There’s a scrapbook Seth Knauer has tucked away, filled with the items that bring back childhood memories: photos with friends, notes, newspaper clippings.
Among those bits are snapshots from a lost summer; as a 10-year-old in 1988, Knauer spent much of his summer in a body cast, recovering from a car accident.
“There’s no reason to keep it, really, except for Mookie,” the Lacey resident says.
That’s Mookie Wilson, the New York Mets center fielder, who took the time that summer to call a young boy who, by most accounts, was lucky to survive the crash. Knauer was a passenger in the car driven by Emiel “Bud” Beucler Sr., the assistant coach on his Little League team that summer. They were driving north on Route 9, headed to Beucler’s home for a pool party to celebrate a championship won earlier that day, when they were hit head-on by another Lacey resident.
Knauer says he was later told emergency personnel didn’t see him in the car at first. Beucler had been ejected from the car, and Knauer was found – he’d been thrown under the dashboard – only because they heard him wimpering. The accident left Knauer in a coma for three days and broke his left femur, among other injuries.
The call from Wilson was a shock, he says.
“I couldn’t believe he would call me,” Knauer, now 34, says. When his mother answered the phone that day, he didn’t believe it was really Wilson at first, he says. But to a young boy, hearing from his favorite player meant the world to him.
“As a 10-year-old kid, to have a major league baseball player call you is the coolest thing,” Knauer said.
Until just a few years ago, Knauer had no idea why Wilson called him that day. Then he ran into his former Little League coach, Tom Faulkner, at the election booth. Faulkner, a part-time poll worker, asked him a question.
“I asked Seth if he’d ever heard from Mookie Wilson,” said Faulkner, 60. Much to his surprise, Knauer’s answer was yes.
That’s when Faulkner told him about the letter he’d written, to the Baltimore Orioles and to Wilson, asking them if there was anything they could do for the young fan.
“I wrote to the Orioles because we were the Orioles,” said Faulkner, who was 36 that summer. “And I wrote to Mookie because Seth was a big Mets fan and Mookie was his favorite player.”
“But I never heard anything back,” Faulkner said.
Finding out that his letter not only reached Wilson but prompted a phone call was extremely gratifying, said Faulkner, as he and Knauer stood outside the Forked River House on Friday night. They were at the restaurant to complete a circle that was 24 years in the making: Wilson was signing autographs, and Knauer and Faulkner were going to thank him together for reaching out to a young boy that summer so long ago. The Forked River House has hosted other Mets in recent weeks, including Howard Johnson and Darryl Strawberry.
“I have the utmost respect for him to take the time to make that phone call,” said Faulkner, who’s a New York Yankees fan but likes Wilson because of the way he's always conducted himself. “It (the phone call to Knauer) raises your admiration of someone like that.”
Inside the restaurant, there were dozens of people clad in Mets shirts and gear, waiting in line to get a few moments with the former Mets star, whose name will forever be linked with the team’s 1986 World Series championship, as it was Wilson’s single down the first base line that went through the legs of Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner in the 10th inning of Game 6, allowing the Mets to win the game and the series. (Wilson said he and Buckner are now good friends and speak frequently.)
“I loved Mookie Wilson,” said Knauer, who’s a corrections officer at the Ocean County Jail, Toms River. As he waited in line for his turn to speak with his idol, the giddy nervousness was apparent on his face.
“I’ve been to Mets games and I’ve wanted to yell ‘Thank you’ to him, but I never felt like I was close enough,” Knauer said.
As Wilson began signing the jersey placed before him, Faulkner recounted the story as Knauer stood, almost speechless.
“Did I call?” he asked, and when Knauer said he had, Wilson broke into a wide grin.
“As a player, you’re humbled that someone remembers (a gesture like that) after all those years,” Wilson said. “What we do is a microcosm of the real world. To be able to have done something like that, I know I did do something worthwhile.”
Wilson, who lived in Lakewood for 10 years while he was playing for the Mets – “I loved it here,” he said. “I only moved because I got traded” – said he gets hundreds of requests. “I have a box this big,” he said, spreading his hands about two feet apart and about 18 inches high, and that he’s always tried to fulfill requests when he had time to do so.
After taking a few photos with Wilson, Knauer and Faulkner stepped aside to allow the next person their time with the center fielder.
“I have so much respect and admiration for the guy,” Knauer said. “He’s still the same happy, friendly guy he was back then.
“Looking up to him as a role model, and seeing that he’s still on the straight and narrow, it’s amazing,” Knauer said. “God really blessed us with Mookie.”
Afterward, Knauer and Faulkner sat at the bar, sharing more memories of that summer and the one that followed.
“It’s amazing how many of the memories we had were the same,” Knauer said later.
But the memory that will forever top them all – and forever link player and coach – is Mookie’s phone call, and the letter that prompted it.
“I feel like a little kid again,” Knauer said after his time talking with Wilson. “I still get excited every time I see him (at a game). ‘That’s Mookie Wilson. That’s the guy who called me.’ ”
That’s the impact a moment of kindness can have on a young kid going through a rough time.
The Forked River House has Jose Canseco, the Oakland A's outfielder, scheduled for an autograph session on April 23, and former Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau scheduled for April 26. Other stars are being scheduled; check with the restaurant for details.