The first All-star game in Minnesota was on July 15th, 1965, which was my golden birthday. This 15 year old was hoping for bleacher seat tickets and a home run ball. The Twins were tearing up the American League and the baseball world was focused on Minnesota’s brilliant core—Killebrew, Oliva, Kaat, Mud Cat Grant, Versalles, and a dozen role players that made the Twins one of baseballs best teams.
My Dad got tickets for the game and we were camped out in the bleachers when my all-time favorite player, Willie Mays, stroked what looked to be a fastball into the seats in front of us. Lead-off hitter for the National League and the Say Hey Kid stripes a homer just out of arms reach. Home-town hero Harmon Killebrew also sent one over the fences and even though the National League won, the All-star game was one of my best youth memories.
One might imagine things have changed a lot since those days.
In some ways they have. The momentous events of 1965 presaged the tumult that was to come in succeeding years, with the race riots in Watts, Los Angeles, murder of Malcom X in New York, March On Selma by Martin Luther King and the escalation of the Vietnam War by the wizards in Washington.
My attentions were focused on brighter notions. Sean Connery’s James Bond captivated the boys of my generation, the Twins made the 1965 World Series, a space launch got close enough to the moon to capture photos and Bob Dylan electrified folk music by abandoning the acoustic guitar and "plugging in".
The constant for all that followed is sports.
This week’s All-star game is an opportunity to celebrate national unity and American tradition. With over 175,000 visitors and media this is the year's jewel event at Target Field and in our state. This year’s All-star teams may not have a dozen future Hall of Famers as in the 1965 contest, but it will be a much larger spectacle than ever imagined when the summer classic began in 1933.
Modern day baseball is a throwback to an uncomplicated past, a time when, except for mulitple nationalities, the players we see on stage could well be the same cavalcade of athletes who long ago paraded past us in stripes and solids, reds and grays, and blues and greens and whites.
Sure, the game has also been sullied by racism, greed and avarice of power brokers and prima donnas, and the powerful exertions of the media willing to change the nature of the game just to make more money. There have been a few bad apples on the field, too, who show up just for the money or glorification, and some criminals and dopers trying to take a shortcut to immortality.
But the essence of the sport has not changed. Players grew up with the game they love and every professional grown-up on the field of play is a kid who dreamed of this moment, a chance to represent their team in the greatest sports classic. Most players are like Willie Mays, who they say would have played the game for free as long as he could play.
The sport is an exercise in constancy. Players and records and champions come and go, but baseball lives on through hurricanes, race riots, wars and politics, and it’s own self-inflicted wounds.
In the coming decades humanity will face unimagined challenges that could threaten our very existence. But on the field of play time and crises won't exist. We will continue to study and marvel at the extraordinary, simple feats achieved by the athletes who make us forget and marvel at their skills. And for a few hours we could be living in the past or future and it wouldn't matter.
It's like that with baseball.