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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.

He was a first baseman who could hit moonshots all game long and sign autographs for hours.

“I have been doing this 39 years, and I will say that Marshall and Diana Brant are very special from the standpoint that he is the only player I have had over to my house for dinner,” said Ken Schnacke, president and general manager of the Clippers. “He was, while perhaps not the best, was perhaps the most popular player who wore the Clippers uniform. We joked that if he would have stayed, he probably could have run for mayor and been elected.”

But he didn’t stay.

He got called up from the Clippers to the Yankees but was always behind Steve Balboni, one half of the Brant and Balboni “B and B Boys” from the Clippers title team.

Brant then had a short stint in Oakland. This made my brother exceedingly happy because he was a true A’s fan. He was even manning the stereo in 1983 when Brant got his first major league hit. My brother recorded the whole thing: Bill King telling listeners about this hometown guy, Brant cracking a double that was later ruled a single and an error, and King applauding the crowd for giving Brant a hearty welcome home. It was magic.

Except that it wasn’t.

Brant says now that he knew then the A’s weren’t truly interested in him. His chance in the bigs had passed. Did he lack speed? Was he unlucky because of who he played behind or who he played for? Did he not put up huge numbers on command — something so often demanded when a player is called up to the bigs for such a short window?

“He never really had a chance with the Yankees because Balboni was in front of him and then with Oakland he got the proverbial cup of coffee,” Schnacke said.

“Part of it is being in the right place at the right time,” he said.

I pressed Brant about the what-ifs. What if he hadn’t been a Yankee — a club that was known to buy guys, not grow them. They were difficult questions not only because of the “what-ifs” involved, but also because it didn’t matter to me that Brant got six at-bats for the Yanks and 14 for the A’s. He was a star to me. What-ifs sound silly when the guy was a superstar no matter what.

Brant was smart. He didn’t hang around Oakland, where he knew the interest wasn’t real. He finished his career in Japan, where there was good money to be made, where he could make up some for the 10 years he spent chasing a dream and getting not a ton of cash in return. I had his Japanese baseball card, too.

He laughs now about what his resume looked like when he returned from Tokyo. Not the greatest if you are hoping to put on a suit and tie and make your way in this world. I laughed, too. Because when you are 7, resumes meant nothing, the number of at-bats meant nothing and the fact that Brant played behind some guy named Steve Balboni meant nothing.

I was a Yankees fan for years and often found myself explaining it to people. After years in pinstripes, my adoration for the Yankees wore off. My adoration of Marshall Brant never has.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.

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