The excitement of the Twins winning the World Series in 1987 led Duane and Lola Gellner to make the bold decision to load the kids — Rob, Marney and Ryan — in the Chevy Impala and make the 500-mile drive from Minot, N.D., to Minneapolis to see a game for themselves in the Metrodome.
This was the summer of 1988 and Lola had found a discount coupon for a Minneapolis hotel, and the Gellners managed to pull off this epic journey.
Three decades later, Marney Gellner will head for the fourth floor of the grandstand at Hammond Stadium on Friday, walk to the end of the press box level and take her chances on what mischief Dan Gladden — one of the Twins the Gellners saw that day in the Dome — has in mind as they share a broadcast booth.
This will be Gellner’s first shot at play-by-play on a Twins broadcast, after filling in for Dave Benz in that role with the Timberwolves for the first time on Dec. 26. Wolves analyst Jim Petersen and Gellner are pals from years working together and he was on board with making things go smoothly with her first NBA play-by-play effort.
Gellner also had much experience in basketball play-by-play on Lynx telecasts, going back to her earliest days at Fox Sports North in 2002.
This is baseball. This is a simulcast — FSN and WCCO Radio, first on Friday, then on Sunday and Monday. And this is Gladden, prankster extraordinaire.
“I’m on TV, he’s on radio, so we don’t work together, but I’ve been around the Twins long enough to know that Gladdy will have something to throw me under the bus,” Gellner said.
Sexism? No. Sexism in Gladden’s case would be to not have something ready for Marney — to not show her the respect of being worthy of some classic baseball humor.
There are times in Twins games when Gellner will be sitting in the third row of the press box with FSN colleagues. I sit back there on occasion and have made this discovery:
One reason for Gellner’s long-standing success as the main FSN reporter on Timberwolves and Twins telecasts is attitude. In small-town Minnesota, and probably in Minot, we would have referred to Gellner as a “wisenheimer,” which comes in handy over the course of 162-game and 82-game schedules.
“I have a very sarcastic personality,” she said.
Sarcastic. Not cynical. “I enjoy our audience; I love the people I work with,” she said.
The ability to crack wise and exchange one-liners has to help in this male sports world — as long as you’re being treated as an equal. Gellner has attained that status with her 16-plus years of professionalism in this market.
There was a moment at Gellner’s start in TV that she wondered if such treatment was possible.
Gellner graduated from Minot’s Bishop Ryan High School in 1992 and went to the University of Mary, a small college in Bismarck. It was an NAIA school then and she played volleyball and softball.
“Go Marauders,” she said, being a wisenheimer.
Gellner took some communications courses and eventually was hired as an intern at KXMB-TV.
“I was not focused on sports, but then the weekend sports anchor left, and I was hired for that,” she said. “I was a month in, and thought it was going well, and then I took a call one night after the newscast.”
It was after hours at the station and Gellner heard the phone ring and answered. It was a woman viewer wanting to comment on what she thought of having this younger woman bringing sports news into her living room.
“She probably thought she was talking to the receptionist, although I don’t think it would have made any difference if she knew it was me,” Gellner said. “She said that hearing my voice made her physically ill, nauseated, that it was disgusting to have a woman on a sportscast.
“When I hung up, I started crying. I was still crying when I called my mom in Minot, and she said a few mom things, like, ‘Don’t pay attention to that,’ ‘You’re going to be good at whatever you do,’ and maybe, ‘I don’t think your voice is bad.’ ”
The woman viewer in Bismarck might have done Gellner a favor, teaching her early that in the on-air TV business, you have to ignore the goofball critics.
Pat Sweeney was the longtime sports director at WDAZ in Grand Forks, N.D., and hired Gellner as weekend anchor and reporter in 1997. It was a great time for coaches with personality in UND sports: Dean Blais (hockey), Roger Thomas (football), Gene Roebuck (women’s basketball) and Rich Glas (men’s basketball).
“Marney had by far the best tape of the three candidates,” Sweeney said. “Plus, she was a home-state kid and wasn’t going to mispronounce the names of any towns.”
Gellner sharpened her interviewing skills hosting the basketball coaching shows and filling in on other coaches shows. She wound up at a station in Madison, Wis., and Fox Sports North was in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. She was noticed on a volleyball telecast, and soon … FSN hired her for sideline duties in the Twin Cities.
As in Grand Forks two decades ago, she was one of us — a Midwesterner, now a mom, always able to make the most of those 45 seconds she gets with a player after a winning game, and with an aptitude for basketball play-by-play.
And now … baseball. And Gladdy.
“It’s going to be fun,” she said. “I can’t wait.”
So you’re living the lifelong dream of a kid from Minot?
“Actually, my dream was to be a comedy writer,” she said. “I would sit in high school classes with a spiral notebook and take notes — not what the teacher was saying, but on some weird movements he might make. I wrote down observational stuff that I hoped might be usable some day for a funny skit.
“When I was in Madison, I signed up for an improvisational class at Second City in Chicago. I made it once and then couldn’t make it the next time and didn’t follow through. But until 10 years ago, I still had the idea that someday I would be in New York writing for Saturday Night Live.”
Proof. Our friend Marney is a wisenheimer at heart.