A hero's life: See Mark run, see Mark eat


October 25, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

ATLANTA -- Mark Lemke drove home late Wednesday night after the game, accompanied by his mom and dad.

And a parade of CBS-TV trucks right behind.

Yes, you read it right. Mark Lemke now travels with an entourage.

"All we want to do," the producer explained to Lemke, who was having some problem grasping the concept, "is get a shot out of you getting out of the car and walking into the house."

Talk about drama. Should he wave? Should he jump up the steps? What if he can't get the key to work?

Mark Lemke, this is your life.

It's the unexpectedly weird life of Mark Lemke, World Series hero. Suddenly, America wants to know the real Lemke. That's why CBS wanted to show him going home.

See, he has a house.

See, he has a mom and dad.

See Mark walk. See Mark open the door.

"I never thought it was going to be quite like this," Lemke said. "I've seen the World Series, and I know it's a big deal. But . . ."

He never thought life would be lunch with Pat O'Brien.

"They wanted breakfast," Lemke was saying. "Breakfast. I get to sleep about 4 and they want me up at 8. I'm exhausted, man. Breakfast.

"I said I'd do it at 2."

He smiled.

"This is crazy."

Sure, it's crazy. CBS wanted a day with the Braves second baseman to show what his life was like.

"That's easy," he said later. "I sleep late, get up, get dressed, go to the ballpark."

Lemke had much to learn. He didn't understand that his life was fundamentally changed. Ordinarily, if he has a few good games in a row, it might mean an extra start for him. Lemke doesn't start every day, you know. How could he predict he'd be a folk hero when his biggest thrill prior to this Series came when he was most valuable player in a Class-Triple A All-Star Game?

After Game 3 of the Series, Lemke's phone rang constantly. Now, he keeps it off the hook.

"I had the [answering] machine on, but I got so many calls that the tape broke," he said.

Note: Lemke needs an unlisted number. Or maybe a secretary.


Just so you know whom we're talking about: He's 26, 5-foot-9, 167 pounds. He was drafted out of high school in the 27th round, took five years to get out of Class A and is a .225 lifetime hitter who hit .234 this season. During spring training, he thought he had a great chance to get sent back to the minors. He's a pretty good fielder and not much of a hitter who gets by with hustle. His manager calls him the original dirt player, and there he was -- after the famous slide; you know the one -- with dirt all over him, talking about fame.

"The emotion takes it right out of you," he said. "You don't think about what you've done exactly. But you get wired, too. It can get pretty tough to sleep."

After the Game 3 heroics, he was up till 5 a.m. Playing Nintendo. Your hero?

Yeah, we make heroes of Lemkes. He knocks in one big run and scores another big run and suddenly people want to know his views on the economy. (For the record, he doesn't have any.)

Lemke is just an unassuming person who is an unassuming player who has had a completely uninteresting career, during which there were moments when he almost gave it up. He hit .216 in Sumter one year, and even for a second baseman that isn't much. Here's some perspective: He probably wouldn't make the Orioles.

"I'm not the kind of person who ever thinks he's going to be the hero," Lemke said. "When I hit the triple, people asked me if I thought it was out. I never think a ball I hit is out."

Why would he? He has four major-league homers in 621 career at-bats.

You have to look hard to find something unusual about him. How about this -- he has astigmatism.

"Look at these," he said, holding up his glasses. "I don't know what the numbers are, but I don't think you could see through them."

They are thick. If the sun's in the right place, you could burn paper with them. But he doesn't wear them to play -- he uses contacts, which hurt his eyes and late Wednesday night his eyes were burning. And he was exhausted. The reporters kept coming, and the reporters kept coming and everyone suddenly wanted a little piece of Lemke's 15 minutes.

He was hoping to spend time with his parents, who are in from Utica, N.Y. Now, he can't even spend time alone with his thoughts. As the media crush continued, Lemke kept trying his hardest to avert attention from himself. It's just seems more important because it's the World Series, he said.

And then he said: "In this game, you're only as good as your last at-bat."

While he said it, he was signing autographs for a woman who works for the Braves.

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