The fever worsened at work last week. It happened after I found out that the quiet guy I've been riding the elevator with had let it slip that he used to be a Reds batboy. He's been in uniform in the dugout on Opening Day. He's heard the buzz of the crowd. He's smelled the peanuts.
Mike Royer tried to keep his past a secret. When he came to work at the Enquirer a few weeks ago as a graphic artist, his resume did not contain the line: ''Batboy, Cincinnati Reds, 1986-87.''
''It's not something a 29-year-old man likes to brag about,'' he said as I followed him to his cubicle, eager to pump him for details about life in the big leagues.
After some prodding, Mike revealed he's a second-generation batboy. His father, Henry, had the job for the Reds in the 1950s. So, Mike knew going in that the pay would be low. In his case, it was $3.45 an hour, 10 cents above minimum wage.
But he also knew he was a lucky 16-year-old. No other Ludlow High School student had a locker next to Joe Nuxhall.
''Joe treated me like I was part of the team,'' Mike said. ''He even called me by my nickname, 'Roy.' ''
Mike ''Roy'' Royer is in the Reds' 1987 team photo.
He's also on an Eric Davis poster.
''I'm in focus in the center of the photo. Thank goodness I didn't have a goofy look on my face.''
The life of a batboy wasn't all glamour shots. It could be a risky business.
On Opening Day, 1986, Mike was assigned to right field. His job was to toss with the outfielders between innings.
''The first time I walked onto that field I had butterflies. It didn't matter that nobody knew who I was. My name wasn't on the back of my uniform. My 'number' was 'BB,' for 'Batboy.' ''
As he took his first throws in the outfield, Mike thought about his good fortune. ''Here I was, a guy who couldn't hit a baseball for nothing. My career batting average in knothole was .000. I struck out a lot. But here I was playing toss with major leaguers.''
A baseball zooming his way interrupted his reverie. The ball was rising toward the stands ''and right at a fan's head. I jumped up and closed my eyes. Somehow I caught it.''
He wasn't always so brave. One game, as he sat behind home plate looking for foul balls and keeping the umpire supplied with fresh baseballs, a foul tip shot off a bat.
''I ducked and covered my head. Then I heard a thud and a moan.'' The ball hit his boss, Marge Schott.
''Her seats were right behind me,'' Mike recalled. ''Imagine going to work and literally having the boss breathing down your neck.''
The 1986 and 1987 seasons were the years Pete Rose managed the Reds to second place and allegedly bet on baseball. Mike said he never saw Rose gamble. But the batboy did notice the manager's visitors. Baseball souvenir dealers would slink into the clubhouse before the game. ''They were unpleasant types. Real arrogant. Very unfriendly.''
Mike isn't going to Opening Day this year.
''I have to work,'' he said not sounding the least bit sorry. It's easy to feel that way when you've sat in the dugout on Opening Day.
''I wore a big-league uniform,'' he said. ''I played toss with great players. I even got to pet Marge's dog.
''The only thing I didn't do was play in a game,'' he added. ''My dream was to hear them say, 'Hey kid, we're short a player. Go in and pinch run.'
''That dream never came true,'' Mike said.
''But hey, you can't have it all.''
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Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.