Another friend, recently released from Folsom, told him, "You've got lots of fans inside, Mitch."
Maybe Mitchell laughs so much because he has lived such a hard life. "See this?" he says, showing the scarred underside of his right wrist. "I got it when I was nine. My father was beating up my mother. He jumped on her back. I took a hot skillet of grease and threw it at him. I burned myself." His father, Earl, denies the incident.
Mitchell's grandmother raised him for most of his childhood because, he says, "I didn't get along with my mother." A brother, Donald, died in a gang war. Earl was a cocaine dealer who became an addict. In 1990 Mitchell took Earl into his house and also employed him as a custodian at his hair salon. "Then I realized I was only supporting his habit," Mitchell says.
He came to that conclusion after his father pawned Kevin's 1986 Mets world championship ring for drug money. Another time he rushed to his father's aid after Earl jumped out a second-floor window. Earl, clad only in his underwear, begged his son, "Kill me. I don't deserve to live."
According to Kevin, in '93 Earl showed up in the driveway of Kevin's house and began vomiting. Kevin threw him off his property. "Don't bring that here," he said. "This is a happy home." He didn't speak to his father for about a year, until a neighbor told him that Earl had "checked into some rehab program with a church." Earl says he has been clean for a few years and now works in an outreach ministry in San Diego.
When you grew up in a gang-infested neighborhood and you've been trying to keep your father's nose clean, what could possibly happen on a baseball held to scare you? Mitchell was a rookie in '86 when Johnson sent him to pinch-hit with two outs in the ninth inning of World Series Game 6. The Red Sox, ahead by two rims, needed one out to win the world championship. Mitchell had to be fetched from the clubhouse, where he had removed his jersey in anticipation of defeat. He promptly got dressed and dropped a single into centerfield, imparting more momentum to that improbable rally. "Damned if I was going to go down in history as the man who made the last out," he says.
In July 1993, a 25-year-old man named Raymond Smith was killed in an automobile accident. Mitchell had been a friend of Raymond's mother, Judy Smith, for six years. He paid for Raymond's tombstone. Then he told Judy, "Mom, now I'm your only son. I will always take care of you."
Kevin Mitchell is not always funny. Not only did Smith lose her only son that year, but she also lost her father and was in a wreck that totaled her car. Following Judy's accident, in December, Mitchell decided she needed a large, safe car. He bought her a new, silver Cadillac Eldorado with this salutation on the license plate: ONLY4U7, the final digit a reference to his Reds uniform number. "Kevin has such a gift, it's as if you can see the light in him," Smith says. "It's hard for me to put into words what he's meant to me. I truly believe that Kevin is my angel, a guardian angel sent here to look after me."
When the Reds called up outfielder Steve Pegues from the minor leagues in '94, Mitchell insisted the rookie stay with him at his Cincinnati-area home. The year before, when outfielder Jacob Brumfield was a rookie with the Reds, Mitchell was like a big brother to him, calling Brumlield's hotel room at night to check up on him.
"Inside Kevin's got a soft heart," says Brumfield, who now plays for the Toronto Blue Jays. "He looks after the younger guys—giving them money, talking to them, taking them out to eat, things like that."