You’ll search in vain for former Shocker great Doug Mirabelli fs ’97 in all those photos of the jubilant dog pile that followed the Boston Red Sox’s dramatic World Series championship in October.
Rest assured, though, that when Boston finished off a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals to put a punctuation mark on one of the most dramatic seasons in baseball history, one of WSU’s very own was there.
But darned if Mirabelli didn’t miss out on a much-anticipated celebration — the on-field party immediately after the Red Sox won their first World Series title since 1918.
It’s not that Mirabelli, a backup catcher for Boston, didn’t try to join in on the fun. When the final out was recorded on a routine ground ball, he attempted to sprint on to the field and join his teammates.
“We ran out of the dugout, but (teammate) Trot Nixon grabbed me and started hugging me, so I never made it to the pile,” Mirabelli says. “I got out there eventually, but all the photos you see are of that first big pile, and I’m not in any of them. It’s kind of funny.”
Mirabelli may have been absent for that particular photo op, but he was definitely a key figure in the overall picture during the Red Sox’s championship run.
The former Shocker All-American enjoyed the finest season of his 10-year big-league career, establishing himself as perhaps the best backup catcher in baseball.
Mirabelli started 41 games and set career highs in batting average (.281), RBI (32), slugging percentage (.525) and runs scored (27). “It’s just experience,” Mirabelli says. “All those hours of BP, they pay off.”
Defensively, he was faced with one of the toughest jobs in baseball, serving as the personal catcher for knuckleball-specialist Tim Wakefield. Thrown with little rotation, the pitch is a nightmare for catchers because it dips and darts unexpectedly.
“It’s a tough gig because that thing floats all over the place,” Mirabelli says from St. Louis, where the Red Sox were playing the Cardinals. “And he never has the same knuckleball two games in a row. I pride myself on my defense, so if we win and I catch the ball, then I’ve done my job and I’m happy.”
Mirabelli’s career at Wichita State, which spanned the 1990-92 seasons, may have helped prepare him to corral the elusive knuckler, Shocker pitching coach Brent Kemnitz ’80 says. Mirabelli caught Darren Dreifort ’95 and Tyler Green fs ’91, two hard throwers, during his three years in Wichita.
“Those guys had just unbelievable stuff, and Doug made handling them look so easy, so effortless,” Kemnitz reports. “He has great hands, very soft hands, and he always called a great game, too.”
Mirabelli has fond memories of his Shocker experience: “Except for the last two years in Boston, playing at WSU was the most fun I had in baseball.”
That Mirabelli’s best pro season included a World Series championship made the year all the more rewarding. He started Game 1, since Wakefield was on the hill, and banged out a hit.
“Yeah, it was nice to get a hit in a World Series, but more important was that we won the whole thing,” he says. “To win a World Series in Boston … the emotions are indescribable.”
After the 2004 season, Mirabelli agreed to a new two-year, $3 million contract, making him the reportedly highest-paid No. 2 catcher in baseball. The 34-year-old attracted interest from other teams to platoon or perhaps even start, but he preferred to stay in Boston. And why not?
He is well respected in the rabid baseball town. Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan, a known curmudgeon in most cases, is a huge supporter, calling starting catcher Jason Varitek and Mirabelli the best tandem in baseball.
In return, Mirabelli loves the city and its fans, and he has finally made peace with the fact that he isn’t a starter.
“I had a few offers from other teams, but I didn’t know if I would love coming to the park in those places like I do here,” he says. “At some point, you have to acknowledge that you’re a backup catcher and deal with it. But if I’m gonna be the backup, I want to be the best one there is.”