It’s April, and the true start of spring has been officially signaled with this most reliable harbinger: Professional baseball is in full swing.
At this point in the season, October seems eons in the future, with game after game stretching before athletes and fans alike. Ah, how easy it is to picture delicious summer afternoons and evenings at the ball park, hot dog and drink in hand, even when unexpected snow showers decorate the landscape and the wisdom of an outdoor stadium in Minnesota is momentarily called into question.
My eldest son developed a love for baseball as a kid, often retreating to his bedroom on hot nights with a glass of ice water and radio close by. He intently listened to each play and imprudently allowed his mood to be dictated by the Minnesota Twins’ inevitable rise and fall.
He’s continued to be an avid and faithful follower of the team; his attendance at a college in the heart of the Twin Cities only deepened his devotion. Furthermore, one of his best college pals and roommates is a diehard Kansas City Royals fan, so the two have cheered themselves hoarse at several games over the past four years, sitting side-by-side in contrasting team apparel as their champions sparred.
My attention has been more fickle, partly because years of parenting duty have intervened. There’s no forgetting, however, the Twins’ magical 1987 season, when the team went ALL THE WAY and won the World Series in fantastical fashion.
Life was vastly different for me then, meaning I had no children and thus time to spare for tracking the Twins.
But wasn’t everyone in the state tuned in to the Twins that year?
I was fresh out of college and had the excellent good timing of being an employee at General Mills, where my boss (VP of investor relations) seemed to have a direct line to the corporate box and to other complimentary baseball tickets on a regular basis.
“Here,” he’d mumble gruffly when there weren’t high ranking investors to entertain, shoving a pair or two of tickets across his secretary’s desk, willing to turn them over to anyone able to spend the night at the ball park.
Funny how five wins out of the gate stirs people’s hopes and prompts reminiscences about that amazing year as if three decades hadn’t passed. Although it might require water-boarding for me to independently spit out the names of even two Twins on the current roster (wait, is Joe Mauer still there??), the personalities and talent from 1987 roll off my tongue as readily as the names of close friends: Juan Berenguer, Gary Gaetti, Jeff Reardon, Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunansky, Frank Viola, Bert Blyleven and the inimitable Kirby Puckett!
In his prime, Puckett was incredible. His body, so heavily muscled and yet round, appeared perfectly created for baseball. But Dan Gladden, a spirited and mercurial individual, was perhaps my personal favorite. Gladden cared intensely about making it happen, and, like the bulk of the spectators, readily displayed his emotions.
With so much on the line, and with baseball the focus of World Series-starved Minnesotans, it was remarkable that I somehow landed my boss’s tickets to one of the final games that propelled the Twins to the big show.
Although I can’t recall where I parked near the H.H.H. Metrodome (may it rest in peace) that night, the spirit of camaraderie in the packed stadium, which barely contained the crowd’s continuous roar, hasn’t faded from my mind.
My championship Wheaties box remains intact, and my Homer Hanky, briefly revived in 1991, is ready to be ecstatically waved once again.
Think spring–and believe.