BOSTON—The baseball that made the final out in the 2004 World Series has been returned to its rightful owners, capping off a tumultuous 18 months during which the ball says it experienced "extreme physical and emotional trauma" at the hands of former Red Sox first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who ran off with the ball following the Boston's sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.
"I know that the ordeal is over now, and I'm aware that this sort of thing happens to baseballs every day, but Doug Mientkiewicz took a part of me that I will never get back," said the scuffed, dirty ball, which will be restored to its original condition by trained professionals in the coming weeks. "Mr. Mientkiewicz absconded with me, and brought me into a world of lies and deception for his own petty financial gain. He locked me inside a small box for months at a time for what he called 'safe keeping.' I can tell you, there is nothing safe about darkness."
Mientkiewicz is currently in Cooperstown Hall of Fame custody, and has yet to be charged with any wrongdoing. He has not denied that he placed the baseball in such a box, and in a statement released by his lawyer, Mientkiewicz has alleged that he was "just doing the best he could to protect it from ending up in the wrong hands."
"Sometimes he would take me out of the box and examine me, turn me over in his hand, run his fingers up and down my seams…" said the teary-eyed ball. "He would grip me with his bare right hand in different ways and toss me up and down, sometimes for hours on end."
The ball also recalled one especially chilling incident involving Mientkiewicz and his friends.
"They passed me around, one by one, running their dirty hands all over me, telling Mr. Mientkiewicz that he shouldn't give me back until he received everything he was asking for," the ball said. "They kept telling him how much I was 'worth.'"
"One of his obviously sick friends said he'd waited 86 years for this," the ball added, obviously almost physically disturbed by the recollection.
A deal to return the ball was reached on Sunday, when Red Sox president Larry Lucchino finally agreed to several of Meintkiewicz's demands, which included "enough money to put food on my table for the rest of my life" and "another baseball."
"I can't even begin to understand what this special ball has been through," said a somber Lucchino. "But I can tell you this: The resiliency and spirit of America's baseballs will never be broken."
"It's good to have you home," Lucchino added.
Red Sox pitcher Keith Foulke, who tossed the ball to Meintkiewicz to make the final out of the Series, was relieved to hear the ball had been returned. Foulke has often blamed himself for the incident, and those around him say he hasn't been the same pitcher since.
"I replay that ground ball over and over in my head. Christ, I could have easily ran it to first base instead of being lazy and tossing it to Doug," Foulke said. "We all knew Doug had different motives. I had overheard things—things he would do to the ball if it were in his possession. It kills me to know I could have stopped that."
Although Foulke said he is unsure if he would be able to face the ball again, the ball said it does not blame Foulke.
"I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," the ball said. "We baseballs put ourselves in the line of fire every day. This kind of life is unpredictable. The only thing Keith Foulke was guilty of was wanting to get out of the inning with the Red Sox as world champions."
"It speaks well of Mr. Foulke to attempt to shoulder some of the blame, but you must remember: This is all Doug Mientkiewicz's fault," the ball added.
Within the next year, the ball will make its way to Cooperstown, where it will be displayed in the Baseball Hall of Fame next to Curt Schilling's sock, which says it can't even remember the joyful existence it probably had before it was soaked in blood.