PHOENIX -- Mike Thalblum vividly remembers riding his bike to Scottsdale Stadium, where the A's used to make their Spring Training home in the 1980s. It was a wooden shack back then, and Thalblum walked into the facilities as a curious 13-year-old and walked out a batboy."They haven't been able to get rid of me since," said a smiling Thalblum, now 44. The longtime A's employee now holds duties as the visiting clubhouse manager, a role that calls for hundreds of food shopping trips and just as many loads of laundry each season. He caters to each visiting player's needs, and he remembers each of their faces. Just ask him about his first day at Scottsdale Stadium, when he recalls Wayne Gross and Mitchell Paige engaging in a fight. "The best part about this job is the people," he said. "I can understand when players hang on and play as long as they can, even though they have all the money they're ever gonna need for them and their family and their kids, because it's a very special atmosphere in the clubhouses. It's one like no other. "I've always been kind of star struck on these guys, so I like to hang out with them when they come into my clubhouse. It's special, and it's a privilege to be in the clubhouse with some of the best athletes in the world." During the season, Thalblum works every home game and even sleeps in the clubhouse on those nights after racking up long work days. Evening contests have him up early and on the stationary bike before a trip to Costco -- "Food is all they care about," he says -- unofficially begins his shift at 9 a.m. Working until past midnight is rather normal, and a day game calls for even earlier hours -- 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. He's also in the clubhouse every day of the offseason.
They're long hours, no doubt, but road games give Thalblum the chance to spend plenty time with his family. He met his wife, Janine, at the ballpark when she stopped by to help him open a car-insurance account, and the couple named their first child, 8-year-old Stewart Robert, after famed A's pitchers Dave Stewart and Bob Welch. They also have a 7-year-old son, Jonathon David.Stewie, as he's known around family and friends, has found his way to his father's side at the stadium despite an ongoing battle with autism, a developmental disorder that affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills. "When the doctors said, 'You guys are having a boy, all these dreams go through your head, thinking you have a batboy someday, working the clubhouses," Thalblum said. "When Stewie was diagnosed with the autism, that all changed for a little bit. But it's wonderful because the ballpark has actually helped with his social problems that he had, and it's nice both my sons can come to work, come right down the stairs and hang out with Daddy. "That first day he was a batboy, I was bawling my head off. It's special. The whole job has been special." Entering his 18th season as the visiting clubhouse manager, which followed stints as a batboy and clubhouse assistant, Thalblum couldn't be more grateful for the life he leads and the people that have made it worthwhile. His first paycheck -- a Charlie Finley check -- has yet to be cashed, and he fondly recalls receiving his very first tip from Billy Martin. "There's something from every year that you never forget," he said. "My whole life, my family's whole life, everything we got, everything's been about the ballpark. I remind myself every day that there's only 30 of these jobs out there. That's it. The A's have treated me with nothing but the best. They've always been as nice as can be to me, and I can't be more appreciative."