- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

BOSTON (AP) — The Red Sox have the title. Now they want the ball.

Backup first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz caught the ball for the final out of the World Series, ending Boston’s 86-year championship drought.

He then put the souvenir in a safe deposit box. Only one problem: The Red Sox say the ball should be in their hands.

The player who didn’t join the team until July 31 still wants to keep it but recognizes its meaning to the team’s passionate rooters — a prize that completed a four-game sweep of St. Louis and ended the misery.

“Of course I want Red Sox fans to see the ball,” Mientkiewicz said yesterday in a call he made to WEEI radio. “The main reason why I hung on to the darn thing is because I want people to see it.”

So does Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, and he planned to ask Mientkiewicz to give it to the team.

“We want it to be part of Red Sox archives or museums so it can be shared with the fans,” Lucchino told the Boston Globe. “We would hope he would understand the historical nature of it.”

Lucchino and Red Sox owner John Henry did not return e-mails requesting comment. Messages left at the homes of Mientkiewicz and his father were not returned, and a woman who came to the door at his Coral Gables, Fla., house said he wasn’t there.

Mientkiewicz said he had a “nice conversation” with Henry.

In an era rife with memorabilia sellers and collectors — the New England Patriots once sold jars of dirt for $10 from Foxboro Stadium before it was torn down after the 2001 season — such an historic baseball might command hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.

After all, on the very day Mientkiewicz squeezed the final out in his glove, the ball Barry Bonds hit for his 700th home run brought a top bid of $804,129 after a 10-day online auction.

Mientkiewicz said the ball he caught was “my retirement fund,” the Globe reported. Yesterday, he said he was kidding.

“If Mr. Lucchino wants to talk to me about the ball personally, he has my phone number. He can call me,” Mientkiewicz said on WEEI.

Mientkiewicz, unhappy as a part-time player last season, is set to make $3.75 million in the final year of his two-year contract. The team has an option to renew it at $4 million for 2006 but has said it intends to trade Mientkiewicz or its other first baseman, Kevin Millar, before spring training.

Mike Martin coached Mientkiewicz at Florida State from 1993 to 1995 and is convinced the player won’t sell the ball for personal gain.

“There’s not a selfish bone in the guy’s body,” said Martin, in his 26th year as coach of the Seminoles. “He was one of the most popular players to ever play here. He also was a guy who was a fan favorite in Minnesota. He’s also very community oriented, and I’m sure that’s the case in the city of Boston.”

The Red Sox obtained the slick-fielding Mientkiewicz in a trade deadline deal with the Twins. He was a late-inning replacement in each of the four World Series games after being a starter for the previous three seasons.

Boston led 3-0 in Game 4 in St. Louis when Mientkiewicz entered in the bottom of the seventh. He didn’t have any fielding chances until there were two outs in the ninth and shortstop Edgar Renteria grounded it back to the mound. Pitcher Keith Foulke trotted toward first and underhanded it to Mientkiewicz.

With the ball in his grasp, Mientkiewicz raised his right index finger in triumph and rushed to the pile of celebrating players. In the locker room, he gave the ball to his wife, Jodi, who put it in her purse, then brought it to Fenway Park the next day, where it was authenticated by Major League Baseball officials.

So who owns it?

“This is a gray area as to what players think they can take with them,” Lucchino said.

Carmine Tiso, spokesman for MLB, told the Globe that Mientkiewicz owns the baseball. Joe Januszewski, Red Sox director of corporate partnerships, said he thinks the team owns it.

And the bat?

Renteria still has it and could bring it with him to Fenway after he signed with the Red Sox as a free agent.

“A professional baseball player is like a golfer,” said Jeffrey Lane, Renteria’s agent. “They know what their five-iron feels like.”

Back in 1918, when the Red Sox won their previous World Series title, there was another dispute. The sixth and final game was delayed because of a debate over how much of the gate receipts players would get. But the game went on, and Boston beat the Chicago Cubs 2-1.

The last out was another grounder that second baseman Dave Shean threw to first baseman Stuffy McInnis. The next-to-last out? A fly ball to Red Sox left fielder Babe Ruth, who was sold to the New York Yankees in 1920.

For the first time since then, the Red Sox are champions, so Mientkiewicz knows the importance of the ball he has locked away.

“It belongs in the stadium where we brought it home to, and if they would like to see it, then I’d be more than happy to,” he said. “That’s part of history, and I think people have waited long enough. They deserve to see it.”

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