ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Unless he gets injured, Alex Rodriguez will get his 3000th major league hit later this week.
And unless he suffers a similar fate, Dr. Seth Hawkins will be there to see it, as he has for each of the last 20 hitters to reach that milestone.
But that’s not the most interesting thing about Hawkins. The St. Paul man who calls himself “Dr. Fan” lives in a museum of his own creation.
“This will look a bit odd to many 21st century eyes” Hawkins told a recent visitor, as the tour began.
Spend some time in Hawkins’ home, and it’s easy to see the 72-year-old retired communications professor is passionate about history.
From an age when most young boys were falling in love with baseball, Hawkins has been a fan of the Gilded Age – specifically the 1880s.
“You probably need a wealthy talented psychiatrist to figure all of that out,” he said.
After moving into the house from Connecticut in 1993, he furnished it entirely in period décor and named it the Julian H. Sleeper House, after the man who built it in St. Paul in 1884.
“I think he looks rather like Wade Boggs,” Hawkins said.
The highlight of the tour is an entire room devoted to President James Garfield, including a life-size mannequin that Hawkins specially commissioned.
“See,” Hawkins said. “We pose him so you can shake hands with him.”
He’s never had a driver’s license. Doesn’t own a computer much less have internet access. And when he first moved to Minnesota in 1993, he lived off of 3 ½ years of accrued sick days from his old job in Connecticut.
Spending time in here, with all the things he’s collected, it’s easy to forget the hobby Hawkins is best known for in the baseball world – collecting milestone memories.
He has witnessed, in person, every 3,000th hit since 1970 – the last 20 in a row.
“Some things that start out as a little gimmick become serious and important very quickly,” Hawkins said.
It was Hank Aaron and Willie Mays – the novelty of two future Hall of Famers pursuing the milestone simultaneously – that first piqued his interest.
“This is unusual,” Hawkins said. “And once having done that, I said, well, OK, let’s keep going.”
Ever since, once a player gets within four or five of 3,000, Hawkins hits the road.
He can thank George Brett for that rule.
“Remember,” Hawkins said, “Brett went from 2,996 to 3,000 in one night.”
There was Paul Molitor in 1996, the only one to do it with a triple.
There was quite a scare in ’99, when Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs reaching theirs just a day apart caused a rather interesting trip from St. Louis to Montreal to Tampa Bay.
And there was Dave Winfield in ’93, Eddie Murray in ’95 and Cal Ripken Jr in 2000, all at the Metrodome, giving Hawkins his shortest trips – just an eight mile bus ride.
“(Rod) Carew is one,” Hawkins said, “Because he was undervalued throughout large chunks of his career.”
“Craig Biggio stands out. Getting thrown out trying to stretch a hit after he’s already got the 3000? That is motivation.”
“And the most important one,” Hawkins said, is yet to come. “And that’s Ichiro,” next on the list after A-Rod.
And it shouldn’t surprise you why.
“He’s the 1880s come back, new and improved,” Hawkins said. “He’s Wee Willie Keeler, in an era in which one should not be able to succeed doing that.
“I don’t cheer for any team. But there are players I admire. And he is first among them.”
But first, there’s Rodriguez, five hits away. Hawkins will follow him to Miami on Monday morning, staying until the milestone is reached.
“Dr. Fan is being aided financially and logistically,” he said. “After many years of doing it all himself, has gratefully gotten some benefactors. People that would rather not be named.”
Hawkins was in high school when Stan Musial hit his 3000th in 1958 – the last one he missed.
“When I had the privilege of meeting Stan Musial, he gave me a hard time,” Hawkins said. “In a joking way.”
The only other one he missed in his lifetime? Paul Waner in 1942.
“I had an excuse,” Hawkins said. “I was 4 days old. Mom wouldn’t let me travel.”
For his devotion to the game, the Baseball Reliquary – the “counter-cultural Hall of Fame,” as Hawkins calls it – awarded him its annual Hilda Award in 2002, which recognizes distinguished service to the game by a fan.
“Of all the academic, (and) non-academic honors I’ve gotten,” Hawkins said, “the Hilda Award is No. 1. So that’s Dr. Fan’s prized possession.”
He might still be more interested in James Garfield than Dave Winfield, but there’s probably nobody better to witness milestones in America’s pastime than the man who so loves America’s past.
“It’s always to honor the person who actually did it, who has the talent, who has the motivation,” Hawkins said. “When you’re harmlessly, or perhaps even productively obsessive-compulsive, something like that keeps on going, and there becomes the need to maintain it.”
Amidst all the antiques, Hawkins does allow himself some modern conveniences.
“Yeah there’s a 21-year-old RCA” television, Hawkins said. “Haven’t quite gotten to the flat panel.”
After all, he says, he’d be lost without the MLB Extra Innings cable package.
“With a mind stuck in the 1880s, and the compromise of modern appliances,” Hawkins said, “It’s very comfortable.”