You know, we just don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening. Back then I thought, Well, there'll be other days. I didn't realize that that was the only day."
—ARCHIBALD (MOONLIGHT) GRAHAM, in the 1989 film Field of Dreams
THE PERFECT major leaguer rises every day before 3 a.m., as moonlight comes in the windows of the one-story house he shares with his wife and the youngest of his eight children in San Gabriel, Calif. After a shower he crosses into the den and begins his morning ritual of reading, thinking and writing.
The room is lined with boxes and papers and has a television on which every night he watches major leaguers have imperfect careers filled with all the days that he never had in his. Notable too is what's missing. There are no framed photos of him in uniform. No baseballs or bats as mementos. Once a month he will get a card in the mail from someone who wants his autograph, and he always obliges, even though he's not entirely sure that what he did is all that remarkable.
But what John Paciorek accomplished as an 18-year-old on Sept. 29, 1963, was not just remarkable; it was also historic. In his first game in the major leagues, playing rightfield for the Houston Colt .45s (now the Astros), Paciorek went to bat five times and reached base every time, on three hits and two walks, scored four runs and drove in three more. It was one of the finest first games by a ballplayer in major league history.
Then, like the ghostly form of Moonlight Graham, an outfielder who played a half inning in the field without an at bat for the 1905 New York Giants and whose fictionalized version haunts Field of Dreams, Paciorek simply vanished into the endless cornfield of forgotten ballplayers.
John Paciorek was marked for baseball success since he was a boy growing up just off Six Mile Road in Detroit, the oldest of eight children. When John was 13, a local bird dog named Lou DeNunzio gathered some of the area's best players, including John and future Tigers great Willie Horton, for a showcase at Tiger Stadium. Paciorek hit two doubles, one to rightfield and one to leftfield. He has never forgotten the sound—"like an explosion," he says—of his wooden bat meeting the ball in the almost empty ballpark, or the sense of power he felt when he did it.
When Paciorek entered St. Ladislaus High in Hamtramck, Mich., in the fall of 1958, he was a lock for the varsity as a freshman. He weighed only 119 pounds, so to get bigger and stronger he began eating anything he could get his increasingly massive hands on, sometimes as many as five sandwiches for lunch, and, despite his father's protestations that he not lift weights, began pumping anything heavy he could find. By his senior year he was 6'2" and 200 pounds—an all-state football player with scholarship offers from Alabama and Michigan, an all-state basketball player and, of course, a baseball star.
Education never held much allure for Paciorek; becoming a major league baseball player was all he wanted. "I thought I was as good as anybody I've ever seen, and I wanted to prove it," Paciorek recalls more than a half century later.
Paul Richards, the general manager of the expansion Colt .45s, then wrapping their first season, went to Michigan in 1962 to persuade Paciorek to sign with Houston. "None of us had ever been to a restaurant before," recalls Tom Paciorek, the next-oldest child and a future major leaguer himself. "They took us to this fancy restaurant in Detroit. We ate steaks, and when they asked John [if he] wanted anything else, he said, 'Yeah, I'll take another one of those steaks.'"