EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story first appeared in The Post-Journal nearly 10 years ago. With the Major League Baseball All-Star Game scheduled for tonight, it was deemed appropriate to run the story again.
It’s July 13, 1982 and I’m riding shotgun as Dan Lunetta steers his yellow compact car along Interstate 90 toward the Greater Buffalo Niagara International Airport. We are hours away from the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, and we will be in attendance.
As employees of the Montreal Expos — Dan is the general manager of the Class A Jamestown Expos and I’m the assistant GM — we are fortunate to have procured tickets for the Mid-Summer Classic, which includes an invite to the Commissioner’s Party as well .
Not a bad gig for a couple of Jamestown natives.
For the record, the National League won, 4-1, and during the 2-hour, 53-minute game — I looked it up — Dan and I watch the likes of Rickey Henderson, George Brett, Reggie Jackson, Robin Yount, Carlton Fisk, Dennis Eckersley, Carl Yastrzemski and Goose Gossage of the American League square off against the National League’s Pete Rose, Andre Dawson, Mike Schmidt, Gary Carter, Ozzie Smith, Steve Carlton and Phil Niekro.
All — with the exception of Rose — will eventually take up residence in Cooperstown.
What I didn’t know then, but have been made aware of countless times during the last 30-plus years, is that being in Dan’s presence usually results in a Hall-of-Fame experience.
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Jose Valverde, the Detroit Tigers’ closer, wound up and fired a fastball toward home plate. Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees slumping third baseman, meekly swung and missed. With that, the 2011 American League Division Series was over and the celebration for the men from Motown began in earnest.
The win also meant that his friends — and rabid Tigers fans from his hometown — would continue their dream of a World Series championship, the first for the club since 1984. If nothing else, Detroit’s 2011 season gave Lunetta and his pals plenty of fuel for when they agreed again in July 2012 for their annual “State of the Tigers” lunch.
“After I let the emotion of winning settle in,” Lunetta said, “The next thought in my mind was how happy I am for that group of guys. It’s become a very special thing. We’ve gotten together every July since I’ve been with the Tigers. To just be around a bunch of guys who have been rabid Tigers fans for as long as they can remember and to be able to sit down and break bread and have fun talking about the Tigers is pretty special to me.”
Those meetings, at the Lakewood home of Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame inductee Greg Peterson (Class of 2012), confirmed just how far Lunetta has come from his rather humble beginnings in baseball when he was a groundskeeper at the then-College Stadium in 1979.
As one looks back at his professional career, the 1973 Jamestown High School graduate has put together quite a resume. It began with the Jamestown Expos in 1980, included other minor league stints in various front-office capacities in Buffalo and Rochester, and major league stops in Montreal, Cincinnati, Florida and Detroit, the latter since 2004. In his 33 years in the game , Lunetta owns a World Series ring (earned with the Marlins in 1997) and two ALCS rings (acquired with the Tigers in 2006 and 2012).
Along the way, he has served as the director of team travel for the Expos and the Reds, as the Marlins director of minor league administration and director of baseball operations; as the special assistant to general manager of the Montreal Expos; and then, finally, the director of minor league administration with the Tigers.
As he and his youngest son, Sam, joined the Tigers’ fans in 2013 at Peterson’s home, Lunetta pulled out a jewelry box that contained the three rings mentioned above. Father and son — Lunetta and his wife Jhoanna also have an older son, Anthony — posed for a few photographs. As I snapped away, I couldn’t help but think that Lunetta is the only one in Chautauqua County with that kind of bling.
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The 1982 Major League Baseball All-Star Game and its required post-game parties complete, Lunetta and I found our way back to our hotel in downtown Montreal in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. We checked in (we hadn’t had time to do that upon arrival nearly 12 hours before) and were told at the front desk that our bags were in our room.
When we arrived there, Lunetta unlocked the door and we walked into… a penthouse.
All I could do was laugh.
More than three decades later, I still smile at that memory.
It was my introduction to Lunetta’s world.