Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
You won't find this in any of the TwinsFest promotions. (At least I couldn't find it.) But if you came of baseball age in or around the 1970s, I suggest bringing $20 to the Metrodome and checking out the table near the Pro Shop where five of baseball's elite are autographing baseballs and chatting up fans.
I hung out with Ferguson Jenkins today!
Jenkins, voted into the Hall of Fame in 1991, pitched seven full seasons for the Cubs (1967-73). In the first six, he won 20 or more games. In 1971, pitching for a team that was four games over .500, he went 24-13 and completed 30 of his 39 starts. That's five more than Bert Blyleven ever completed in a season.
I'm not an autographs guy. Asking for them while covering baseball is taboo and the only autograph I ever got for Young219 was that of Temple basketball coach John Cheney, when I was volunteering at a basketball clinic during the 2001 Final Four.
The last baseball autograph I'd gotten was during the 1980 American Legion World Series in Ely.
It was Ted Williams -- a gift for a New England relative.
For me, the opportunity to visit and listen to such folks far exceeds the value of getting their name on paper, and I so much remember the hour in the Ely High School library when Williams, Bob Feller and an old spitball pitcher named Burleigh Grimes were talking baseball. It was supposed to be an interview session, but we were smart enough to shut up and listen to them talk to one another.
Ms. Baseball, who was with me at the Dome, thoroughly enjoyed my descent into fandom. We chatted for a couple of minutes and I shared some of my Cubs memories and politely avoided asking about the 1969 collapse that let the Mets win the NL East and World Series.
She enjoyed it almost as much as I did.
So here's the deal: Jenkins, Rollie Fingers, George Foster, Vida Blue and Mudcat Grant are at the Dome. For $20, you get a ball autographed by one of them and, because there's not a whole lot of traffic, a chance for a brief visit. I chatted up Rollie Fingers a bit because of a story I did years ago about a former U of M baseball player whose family once recounted the kindnesses Fingers showed when their son was fighting cancer. An autographed Brewers cap was central in the teenager's room.
Proceeds benefit the Fergie Jenkins Foundation.
On Friday night, Ms. Baseball scored an invitation to a private party at the Dome during which Twins players came in for interviews. We found out for example that #JimThome is not run by Jim Thome and that Joe Mauer didn't have much to say about his contract status, even when a snowed-in-Oklahoma Nick Blackburn called in the question by cell phone through a Twins media official.
We were sharing a table with a couple of fun middle schoolers from Chanhassen, who got Al Newman to autograph their Twins jerseys after we told them who Al Newman was. The boys left for a while to buy stuff from the baseball card vendors and came back with stacks of card.
One of them asked us: "Who's Jerry Rice?"
Me 'n' Ms. Baseball explained that he was the best receiver in the history of football. (Sorry, Bernard Berrian.)
One of the boys smiled. "Oh, him! My mother talks about him. He was on Dancing with the Stars."
Are we getting that old?
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