It’s official. Ball gate is on. And no, this isn’t some cheap reference to Michael Jackson’s legal problems.

In a nutshell [d’oh!], Minty held on to the ball he caught for the final out of the 2004 World Series, slipped it to his wife Jodi after the locker room victory hoe-down, and the pair had it authenticated by MLB the next day. Since then, the Mientkiewiczs have kept it stored in a safe deposit box, something that apparently doesn’t sit well with Theo & the Trio. As Lucchino told CNN/SI, “This is a gray area as to what players think they can take with them.”

Initially, the story, as reported by Shaughnessy, gave the impression that Minty was holding out, keeping the ball locked away to finance his kids’ college tuition, score investment properties in Yonkers, and build that long-rumored Dick Drago robot. Doug and Jodi spent the better part of yesterday afternoon on talk radio and posting to the message board to restore Dougie’s good name, and note that what he intended as sarcasm and humor, Dan the Man took as gospel. [Transcripts and .wav files are available at Dirt Dogs for your reading and listening pleasure.]

Now the story’s all over the national news. And it’s gotta look as silly from their perspective as it does from ours.

So whose ball is it? Dude, it’s gotta be Mientkiewicz’s. I mean, when Barry Bonds is swatting record-breaking home runs into the bay and grown men in kayaks and hovercrafts are slapping each other with oars to get at them, I don’t see Bud Selig strapping on the scuba gear to defend valuable MLB property. The fans fished ’em out, they own ’em.

I believe Minty when he says he wants to share the ball with the fans. I really do. But… this is the goddam ball that ended 86 years of misery — the veritable totem of Red Sox Nation. In an era in which home run balls pull in near millions, I can’t help but wonder if, in the immortal words of Papa Jack, “Somebody got to pay.”

Either way, this makes for some pretty fascinating hot stove. What will Minty do? Will he simply hand it over to Red Sox Nation? Will he maintain ownership and “loan” the ball out for public appearances? Could [and would] ownership take him to court? Would fans hold a grudge if Minty held out for a sizable chunk of lettuce? What’s Minty’s agent telling him through all of this? Will we all soon be paying five large to get our pictures taken with “the ball”?

I gotta tell ya, this makes me giddier than a homeless person on free hula hoop night.