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Opener in '65 was later, and greater test

  • Blog Post by: Patrick Reusse
  • March 21, 2013 - 3:13 AM

The Twins are scheduled to open their 25th season of outdoor baseball on April 1. There were 21 seasons at Met Stadium, followed by 28 inside the Metrodome, and now No. 4 at Target Field.

The Twins and the rest of us are dealing with a very long winter and a very early opener. The temperatures on Wednesday were the coldest for a spring equinox in the Twin Cities since 1965.

The season also opened at home in 1965 -- on Monday, April 12. The complications endured on that date were much more serious than what the Twins, the Tigers and the fans figure to face this time around.

That was an extra-long winter, cold and snow-filled, and then the melt came quickly. The result was record floods in the Twin Cities and across Minnesota.

The headlines across the front page of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune that week carried these messages: "Major Disaster Declared in State''; "Mississippi Perils Cities, 20,000 Homless in State''; and "LBJ Pledges All Flood Help Nation Can Give.''

The last of those appeared on April 15, on the morning after President Lyndon Johnson visited the state to look at the flood damage.

The Twins had gone ahead with the Monday opener against the New York Yankees. Famously, starting pitcher Jim Kaat, lefthander Dick Stigman and third baseman Rich Rollins arrived at Met Stadium by helicopter. All lived in Bunrsville and the roads to Bloomington were flooded.

Barbara Flanagan, a reporter for the Tribune, was assigned the task of writing the front page color story on the opener. Flanagan offered this lead:

"The Minnesota Twins -- bless 'em -- barreled into a new season of baseball on Monday against the towering New York Yankees and suddenly the sun came out.

"To make it perfect, the Twins won, 5 to 4, in 11 harrowing innings.

"A crowd of 15,388 loyalists hopped mud puddles to huddle in Metropolitan Stadium, where the wind was snapping at flags and biting at anybody not bright enough to wear thermal underwear.''

The gametime temperature was 44 with an 18 mph wind. The field conditions were listed as wet.

Rollins left early with an injury and was replaced at third base by rookie Cesar Tovar. He had been acquired from Cincinnati for lefty Gerry Arrigo over the winter. If the Internet had existed, harsh comments on the wisdom of trading a lefthanded pitcher of promise for a utility player would have been posted at length.

Long-term, it became a fine move for Calvin Griffith's baseball operation. Short-term, it was an adventurous first-ever game in the big leagues for Tovar.

Kaat was looking at a complete game victory, before Tovar dropped a Joe Pepitone pop-up that allowed the Yankees to get a 4-4 tie in the ninth. It was one of eight errors on the day, with five for the Yankees. The last was a butchered fly ball in the11th by Arturo Lopez..

Bob Allison wound up at third on Lopez' blunder. Tovar made up for his earlier sin with a game-winning single.

The Twins already had announced the second game of the series, scheduled for Tuesday, was postponed due to the floods. The Yankees complained in the visitors clubhouse, suggesting it was simply a ploy by Griffith to schedule the game during New York's visit on July 9-11.

Calvin's reputation was known far and wide, obviously. It was also a good business decision.

When the Yankees returned in July, the postponement became part of a day-night doubleheader on Saturday that drew crowds of 36,000-plus for both. It would've been 6,000 if the game was played back on a soggy, cold Tuesday in April.

This ranks among the most-memorable few days in Twins' history. The home team won three of four from the Yankees, including on Sunday, when Harmon Killebrew hit a two-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

The win gave the Twins a five-game lead in the American League at the All-Star break. It also put the Yankees in seventh place and 14.5 games behind. That weekend was the launching point for what is sadly known as the "Horace Clarke Era'' by long-time Yankees followers.

Two days later, on July 13, the All-Star Game was held at Met Stadium for the only time. Killebrew homered again in the AL's 6-5 loss to a National League squad that might have been the greatest baseball team ever assembled. Harmon's All-Star swing is now immortalized in his statue at Target Field.

The Twins won the pennant and went to the World Series six months after dealing with that late, miserable spring.

We are encountering another of those in 2013. Anyone have the impression the ultimate result for this year's ballclub will be the same?

 

 

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