MILWAUKEE — Jack Kalman never had delusions of a major league career. He never excelled enough in athletics to play them in college. But still, he grew up with the Milwaukee Brewers — and baseball in general — being an essential part of his life.
Kalman has gone to Brewers games since he was 12 years old, never missing an Opening Day game since the Milwaukee Braves gave way to the Milwaukee Brewers. And along the way, having owned season tickets for almost 40 years now, Kalman became close friends with the late former Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn.
It was his relationship with Kuenn that had made him feel even more connected to the Brewers. After several games during Kuenn’s time as manager, Kalman would wait for his friend after the game and the two would head to Caesar’s on National Ave., near the Brewers’ former home, Milwaukee County Stadium. Kalman would grab beers for the two while Kuenn lit up a cigar. They would watch game tape.
And in those moments, Kalman could be a part — albeit a small one — of the Milwaukee Brewers, the team he had grown up watching.
On Tuesday, several decades after those nights at Caesar’s, Jack Kalman got his chance to become a part of the Brewers again. Literally, this time.
As a part of the team’s Major Leaguer for a Day promotion, Kalman was chosen from a pool of season ticket holders to sign an official one-day contract with the Brewers, including one day’s pay at the league minimum — a full year at the minimum equals $480,000 — a full uniform, and a parking spot in the team’s VIP lot.
He sat next to Brewers general manager Doug Melvin on Tuesday with a contract and a pen sitting in front of him.
“You look like you’re not sure,” Melvin said to him, with a laugh. “I hope you don’t have an agent.”
Kalman looked to the front row, where his wife was sitting. “Well, she’s sitting right there,” he joked.
A retired kitchen cabinet manufacturer who owned Style-Line Manufacturing in West Allis, Kalman had gone through some major league drills as a part of his contract, including running the bases, learning to bunt and other things that, Kalman said, tired him out.
“I had to run the bases,” Kalman said, “and one of the guys, says ‘Well, start at second’ on the home run trot. I’m not starting at second, but then I get to first and look at second and it looked like it was over on National Avenue. When you’re standing out on that field and putting yourself in the position of major league ballplayers … it looks like center field is about eight miles away.”
As he signed his contract, he couldn’t help but reminisce about the late Kuenn and the nights he and the former Brewers manager shared together. Like the time he and Kuenn went out, with a bottle of champagne, through St. Louis, to get a pizza after the Brewers’ 10-0 victory in Game 1 of the 1982 World Series.
Or another time, he vividly recalled, Kuenn had promised to come to his son Johnny’s baseball game on a dusty field in New Berlin, Wis. He rolled up in a beat-up Pontiac, Kalman remembered, and both teams left the field during the game to greet the Brewers manager. It is those moments that Kalman fondly remembers about his deep-rooted connection with the Brewers.
On Tuesday, for one day at least, that connection was a real one. So when asked what jersey number he’d prefer for his uniform, he chose No. 32, Kuenn’s number, to honor the friend who had made him feel like a part of the Brewers organization so long ago.
Now, with his jersey on his back and the Brewers general manager to his right, he smiled. The sport he had loved and the people he had shared it with had all led to this moment, with a crowd of people watching him officially sign as a Brewer.
“No matter what it was in my life,” Kalman said, “it always came back to baseball.”