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Phil Miller's new blog: Welcome to 6-4-3, Twins fans

  • Blog Post by: Phil Miller
  • February 13, 2013 - 7:15 AM

     So anyway, as I was saying when we were cut off ...
     Welcome to the 6-4-3 blog. I'm in Fort Myers to cover spring training for the first time in four years, and it's hard to believe it's been that long. My stint covering the Twins for the Pioneer Press was cut short in mid-2009 when my lack of union seniority proved fatal during a round of layoffs in St. Paul. But I've circled back, this time across the river, and when all-star beat writer Joe Christensen decided his life needed fewer 10-day road trips -- Joe named this blog for me, a pretty good indication of where his mind is at after eight stellar seasons covering the Twins -- I jumped at the chance to watch baseball for a living again. Bonus: No more Metrodome!
     My perspective, I hope you'll come to agree, is as a baseball fan, interested and amused by the daily routine of the game. Living out west, I've attended every Colorado Rockies home opener (except for the years I covered the Twins). I've sat in the stands for games at 52 major-league stadiums, and have attended, mostly by buying tickets on the street, at least a game or two of every World Series since 1986. Yes, I was there, in the upper deck behind the Twins' dugout, when Kirby homered in 1991, the loudest crowd I've ever heard in my life. I'm one of you, and I hope you recognize that sensibility in my stories.
     I start my new beat today, as the understudy/partner of walking Twins encyclopedia La Velle E. Neal III, and I'll be providing coverage of spring training here. Please come back often for Twins news, updates, lineups, observations, analysis, and discussion. I can also be found on Twitter @MillerStrib.
     But before we start the Twins' 2013 journey, and in the spirit of fandom, let me begin with one of the coolest fan stories I've come across in awhile. It's about a Chicago native, and nominal White Sox fan, named Tony Swann.
     If you attended either of the past two TwinsFests, you may have met Tony, may have stopped in front of his booth. He had an eye-catching sign, a brightly colored banner reading "Buying Your Ticket Stubs for Cash." But it wasn't clear to most passers-by what he was doing.
     That's because, unlike every other dealer on the Metrodome floor, Swann wasn't trying to make money. Quite the contrary -- he's spent thousands of dollars to accomplish something that honestly won't mean a thing to anyone but him.
     Swann became a big fan of Carlton Fisk when the Hall of Fame catcher played for the White Sox, and soon began collecting a lot of Fisk memorabilia. He's got programs, bats, autographs, baseball cards -- all the usual stuff. But about a decade ago, he embarked upon a project that only a fan could understand. He decided to collect a ticket stub to every game Fisk ever played.
     A lot of collectors focus on objects that grow in value as they get older; baseball cards from decades, for instance, can be pretty valuable. But tickets stubs? Gathered in a collection as specific as this one? Not so much.
     But that hasn't stopped Swann. Fisk played 2,499 games over 24 seasons, starting with a two-game audition for the Red Sox in 1969. Swann has stubs from those games, and hundreds more. In fact, counting the six stubs he acquired at TwinsFest -- a haul that made the $450 he paid for the booth space, plus travel expenses, well worth it, he said -- Swann now owns used tickets from 2,322 of them, leaving just 177 to go.
     Thirty of them are from games played in Metropolitan Stadium and the Metrodome. That's not bad, considering Fisk played in 90 games in Minnesota during his career. But only Texas, with 33 missing games, has been tougher for Swann to find. The reason: During the 1970s and 80s, Twins' tickets had the team's logo and opponent printed on the main ticket, but it was torn off as fans entered the stadium, leaving them with just a rain-check stub, an inch and a half-long scrap of paper that didn't say "Twins" or "baseball" or anything. Most Minnesota stubs have only the date, the seat number and "Metropolitan Stadium" printed on them, so nondescript that most fans undoubtedly tossed them in the trash.
     So Swann's been coming to TwinsFest for two years, mostly just to hand out slick postcards with his "want list" printed on them to Twins fans, in hopes someone comes across a stub or two from 1976 in their attic. Now that's a dedicated collector.
     Swann has met another collector who set out to buy a stub from every game of Cal Ripken's consecutive-game streak, and another who collects stubs from every no-hitter ever thrown in the major leagues, and he's joined forces with them to find old tickets. But his quest strikes me as the most amazing, considering how hard he's working at it -- and how basically worthless, except to him, the complete set will be. He's got stubs from a few spring training games that Fisk played in, too, plus a few minor-league games, and even a New Hampshire state basketball tournament game from when Fisk was in high school. But it's those 2,499 regular-season games that keep him searching websites, contacting memorabilia dealers, and driving to Minnesota to hand out postcards.
     You can see his entire collection, and find his "Need 'em" list, at his website: BuyingOldTickets.com.
     I can't say I'm as insanely driven as Swann -- but I'm a fan, too. I'd like 6-4-3 to be a place where we share our experiences as fans, from going to Target Field to debating the new leadoff hitter.
     There are players hitting baseballs down on the field. Let's get started.

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