Julio Becquer was signed from Cuba by the Washington Senators in 1952. Five years later, he began a four-season stay with the Senators. He was the backup to Roy Sievers at first base for three years, then a young slugger named Harmon Killebrew split his time between first base and third in 1960.
At the end of October, the American League announced the Senators were moving to Minnesota and expansion teams would be located in Los Angeles and Washington. The new clubs were stocked with an expansion draft and Becquer was taken by the Angels.
"I thought, 'This finally will be my chance to play [regularly],'" Becquer said. "The Angels had taken Steve Bilko, a big, strong man, but I said, 'I move much better and I'm a better fielder than him. I will play.'
"And then I found out the Angels had taken another first baseman -- the biggest, strongest man I had ever seen in baseball. That was [Ted] Kluszewski. I said, 'Oh, this is not good.' "
Becquer had a total of eight at-bats in the first 3 1/2 weeks for the Angels. On May 10, he was sold to Philadelphia and was sent to Class AAA Buffalo. Three weeks later, he was purchased by the Twins in a return to the Griffith organization.
The ballpark on the Bloomington prairie -- Metropolitan Stadium -- was not new to Becquer.
"We opened the stadium in the [American] Association with Louisville in '56," Becquer said. "Eddie Stanky was the [Minneapolis] Millers manager, and he screamed at me the whole game.
"I played some third base that season for Louisville. Seeing a lefthanded third baseman ... Stanky thought we were doing it as a joke or something. He was red in the face, screaming. I thought he was going to have a heart attack."
The Twins were 31-46 entering a July 4 doubleheader against the White Sox. The expansion of the grandstand down the right field line was incomplete. Still, Minnesotans were proud of our early support for big-league baseball.
To prove this, the next day's Minneapolis Morning Tribune featured an aerial photo of the ballpark and the crowd of 23,592.
There was also a front-page story on the doubleheader, although scrunched under a one-column headline ("Twins Erupt in Display of Fireworks") because of an adjoining story on Nikita Khrushchev.
The Soviet Union boss had visited Moscow's U.S. Embassy for its Fourth of July celebration. He told reporters it wouldn't be military might that would triumph over the West.
"I don't need a uniform," Khrushchev said. "I have brains."
Sounded like something Eddie Stanky might have said to Becquer, with profanities added.
On Minnesota's first big-league Fourth, the Twins were down 4-2 to White Sox ace Billy Pierce entering the ninth.
Killebrew flied out, Bob Allison singled and Sox manager Al Lopez brought in righthander Russ Kemmerer. Jim Lemon flied out. Earl Battey singled Allison to second. Lopez went to lefty Frank Baumann and he walked Lenny Green to load the bases.
Bill Tuttle was due next. Lopez went to his fourth pitcher of the ninth -- righthander Warren Hacker. Manager Sam Mele sent up Becquer, with two pinch-hit home runs already in his first month with the Twins.
"I always felt the pitcher was going to throw a first-pitch fastball to get ahead," Becquer said. "If he did, I would swing."
Hacker threw a fastball. Becquer swung. The drive went to right field, and kept flying until Julio had a pinch-hit grand slam to give the Twins a 6-4 victory. The roar from those 23,000 fans erupted from radios throughout the Upper Midwest.
"I've been working with the Twins' clinics for 13, 14 years, and it's amazing," Becquer said. "No matter what town we're in, someone will come up to me and say, 'Julio Becquer,' tell me where they were listening to that home run.
"They were just kids then, but they will say, 'I was at a picnic, listening with my grandpa, and you hit that grand slam, and we were so excited.' That was 50 years ago, and people still remember."
The excitement continued in the second game, when Killebrew hit a three-run, inside-the-park home run in the eighth inning to make the difference in a 4-2 victory. It was the only inside-the-park homer of his career.
The doubleheader sweep on the Fourth of July was the definite highlight of a first Twins season in which they finished 70-90, seventh in a 10-team AL and 39 games behind the Yankees.
The 84 at-bats for the Twins in 1961 were Becquer's last in the big leagues. He had one last appearance for the Twins in 1963.
"I was playing for Vera Cruz in the Mexican League," Becquer said. "Calvin Griffith called and said, 'I've already bought your contract. Can you get up here?' I said, 'I'll be there.'
"Calvin did that for me because I was one week short of qualifying for my major league pension. You needed five years. The Twins put me on the roster for two weeks in September and that gave me my pension. I hadn't even asked.
"I did have a lot of friends on the team -- Camilo [Pascual], Zoilo [Versalles] ... Tony [Oliva] was there in September, and we were like brothers. It was a great thing the Twins did for me."
Two years earlier, Griffith had arranged through Papa Joe Cambria, a Twins scout and the godfather of Cuban baseball, to have Becquer's wife, Edith, get out of Castro's Cuba.
"I mentioned it to Calvin, he said, 'Don't worry about it,' and a month later, my wife was with me in Minnesota," Becquer said.
Julio quit the Mexican League after the 1964 season and returned to Minnesota, where his wife was due to deliver a baby.
The Becquers made a life here. Julio, a man with a teaching degree in Cuba, worked 30 years for Dayton's. Edith, a woman with a pharmacology degree in Cuba, worked 25 years for General Mills.
They raised a family, and enjoyed grandkids. Edith took a fall at home and died three years ago. Julio now lives with family in Golden Valley. He's enjoying greatly the return of outdoor baseball by regularly taking in games at Target Field.
Julio Becquer, 78, is a quiet man and will not brag of his pinch-hit grand slam, even on the Fourth of July. And, with Minnesota's surviving fans from 1961, he doesn't have to.
We remember the roar from our radios.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. • email@example.com