If he were assigned an essay, “What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” upon his return to college last week, Lucas Hackmann would have quite a story to tell.
While working his part-time job as a Busch Stadium game attendant, Lucas, 19, was thrust into the media whirlwind and experienced instant celebrity as the wrangler of the now notorious Rally Cat. After the incident, catcher Yadier Molina hit a grand slam, propelling the Cardinals to an 8-5 victory.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Lucas said a week after the event that changed his life. “It has slowed down, but it was 24/7. I was on ‘SportsCenter’ (ESPN)!”
The Aug. 9 home game was an Interstate 70 match-up between the Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals. With KC up 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth, Molina stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. That’s when the cat sprinted across the outfield.
“I was in the visitors’ dugout. We were just about to go out to drag the dirt. I looked at one of the older guys. He said to go get it. I chased it down. I picked it up. I was told to take it outside, let the ushers take it,” he said.
Lucas has worked for the Cardinals for three summers.
“Obviously, I did just about everything wrong,” he said. “I learned. I do regret setting it down. Now we have a protocol. If there is a next time, we are prepared.”
His notoriety soon grew, and he knew his life had changed.
“I was in the eye of the storm — 40,000 eyes were on me. I was in the moment, just doing my job.”
For the record, he is not a cat person. He is a dog person. He has a pet Shih Tzu, “Chewie,” named for the furry Star Wars character Chewbacca. “Looks just like him,” he said.
Hackmann was whisked off to first aid, then for treatment at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. He had been bitten three times on his hand, and scratched, too, when the cat’s claws came out. He checked out fine, and while in ER, recognition foreshadowed what was about to happen.
“Word spread. People started noticing me,” he said.
He missed seeing the winning home run happen. He only heard about it second-hand.
The media calls started coming, and he was soon giving interviews, being taped for TV segments, recorded on radio shows, and answering calls from print publications. It started at 8 a.m. the next day and didn’t stop for hours, he said.
“The best part was meeting a ton of people in St. Louis, people who work in sports in town that I admire. I loved meeting them. It’s been so surreal,” he said.
His Twitter feed went viral: “I’m OK. You’re welcome” he posted.
“Jimmy Fallon mentioned me. Conan O’Brien did a skit about me. I was in CNN’s Weekly Photos. Matt Lauer on the ‘Today Show’ said something!” he said, shaking his head.
After a patron picked up the cat, it escaped. However, it was later found by the St. Louis Feral Cat Outreach group. Ownership of the cat is being debated, but the Cardinals have expressed interest. Lucas is staying out of the fray.
The son of Mark and Jo Ellen Hackmann, Lucas and his family moved to O’Fallon 10 years ago from Swansea. Lifelong baseball fans, they are avid members of Cardinal Nation.
“I love the Cardinals. Getting to work at the stadium is a dream come true,” he said. “It’s like having paid season tickets. It’s a first-class group, very professional.”
His brother, Matt, 25, has been a groundskeeper for nine years. His brother Jon, 23, was a groundskeeper for six years and now lives in Dallas.
His two brothers have had a good time teasing him about his exposure.
“‘Just try to enjoy it, enjoy your 15 minutes of fame,’” he said they advised. “My older brother is having a good time, saying he’s ‘Lucas’ brother’ now. It’s pretty funny. It’s been a lot of fun with them. It’s just been so crazy.”
Matt, who teaches special education, arranged Lucas to speak to the students at Carriel Junior High School on the first day of school.
“It was really fun. They had the school mascot, a Cougar, chase me,” he said.
Lucas enjoys working on the field, and comes home to work Opening Day. “It’s something you can’t describe,” he said.
Being on the field is an advantage point he marvels at, but he also likes the people he works with every home game.
“We have an awesome crew. We work really well together. We always feel we’re helping the team out. I’m sticking with it,” he said.
Fellow groundskeeper Tim Forneris, of Collinsville, is the one who told him to remove the cat. Forneris is famous for giving Mark McGwire’s record-breaking home run ball back to him 19 years ago. Now a public defender by day, he continues to work at the ballpark for night games.
“He’s just the best. He’s awesome,” Lucas said.
Lucas is a sophomore at Western Kentucky University, where he is majoring in biology, and plans to become a physician’s assistant. He returned to campus Tuesday last week.
But he will return for a special Cardinals theme game. Rally Cat Appreciation Day is set for Sept. 10.
A portion of ticket sales will go to Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation and other local animal groups.
In the meantime, Lucas will be tuned to every game.
“I love the ‘Rally Cat’ idea. They won eight straight games. We’re chasing down the Cubs in the division, and if this helped, it’s all about what helps the Cardinals, what’s good for the game,” he said.
Q: Do you have words to live by?
A: “Be kind.”
Q: Whom do you most admire?
A: My father. Hardest working and nicest person I know.
Q: If you could spend time with a famous person, past or present, whom would it be?
A: Chris Pratt, actor. Always been a huge fan of his.
Q: What is the last book that you read?
A: “Promise of a Pencil” by Adam Braun.
Q: What do you do for fun and relaxation?
A: Play sports
Q: What is the usual state of your desktop?
A: Decently organized
Q: What did you want to do career wise when you were growing up?
A: Basketball coach
Q: What do you think is your most outstanding characteristic?
Q: What irritates you most?
Q: What type of music do you listen to?
A: Christian music
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: Being around major league baseball players
Q: If you were independently wealthy, what would you be doing?
Q: When they make a movie of your life, who would play you?
A: Chris Pratt, of course.
Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you have with you?
A: My family