The year is 1980. Aurelio Lopez was on the mound, Lance Parrish was behind home plate and Marshall Brant was up to bat. In Yankee Stadium.
Brant, a local boy who played at Rancho Cotate, Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State, was doing his damnedest to be cool going through his at-bat routine.
Then he heard the question.
“Is this your first Major League at bat?”
The voice is a little muffled. The questioner is Parrish, the Tigers’ catcher.
“I said, ‘Yes sir,’ ” Brant recalled. “He said, ‘What would you like to hit?’ ”
Come again? Parrish, crouched down and speaking from behind his catcher’s mask, is asking Brant what pitch he wants.
“I said, ‘Something straight would be fine,’ ” Brant said, still messing with the batter’s box dirt with his spikes.
So Brant set up and “Señor Smoke” let one go.
“He sends a fastball right down Broadway and I take it and he says ‘What are you waiting for?’ ” Brant said.
Still dumbfounded, Brant said, “I didn’t believe you.”
Lopez gave Brant another fastball that Brant sent to the warning track. Out.
An amazing, shake-your-head story. But another amazing, shake-your-head story? That I’m sitting across from Brant at his kitchen table in Santa Rosa hearing it.
Brant is like an apparition from my memory lane.
I was 7 years old when Lance Parrish took Brant’s pitch order like a kindly waiter.
Brant’s baseball cards were pinned to my bulletin board. I wore Yankee pinstripes instead of the more logical orange and black of the Giants or green and gold of the A’s. I loved the Yankees because Marshall Brant played for them and Marshall Brant was my friend.
Brant dated and later married Diana, the eldest of the five Read girls, all of whom provided babysitting services at one time or another to the Benefields who lived across the street.
Brant was god-like. He was 6 foot 4 inches tall, but to a 7-year-old, he might as well have been 8 feet tall. At the mere sighting of him, I’d sprint across the street: “Sign your card?” “Sign my ball?” “Sign my hat?”
And sometimes, “Play some basketball with us?”
“Us” was usually my older brother and his friends. As the youngest and the only girl, I always got to be on Brant’s team and we always won. He nearly ripped the backboard from our garage when we’d beg him to dunk.
My brother remembers Brant shooting the ball from across the street — nothing but net.
So fast-forward to this summer.
Brant was voted into the International League Hall of Fame in May, yet another “hall” honor for a guy whose 8-by-10 hangs in the hallways and offices of every organization he’s played for. But the honor is nothing to sneeze at. He’s now in the company of IL Hall of Fame vets Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken Jr. and Jackie Robinson.
It’s news. It means I get to interview him. It means I’m almost immediately transformed into a stalker-like 7-year-old.
Seeing him again was like walking into my memories, like Harry Potter and the pensieve.
Brant was a star for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. He’s the only guy to have his number retired by the Clippers. And, consider this — Derek Jeter played for the Clippers. So did Andy Pettitte and Don Mattingly, and Darryl Strawberry and Jorge Posada.