The Doctor Is in the Park

Whenever there is a historic baseball moment--a 3,000th hit, a pitcher's 300th win--St. Paul's Seth Hawkins, a.k.a. Dr. Fan, is there to see it

If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it fall, will it still be in a position to ask for $10 million a year? Not likely, yet despite all the talk in recent years about escalating salaries and the various economic indignities professional baseball has inflicted on its fans (including, most recently, the announcement that baseball's pooh-bahs intend to double World Series ticket prices this year), there is still precious little in the way of proper attention paid to those same fans and their importance to the game and its history.

There have been legions of legendary fans down through the years, from the unruly "bleacher bum" contingents in parks around the major leagues to colorful individuals such as Ebbets Field regulars Jack Pierce, a crazed Cookie Lavagetto devotee who would prime himself with scotch, purchase 10 seats, and surround himself with helium balloons; and Hilda Chester, whose signature was a pair of cowbells and incessant full-throated chatter. Yet the fact remains that there aren't any fans in the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and the paying customer is woefully underrepresented in the game's extensive literature.

Which is a shame, because every franchise in the big leagues has certainly produced plenty of colorful and worthy candidates for fan immortality. And there is probably no fan alive who is more deserving of Hall of Fame status than current Twins season-ticket holder Seth Hawkins, a.k.a. "Dr. Fan," the 56-year-old retired college professor, "nationally recognized expert" on President James A. Garfield, former commissioner of intercollegiate chess, and owner/curator/resident of the Julian H. Sleeper House, a museum of Victorian decorative arts in St. Paul's Summit/Crocus Hill neighborhood. Even the briefest glimpse at Hawkins's sprawling curriculum vitae provides a jaw-dropping chronicle of baseball history in the last half of the 20th century.

Consider that Hawkins has been present for every 3,000th hit recorded in the major leagues since 1959 (there have been 13), from Henry Aaron's milestone in 1970 to Paul Molitor's entry to the select club in Kansas City in 1996. He also witnessed Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run and Pete Rose's 4,000th hit, as well as numbers 4,191 and 4,192, the hits that tied and broke Ty Cobb's all-time career mark. He was on hand for Phil Niekro's and Don Sutton's 300th victories, and when both Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton blew past Walter Johnson's career strike out record of 3,508. And in what Hawkins calls "the most important pure accident" of his heavily orchestrated and elaborately planned quest to witness baseball history, he was in the stands when Mike Schmidt hit his 500th career home run.

Then there are the ballparks. To date, Hawkins has seen regular-season games in all 58 ballparks used for major-league play since 1950, including such far-flung locales as Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City (where the Brooklyn Dodgers played seven games in 1956 and '57), Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, and the Estadio de Beisbol in Monterrey, Mexico. He was in attendance for the last New York Giants game at the Polo Grounds, the first-ever game at Camden Yards in Baltimore, and the first night game played at Wrigley Field. Naturally, he has already jetted off to games at the new stadiums in Phoenix and Tampa Bay this season.

"At some level it's not even about me anymore," Hawkins says. "There no longer seems to be a choice involved; when these events materialize I simply have to go. At this point there's this snowball that keeps rolling."

The Dr. Fan odyssey had its genesis in a New York boyhood in the 1950s. Hawkins grew up in Jamaica Queens, Long Island, the son of a railroad man and a mother who was an ardent baseball fan. As a child he regularly attended games at all three New York ballparks, and admits that he was never a partisan of any particular team (a staunch neutrality he maintains to this day), although he says that he was always partial to the Polo Grounds. "The Giants' management always saved a few rows behind home plate for general-admission tickets," Hawkins remembers. "If you ran like hell when the gates opened you could get a seat right behind home plate for $1.25." Hawkins was there in right field at the Polo Grounds when Willie Mays made his immortal catch of Vic Wertz's long drive to center in the 1954 World Series. While that event almost certainly fostered the boy's growing obsession with baseball history and his desire to bear witness, it was actually a trip he took with his mother two years earlier that planted the first seeds.

"My mother had heard that the Boston Braves might be moving, and she had the foresight to recognize that there was some historic import involved in such a move," Hawkins says. "So, through my father's job on the railroad we were able to take a free train ride up to Boston. I was 10 years old at the time, and that proved to be the only chance I ever had to see a game at Braves Field." By the next season, the Braves had relocated to Milwaukee and Hawkins's lifelong quest to experience firsthand the widest possible range of baseball history was under way.

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