I became the Twins beat reporter for the St. Paul newspapers in 1974. Boston quickly became my favorite stop in the American League.
It wasn’t the charm of Fenway Park. It wasn’t charm from the occupants of the home clubhouse at Fenway Park. It was a hostile place then, and was more so when rookie stars Jim Rice and Fred Lynn became the focal points in 1975.
The bars didn’t even stay open uncommonly late, which was an important factor for me in those thirstier days.
So what was it?
Four decades later, I’m thinking my immediate fondness for Boston was twofold: One, the sports section of the Boston Globe; and two, the characters working in and around the press box at Fenway Park.
I started as a sportswriter at the Duluth News-Tribune as a 20-year-old in January 1966. There wasn’t a writing coach in Duluth, nor in St. Cloud, nor as a prep writer in St. Paul.
My theory was any exposure to outstanding, on-deadline sports writing had to help, and the Globe had that in abundance: Leigh Montville as a columnist, Peter Gammons as a baseball writer, Bob Ryan as a columnist and a basketball writer, Will McDonough as a columnist and a football writer … and much more.
I recall arriving with the Twins for an off day in Boston in the mid-‘70s. The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry was being reheated and they were playing their first series of the season in New York. The Globe had four, five sports writers there and every paragraph contained interesting information or compelling description.
I remember having the thought, “This is how you cover a ballgame.’’
And then there were the denizens of Fenway – both in the press box, and in the dining room where vittles and beverages could be consumed.
Clif Keane, easily the No. 1 smart-aleck ever to roam a press box, still was writing some Red Sox stuff for the Globe. That might have been the spring when the Red Sox were playing the Twins at Tinker Field and Bob Allison came walking into the small Orlando ballpark a few minutes before the first pitch.
Allison was a buddy of Jimmy Robertson, Calvin Griffith’s brother and a Twins vice president, and was a regular visitor during spring training. Allison was with the Twins in 1967, when they went into Fenway Park needing to win once in two games to win the pennant. Boston won twice and finished what became known as baseball’s “Impossible Dream.’’
Allison hit a ball off the Fenway wall during the series, then was thrown out at second on a strong throw from Carl Yastrzemski.
So, when Keane saw Allison seven, eight years later, and 10, 12 rows away, he couldn’t resist bellowing: “Hey, Allison, how far did Yaz have you out at second when you blew the bleepin’ pennant?’’
My first real encounter with Clif came when I entered the Fenway dining room with Bob Fowler. I had succeeded Bob as the St. Paul ball writer, when he moved to the Minneapolis Star. I was a growing boy at that point, but already plump enough for Keane to shout across the room:
“Hey, Fowl-a, where’d you get the bear? You better put a muzzle on that guy.’’
That Clif-ism traveled the circuit of AL beat writers. There are still a couple of stragglers from that generation who refer to me as “Bear’’ when we meet.
The dining room had Tommy McCarthy as the host -- as wonderful of a Boston Irishman as you could meet. Tommy loved the NHL and always was engaging me in conversation on what was happening with the North Stars. Truth be told, he knew more about them than me.
There was also the bartender … Walter. He was always there, with a large block of cheese and available crackers at the bar, and whatever beverage was needed.
Another constant was Sherm Feller, the Red Sox public address announcer. I always found it amusing that Sherm’s duties were so arduous that he took a break during the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
Boston was in all our thoughts this week, of course, and I did find myself checking the Globe's coverage of those events and thinking, “That’s how you cover a huge story.’’