Ron Roenicke sprinted towards second base and into the face of a human tidal wave that stopped him dead in his tracks. The magical run of the 1984 Padres was over.
Roenicke may not be the first player that comes to mind on a San Diego team that included Tony Gwynn, Steve Garvey, and Goose Gossage.
But he was the last Padre to run the bases, affording him the relatively rare vantage point of watching a World Series celebration unfold at ground zero.
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We remember final outs of various Fall Classics for the reactions of the pitcher and catcher, whether it's Jesse Orosco tossing his glove joyously in 1986 or Jason Varitek jumping into the arms of Keith Foulke in 2004.
But what about the losing players, the ones who helplessly watch their dreams go up in smoke while engulfed in delirious bedlam? Roenicke knows that feeling, and he won't soon forget it.
He was on first base in Tiger Stadium when Tony Gwynn flied to left to complete Detroit's 8-4 win in 1984's clinching Game 5.
Tabbed to pinch run for fellow future manager Bruce Bochy, Roenicke raced halfway to second base before he saw not only the Tigers leaping from their dugout, but fans pouring onto the field to celebrate the city's first World Series title since 1968.
"I remember on the pop-up taking off running and then just seeing this mass of people coming on the field, and all I could think about was just get off the field and get in the dugout and try to be safe," Roenicke said earlier this offseason. "You're used to everything being in control on a baseball field and when the stands empty and it's chaos, it's a weird feeling like, 'What's going on?'"
Roenicke was lucky to be on the field at all. He opened the 1984 season without a team after being cut by the Mariners in spring training. He signed with the Padres on April 5 and spent most of the season at Triple A. Summoned on Sept. 1, he hit .300 in 12 games and figured his season was over, watching the Padres shock the Cubs in the NLCS, aided largely by Garvey's walk-off homer in Game 4.
Outfielder Kevin McReynolds injured his wrist during that series, however, opening a World Series roster spot. It went to Roenicke, a 28-year-old who had found himself in the opposite position just three years earlier, when an ankle sprain with a week to go cost him his job as the Dodgers' starting center fielder and sidelined him for the entire championship run.
"I jumped for the first base bag and blew up an ankle," Roenicke recalled. "I was still kind of involved in that one on the sidelines in the locker room and watching what was going on, but I wasn't on the field. Playing in '84, it meant something. You want to feel like you're involved and you're a piece of something."
Broadcaster Vin Scully recognized what that small moment meant for Roenicke, noting the juxtaposition with '81 and telling viewers, "So you see, fate has a way of evening up, I guess."
By the time Roenicke entered with one out, the Padres trailed 8-4 against a 104-win Tigers club that might've been the team of the decade. The unheralded Padres had already shocked the Cubs after losing the first two games of the NLCS, though, and never counted themselves out.
"We had a good team," Roenicke said. "I don't think anybody expected us to get through the Cubs. Sometimes when you're on a team that may not feel like the best team, but you win, it seems like you always think that something's going to happen, something good is going to happen."
Not this time. Alan Wiggins fouled to catcher Lance Parrish against MVP and Cy Young Award winner Willie Hernandez before Gwynn lined softly to left, opening the floodgates and leaving players on both sides fearing for their safety. Even Kirk Gibson, basically Mr. Tiger, had to throw fans off of him to reach the dugout.
"They won, so at least everyone's coming on the field happy," Roenicke said. "Then it got crazy on the bus. It was a mess. We showered up and we were waiting for escorts to the airport and they were having trouble.
There's a police car on fire, there's a cab that pulls up and the people are grabbing it and they end up taking the driver out and flipping the cab car over. It was pretty dangerous. And then the mounted police came in and just cleared the streets. And then our escort got to us and we got out of there.
Roenicke wouldn't reach a World Series again as a player, retiring in 1988 after an itinerant eight-year career. He added a ring as Angels third base coach in 2002, and another two years ago with the Red Sox as Alex Cora's bench coach.
In both cases, he joined the celebration on the field, which he much preferred to his experience in 1984.