutes listening to Mientkiewicz (pronounced "Men-CAVE-itch") makes it easy to imagine him getting in trouble. He's an interviewer's dream: detailed, insightful and funny, just as when he's telling big league tales to his hitters.
"Of course, there's always story time going on with Doug," said Raptors outfielder Devon Ethier.
So a couple of months after the Red Sox won their first championship in 86 years, a Boston Globe reporter asked Mientkiewicz about the ball he caught at first base to end the World Series vs. St. Louis. His playful nature led him to joke that the ball created his "retirement fund."
Uh, oh. All of New England went crazy. His family received death threats, among other reactions.
Traded to the Mets that winter, he was sued by the Red Sox (even though Mientkiewicz says the team never had asked him for the ball before the story was published) and eventually agreed that the ball would be displayed permanently in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"It was a whole long and drawn-out ordeal, and I'm just glad it's over," said Mientkiewicz, who's uneasy about returning to Boston for a 10-year reunion in 2014.
He's still very glad to have experienced the Red Sox's stunning comeback against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series and registered the final putout of the World Series. Mientkiewicz guesses he's signed "150,000" photos of him catching the throw from pitcher Keith Foulke.
Mientkiewicz, whose 38th birthday is Tuesday, left an idyllic retirement existence in the Florida Keys to push a shopping cart of baseballs in Ogden, joined by his wife, Jodi, and 6-year-old son, Steel.
He's working at one of the lowest levels of the Los Angeles Dodgers' organization, at the personal, relentless request of the Dodgers' major league manager. Don Mattingly, then the Dodgers' hitting coach, gained faith in him during the 2009 season, when Mientkiewicz was injured and took the opportunity to study Mattingly's teachings.
In turn, Mattingly asked him to work with Andre Ethier (Devon's older brother), who would become an All-Star outfielder. Mattingly recently called three times before Mientkiewicz agreed to become a minor-league coach. So he's using what he learned from Mattingly and a parade of coaches Mientkiewicz played for the Twins, Mets, Royals, Yankees, Pirates and Dodgers, batting .271 in 1,087 games over 12 seasons to educate the young Raptors.
Because of those varied influences, "The negative of me bouncing around so much in my career is a huge benefit now," Mientkiewicz said.
Coming up in the Minnesota organization, Mientkiewicz initially skipped Triple-A, then struggled as a Twins rookie before coming to Salt Lake City in 2000. He batted .334 for a Buzz team that went 90-53 and at various times included Todd Walker, Torii Hunter and A.J. Pierzynski. Being in the minor leagues also made Mientkiewicz eligible for the Olympics, and his game-winning homer against South Korea in the semifinals propelled the U.S. team toward the championship.
He's among five Americans who have both an Olympic gold medal and a World Series ring. Those, he's keeping.
About Doug Mientkiewicz
Birthdate • June 19, 1974.
Family • Wife, Jodi; son, Steel, 6.
High school • Westminster Christian (Palmetto Bay, Fla.), teammate of Alex Rodriguez.
College • Florida State.
Drafted • Fifth round by Minnesota, 1995.
2000 season • 130 games with Salt Lake Buzz; batted .334 with 18 home runs and 96 RBIs.
2004 season • Traded by Twins to Boston in four-team deal on July 31; appeared in all four victories vs. New York in ALCS, made final putout of World Series vs. St. Louis.
Other major league teams • Mets, Royals, Yankees, Pirates, Dodgers; batted .271 in 1,087 games.
Coaching career • Hired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in December, assigned to Ogden.