Mitch Poole was just an anonymous batboy for the Los Angeles Dodgers 32 years ago, living at his parents’ home and driving a beat-up Volkswagen.
Everything changed the evening of Oct. 15, 1988.
It was the moment Poole went from a nobody to a somebody, a $25 a day batboy to an unsung hero.
Poole became nearly as celebrated as Kirk Gibson the moment Gibson's home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against Dennis Eckersley and the Oakland Athletics landed in the right-field seats at Dodger Stadium.
Poole was interviewed almost as much as Gibson. He signed autographs. Posed for pictures. Landed speaking engagements. And soon was promoted to assistant clubhouse manager.
Gibson, even decades later, made sure that Poole was never forgotten, reminding everyone of his role.
It was Poole who helped Gibson from the trainer's table to the makeshift indoor batting cage, where he set up balls on a tee and flipped soft-toss. It was Poole who informed Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda that Gibson was available to pinch-hit in the ninth inning, helping create the most magical moment in Los Angeles sports history.
Gibson, to commemorate the event, signed one of his bats and handed it to Poole with the inscription: "To Mitch, Remember the home run. You were part of it."
“He was a part of it, a big part of it,’’ Gibson said Monday from his Michigan home. “I’m so glad we could share in that moment together.’’
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As a batboy with the Dodgers in 1988, Mitch Poole made a name for himself for his aid to Kirk Gibson before his World Series Game 1 home run against the Athletics. (Photo: Courtesy of Poole family)
The bat still is in Poole's home, along with a World Series ring he was awarded seven years later, press clippings, an autographed team baseball and a button depicting the Dodgers' World Series team.
The game will be replayed Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and Poole plans to grab a seat on his couch to watch it again, providing a much-needed respite from the fears and anxieties during the coronavirus pandemic that has caused more than 22,000 deaths in the United States and shut down the sports world.
"Oh, my Gosh, every time I see the actual game footage, I still get chills. It never fails. I'll be watching," Poole told USA TODAY Sports.
"Come on, what else do I have to do?"
Poole, the Dodgers' longest-tenured employee outside of Hall of Famer Lasorda, is entering his 35th year in the organization. He's in charge of the Dodgers' visiting clubhouse.
On a normal day, he'd be preparing for the St. Louis Cardinals' arrival for a three-game series beginning Tuesday. In three months, he would be arranging for his clubhouse to be the epicenter of baseball at the All-Star Game, which was scheduled to be at Dodger Stadium on July 14 for the first time in 40 years. Now, it's unclear when baseball will start.
Poole, whose staff is comprised of part-timers, has been working the phones and reaching out to contacts and associates, trying to find them jobs until it's safe for baseball to open the season.
"I’ve been thinking and worrying a lot about my staff, figuring out ways they can make money," Poole said. “It’s a tough thing to do when you don’t know when the season will start again, or if it will even start.
“People don’t realize all of the people behind the scenes that are out of work, people that are stranded, wondering what to do. The Dodgers are helping (contributing $1 million to game-day and stadium employees), but for our staff, the players are a big part of our income with their tips. And now you don’t have that.
Kirk Gibson's note to Mitch Poole: "Remember the home run. You were part of it!" (Photo: Courtesy of Poole family)
“You have rent, you’ve got to eat, and all of the stress causes family problems, too."
Poole, 57, found a job for one of his employees to drive delivery trucks for a filter company. Another is learning to be an insurance salesman. One just found work in the auto parts department for a car dealership.
“But a couple of my guys I had in spring training, guys on the minor-league side, they don't have anything," Poole said.
Poole, more than ever, is relying on faith, just like 32 years ago, replicating the immortal words of Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully in his call of Gibson’s homer:
"In a year that has been so improbable … the impossible has happened!’’
Why not believe there will soon be a vaccine, things will soon be back to normal again and social distancing can be a thing of the past? Why not believe the 2020 MLB season will take place with fans packed inside?
“It worked that night, why not again?" Poole said. “If you have faith, anything can happen."
Poole was in the trainer's room, picking up towels from the floor when Scully was on the NBC-TV broadcast as the camera panned to the Dodgers' bench.
Said Scully then: “Well, the man who's been there for the Dodgers all season, Kirk Gibson, is not in the dugout and will not be here for them tonight."
