Joe Driscoll turns 50 today. He will spend the afternoon in the manner he has spent summer Sundays for more than three decades: playing baseball in a cozy ballpark in Smalltown, Minnesota.
The schedule for the Carver Central amateur league was set this spring so that Arlington would be visiting Le Sueur on Driscoll's birthday. Le Sueur is Driscoll's hometown and his current team, and Arlington was the place where Driscoll became a town-ball legend.
There will be a pregame ceremony to honor Driscoll at 4:30 p.m. at the Le Sueur ballpark.
"Joe's going to lead off and DH against Arlington," manager Lon Berberich said. "We don't want to work him too hard on his 50th birthday."
Driscoll and Le Sueur started a four-game holiday weekend with an exhibition game against Winthrop on Thursday night. Driscoll had the responsibilities of playing first base and batting fourth.
There were roughly 50 people in attendance, many of whom had a connection in Driscoll. The relatives ranged from father Joe, in his 80s, to a baby belonging to Joe's nephew.
Two of Driscoll's nephews - Marty and Mike Milam - were in Le Sueur's lineup.
Driscoll told a visitor before Thursday's game: "This is it. This is the last season."
The idea that Driscoll was ready to end his playing days was brought to the grandstand area housing Joe's friends and relatives. These were the key responses:
- Father Joe - "He's had a heck of a trip. He's had a big part in a lot of great playoff games and state tournaments."
- Brother Dan: "Yes, he's quitting. It's definite."
- Wife Nancy: " Joe's quitting . . . yeah, right. You know how many times he has said that? I don't believe it."
Driscoll had his first town-team at-bats for Le Sueur in 1967, after his sophomore year in high school. He played six summers for the hometown team, then went to Prior Lake in 1973. The Jays won Class B state tournaments in 1975 and 1976, before the always-political State Baseball Board decided it was a team of ringers and reclassified Prior Lake as a Class A team.
Driscoll was absent from Minnesota in 1977. He coached a junior college baseball team in Oklahoma. He went to California, hung out, and had a tryout as a punter with a L.A. Rams.
"He could punt that ball," Joe Sr. said. "And, he was quite a basketball player. He had 56 one night for Le Sueur against Arlington."
Brother Dan said: "That was the same day I left for Vietnam. I almost went AWOL, so I could stay here and watch that game."
Dan had been Joe's teammate with the Le Sueur town team in 1967 and 1968. Dan was an effective lefthanded pitcher. He took a bullet in his left elbow in Vietnam.
"I was in the Mekong Delta - supposed to leave the next day for Australia and R&R," Dan said. "They told us, `We're going out one more time before leave.' "
Dan was sent home. His pitching days were over. The kid brother was now the ballplayer in the family.
Joe returned from California in 1978 and joined the Arlington A's for a long run.
Arlington was the Class B champion the next year. Joe was the MVP, and the biggest moment was his game-winning, bottom-of-the-ninth homer vs. Maple Lake in the tournament opener.
Jim Bartels, broadcasting the game for KNUJ in New Ulm, let out a "holy-ta-moley" when Driscoll hit the home run. In Driscoll lore, it's still referred to as the Holy-Ta-Moley Homer.
Driscoll won a state championship as a drafted pitcher for New Ulm Kaiserhoff in 1980. He won two more with Arlington in 1984 and 1985. After Arlington, there were three seasons in Red Wing, then Joe came back to play for LeSueur in 1997.
Driscoll is notorious both as a player and for his insistence that teammates engage in proper postgame camaraderie - i.e., a few beers and a baseball discussion.
Driscoll and Nancy May were married last August. She had been Joe's companion for six years. "The first time I met him, I thought, `Who could stand to spend 15 minutes around this guy?' " Nancy said. "But he grows on you."
Every couple of innings, someone in the Driscoll entourage would head for the concession stand and bring back several cans of beer, at $1.50 per beer.
"Until this year, the players could get a beer for a buck, and so could the wives," Nancy said. "But, if you were just a girlfriend, you had to pay full price."
Rex Dawson, a friend sitting nearby, said: "And now you know why she married Joe."