Former major league first baseman, Islamorada resident and captain, Doug Mientkiewicz remembers the days riding with his dad to his office next to the Tom Thumb in Key Largo. Stuck in the tape player was Kenny Rogers, and on would come “The Gambler.”
Mientkiewicz hasn’t forgotten a key line in the song that his dad would emphasize: “If you’re gonna play the game, boy, you gotta learn to play it right.”
“He would stop and grab my arm and look at me and make a point,” said Mientkiewicz, who’s just one of a few to bring home a gold medal in the Olympics while also earning a World Series ring. “That still plays in my head. That’s how the passion kicks in for me for everything. That ties into coaching and even charter fishing.”
Born in Toledo, Ohio in 1974, the 12-year major league baseball veteran has called the Keys his home full-time since 2010. But he’s been coming down since the early ’80s, when his uncle owned a lumber business in the Keys and a home on the oceanside in Lower Matecumbe.
From bonefishing on the docks to catching mutton snapper, Mientkiewicz said, it didn’t take much to fall in love.
“I can still picture this image in my head of my dad and I playing catch,” he said. “I missed the ball and it went into the water. In between the ball was a crab with his back against the coral and a bonefish facing him. My ball was spinning in between the two of them. That’s exactly why I love this place.”
Mientkiewicz attended Westminster Christian School where he played football and baseball with Alex Rodriguez. As good as they were in football, Mientkiewicz and Rodriguez’s productivity on the baseball field led them to win a national championship.
While drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992, Mientkiewicz opted to attend Florida State. He was then drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1995 where he played until 2004. Traded to the Boston Red Sox in 2004, Mientkiewicz caught the final out in a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals — the first World Series win for Boston in some 86 years.
His baseball career also took him to New York, where he played with the Mets and Yankees. He also spent seasons with the Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers. He subsequently entered broadcasting as an analyst in 2010. That followed with a coaching career that started with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization in 2012. His most recent coaching gig was with the Toledo Mud Hens.
Today, Mientkiewicz spends time on his 45-foot Seahunter chasing sailfish alongside his co-captain Willie Nelson (the dog, not the musician), girlfriend Madison Wright, and fellow fishers. He’s also starting his charter business, Olympic Gold Fishing — the name stemming from the gold medal he won with the USA baseball team during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
“It meant the world to me,” he said. “I always say people win the World Series every year. When you play for your country, it’s a whole different animal. I’ve been fortunate to play for my country three times. Every time I thought it was going to be my last shot, so don’t you go 3,000 miles without winning.”
Mientkiewicz said he stays in touch with the team to this day.
“We talk at minimum once a week through a group chat,” he said. Every year on Sept. 17 — on the day we won the gold medal — we all toast each other one way or another.”
Mientkiewicz’s admiration for the Olympics goes back to his younger years when it was always on TV in the house. One of his favorite Olympians was Mike Eruzione, captain of the USA hockey team who scored the game-winning goal against the Russian powerhouse in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Eurizone spent two seasons playing for the Toledo Goaldiggers.
“I had his shirts. He was a god to me,” he said.
With his passion for baseball and Olympics also comes an addiction for sailfishing. Mientkiewicz spent a few months in the Keys with baseball season consuming a majority of the year. He recalled the first time he saw a sailfish come up.
“The sickness took over,” he said. “Whether we’re fun fishing or tournament fishing, and one comes up, we still scream.
“There’s so many similarities between baseball and sailfishing,” he continued. “Right when you think you might have picked up something sailfishing the day before, you go out and see nothing, or what you thought would work didn’t work.”
Last month, the team aboard Mientkiewicz’s boat took first in the annual Fish for Holly tournament. Mientkiewicz said it was a special moment, having known Holly Given, who was killed in a murder-suicide in 2017, and having come close to winning the tournament last year with her brother, Jack, on board.
“That was a big one for us,” he said. “We wanted this one bad. She’s been on this boat. She lived in the same house I did for a while; she rented downstairs.”
As busy as he is out on the water, Mientkiewicz hasn’t shied away from the game of baseball. In a Canes uniform, he can be seen directing the high school baseball team out on the field while giving players pointers as a member of the coaching staff. His son, ninth-grader Steel, plays for the team.
“I’m trying to help as much as I can. I was kind of sitting there at the Upper Keys Rotary Club meeting one day when (athletic director) Rich Russell, who invited me, introduced me as a Coral Shores baseball coach. It comes with the territory,” Mientkiewicz said.