Gibson, the 1988 NL MVP, was lying on the trainer’s table wearing nothing but a jockstrap, pair of socks, and a Michigan Big-Game hunter T-shirt. He had received two cortisone shots that afternoon, one for his hamstring, another for his ankle. He was in too much pain to even come out for the pre-game introductions.
Mitch Poole's World Series ring, received seven years after the 1988 World Series. (Photo: Courtesy of Poole family)
But as soon as Scully uttered those words, Gibson screamed and yelled for Poole.
"'Mitch get my freaking uniform,'" Poole recalled. “When Vin said that, it’s like something clicked. It was that football mentality, 'I’ll prove him wrong.’"
Gibson, who couldn’t even walk across his living room hours earlier, picked up a 35-inch, 31-ounce bat — three ounces lighter than the one he normally uses — and started swinging. Dodgers hitting coach Ben Hines walked by, Gibson asked if he could help, and Hines declined, saying, “Why don’t you get Mitch to help you?’’
Poole, wearing just shorts and a T-shirt and not permitted in the dugout, started calling for Lasorda. He was ignored. The Dodgers were trailing 4-3 and it was no time for Lasorda to be bothered.
Finally, at the top of his lungs, Poole yelled: “Tommy! Tommy! Gibby wants to talk to you! He says he can hit!’’
In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Dodgers had two outs and Mike Davis on first. Lasorda summoned Gibson, who slowly climbed the stairs and stepped out of the dugout.
Said Scully: “And looks who's coming up!"
“I followed (Gibson) down to the dugout, stayed in the little well area and I just remember something came over me. He was up there at the plate, and the weirdest thing happened," Poole said. "The hairs on me stood up. I was actually imagining the ball going out to right field. The same exact path. The ball landing in the same spot. It’s crazy, I know. It was like a supernatural event. In my mind, I even saw him do the fist pump around the bases, the pumpernickel as we called it.
“Then, it happened! Oh, my God! It happened!"
Gibson, remembering the scouting report by the late Mel Didier, swung on a 3-and-2 slider and sent the Dodgers to a 5-4 victory. The Dodgers, in one of the World Series’ greatest upsets, woud knock off the A’s four games to one. It was Gibson’s lone plate appearance of the series.
And it was the Dodgers’ last World Series championship.
"I remember after the game, I’m standing about 15 feet away, and some reporters asked Ben Hines how Gibson got ready," Poole said. “He says, 'I don’t know, ask Mitch over there.’ Next thing I knew, everyone’s talking to me."
Four games later, it was all over, with Lasorda staring at Poole and yelling: "We did it! Can you believe it? We did it!’’
There was the wild celebration in Oakland. The delirious team plane ride. The buses at LAX, waiting to take the champions back to Dodger Stadium.
“We had a plan on how to get through to the buses, but we went the wrong way," Poole said. “I had the (Orel Hershiser’s) MVP trophy. I was supposed to follow Orel and his wife. I ended up having to use the trophy to block people just to get through the crowd. It was crazy. I wound up taking the World Series MVP trophy home with me.’’
Poole received a $1,750 World Series check like the rest of the batboys. He got a bat from Gibson. And seven years later when a Dodgers secretary realized Poole never received a World Series ring, she asked him if he still wanted one.
Now, here he is, the most famous batboy since George Wilkosz, the actor who handed Robert Redford the supernatural bat in the movie, “The Natural.’’
“At times, you almost get embarrassed," said Poole, who accepted Gibson’s request to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in 2012 on a Gibson bobblehead giveaway night. “In my heart, I did nothing. Gibby was everything. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. But Gibby has been nothing but gracious about the whole thing, always giving me credit.
“I look forward to the day this team can win the World Series, and they can tell their own story."
For now, it’s a moment that refuses to fade, with the home run considered the greatest moment in Los Angeles sports history.
Poole, working the visiting clubhouse when the Boston Red Sox won the 2018 World Series title over the Dodgers, remembers Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, a Red Sox special assistant, asking to be escorted from the celebratory clubhouse.
“We were walking our way up the ramp and I said to Tony, 'It’s amazing how many times you beat our rear-ends.’" Poole said.
“Tony turned around, pointed in my face, and yells, 'Mitch, 1988! 1988! And he walks off.’
“Just when you think people are over it, you experience that.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale
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