The World Series was this country’s most important sports event in 1965, and baseball’s All-Star Game was in the top five. When people referred to the game as “the Midsummer Classic,” they did so with reverence.
The game was scheduled for July 13 at Met Stadium. We were anxious to show the nation’s TV viewers that they were wrong … that it didn’t snow in Minnesota in July.
On the Sunday before the All-Star break, Harmon Killebrew hit a 3-2 pitch from the Yankees’ Pete Mikkelsen with two outs in the bottom of the ninth for a two-run home run to give the Twins a 6-5 victory.
The Twins were five games in front in the American League. A half-dozen of our heroes were on the 25-player AL squad: catcher Earl Battey and first baseman Killebrew as starters, along with pitcher Jim Grant, shortstop Zoilo Versalles and outfielders Tony Oliva and Jimmie Hall.
I’m telling you, baseball had our hearts pumping and our corpuscles jumping that summer. And it couldn’t get better than this, a chance to show off two beloved institutions: our erector set of a ballpark on the Bloomington prairie, and these half-dozen All-Stars from our first-place ballclub.
Twenty years later, the All-Star Game returned and baseball barely had a pulse in these parts. It was Year 4 in the Metrodome, a much-derided plastic ballpark, and the Twins were in sixth place and 11 games behind in the seven-team AL West.
Tom Brunansky was the sole Twins representative as a reserve outfielder — one man on what was a 28-player roster.
To emphasize this contrast in our All-Star history, the 1965 game was a classic, 6-5 in favor of the National League, and the 1985 game was a 6-1 snooze-fest, also in favor of the Nationals.
The All-Star Game arrives next week for the third time in Minnesota, and we have to admit the condition of baseball here is much closer to what it was in July 1985 than the fervor on the Bloomington prairie of 1965.
The 2014 Twins have started a fourth annual charge destined to carry them well into the 90s for losses. Right now, the Twins have less to offer than the Astros, the White Sox or the Rangers, making them solid favorites to finish with the worst record in the American League.
The positive is that the camera shots from Target Field are going to be much more appealing than they were from the Metrodome. This time, we have the ballpark to impress the nation’s baseball fans, at least.
An initial 33 eligible players were named for the two All-Star rosters on Sunday night. A 34th player is added with a vote to drive traffic to MLB.com. This will be followed by numerous substitutions for actual injuries, sort-of injuries and starting pitchers who were intentionally lined up to pitch for their clubs next Sunday.
The Twins were generously provided with two spots (rather than the compulsory one) among the AL’s first 33: catcher Kurt Suzuki and closer Glen Perkins. Suzuki was deserving of his first-ever All-Star designation, and Perky was a candidate among many qualified one-inning relievers.
The deal is, Suzuki is still a stranger in these parts, having been here for 55 percent of one season, and as someone who goes about his business with low-key efficiency. As for Perkins, he didn’t get to pitch as a first-time All-Star, but he figures to get at least one NL batter this time.
Perkins might have to settle for a tie when it comes to an ovation for a reliever during pregame introductions at the All-Star Game.
As part of an amazing comeback, Pat Neshek, a local fellow and a former Twin, was named as a National League reliever.
Back in 2007, Neshek was among the five candidates to be voted on by the public after his phenomenal first half with the Twins. He threw reasonably hard from his funky delivery. Eventually, his velocity left as his elbow went bad. He underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the 2010 season.
He’s come back from that, and he and his wife, Stephanee, have come back from tragedy — the loss of son Gehrig on his first day of life in October 2012.