Lou Merloni had the same dream over and over while he was growing up in Framingham, Mass. He would be standing at the plate, watching a ball he hit drop into the net above the Green Monster.
Friday night, he had that vision again on a wonderful New England night. This time, it wasn’t a dream.
– Mark Pukalo, Hartford Courant, May 16, 1998
Second base was a trouble spot for the 1998 Red Sox. Incumbent John Valentin had shifted to third with the retirement of Tim Naehring. Jeff Frye tore up his knee, and GM Dan Duquette nabbed veteran Mark Lemke late in spring training to plug the hole. With Lemke struggling out of the gate, his season (and career) eventually cut short due to a concussion, Duquette looked 45 miles down I-95, where Framingham’s own Lou Merloni was toiling in his third season with the Pawtucket Red Sox.
Merloni, 27, a former standout hitter at Providence College and Cape Cod Baseball League batting champ in the summer of ’92, had yet to crack the big league roster after five years in the system. When he finally did, the local kid made the most of it.
In his first at-bat of his first Fenway home game, May 15, 1998, Merloni popped a three-run homer off the immortal Jose Rosado on a 3-2 pitch. The blast capped a five-run second inning that would be all the Red Sox needed in a 5-2 win over Kansas City. The second baseman later added a double in his stirring debut.
While the power surge would be a hard act to follow for the 5’10″ middle infielder — he hit 13 more Major League home runs in his career — Merloni hit .281 in limited action in ’98, eventually sticking around for parts of six seasons in Boston. By 2004, Lou was off to Cleveland and hung it up after a stint with Sacramento in the A’s system in 2007. He now hosts the midday show on WEEI in Boston and contributes to Comcast Sports New England.
A lucky few get to play in the Majors for their hometown team. Even fewer hit a home run in their first at-bat. On an unseasonably balmy spring night, Merloni drove Fenway Park crazy. On the 15th of May, 16 years ago, the confluence of childhood imagination and big league skill resulted in a dreamy affair for the kid from Framingham.