“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”
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On April 12, 1962, Sid Hartman quoted Minnesota Twins President Calvin Griffith: “We’ll play the opening game Friday if it doesn’t snow.” (“HARTMAN’S Roundup,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune).
The game was snowed out.
The Met Stadium crew shoveled a half-foot from the field, teased by the wisecracking “Twins O gram” scoreboard in center field, which said, “Welcome to Twins ski lodge.” At game time on Saturday, the temperature was 34 degrees with a 21-mile-per-hour wind.
I went anyway — my manhood on the line.
That’s because a few weeks earlier it had taken a hit. My dad had to rescue his nightmare-prone son from the St. Louis Park Theater’s Saturday kids matinee, “The Curse of the Werewolf.” I claimed stomachache, but I knew he knew I was faking.
“I’m going to the Twins opener,” I announced after that.
“You’ll freeze your tuchus off,” Dad predicted.
Nevertheless, he shelled out the $1.50 for my ticket and made me wear a hat, which I defiantly whipped off when he dropped me at Metropolitan Stadium. I wouldn’t wear it, because Dad didn’t wear one, because President Kennedy, his hero, didn’t wear one.
Even before the first pitch, I almost called him to bail me out (again). I was glad I didn’t, though. Here’s why:
Around the third inning I snuck into one of the umpteen vacant seats within earshot of the Twins’ dugout. An old-timer usher caught me but let me stay. He warned me not to make trouble for him or he’d call my parents. Ballpark ushers did that sort of thing back then.
I heard some Twins cursing at the frigid air. That good guys like Killebrew, Allison, Battey and boy wonder Rich Rollins cussed surprised but pleased me. Ten-year-olds are bound by Nature to imitate their heroes. Thus, I, too, cussed at the frigid air and, while I was at it, the umpires.
On the drive home, I bragged about how “I snuck into an expensive seat and razzed the umps. “Razzing” I remember saying cautiously. In my house, cursing was forbidden. Once I said, “damn it.” Believe me, I got my comeuppance.
That season we saw Jack Kralick pitch his no-hitter. Baseball lovers will tell you they’ve hit the jackpot witnessing one, so when first baseman Vic Power caught a towering pop-up with a cocky snap of his mitt for the last out, I hollered like a seasoned fan, “Holy ****! He ******* did it!!”
Dad didn’t bat an eye. The first time you cuss in front of your dad and get away with it is a giant leap into manhood is how I saw it. I think he did, too.
Soon after, Dad cussed in front of me. “I’ll be damned,” he said when JFK proclaimed on the radio, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard …. To be sure, we are behind … in manned flight. But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade, we shall make up and move ahead.”
To a lot of folks, that meant a race to the moon was on against the Russians. I know I was ready.
Because the only other bad guys I wanted to beat more than the Yankees were the Russians.
The Yankees won the pennant, though, a heavy burden. But nothing like when soon after the Russians blindsided us with the possibility (likelihood to many) of nuclear war in what became known as the Cuban missile crisis. For two agonizing weeks we imagined what our less-than-tactful fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Brown, assured us would be “a horrible way to die” (words I’ll never forget) — until on a Sunday, JFK made Khrushchev remove his weapons from Cuba — and, like Dad said, “chicken out.”
The next day, Mr. Brown showed us the Minneapolis Morning Tribune front page, and for the second time that morning made us recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
An immense relief and optimism I’d never felt before sustained me through that wait-until-next-year winter. We weren’t going to die after all. We’d whipped the Russians. This time around we’d whip the Yankees.
Dad and I played hooky from work and school on Opening Day in ’63. He splurged on the most expensive ($3.00) seats and twice more when the Yankees came to town.
That summer was the seventh heaven of baseball and James Bond for my buddies and me and all about JFK for Dad. In the deepest prepubescent voices we could muster, we imitated 007’s “Bond — James Bond.” We practiced Killebrew’s just-try-to-pitch-it-past-me batting stance and Camilo Pasqual’s balletic windup in our mirrors and on the Little League field. We marveled when the Twins hit eight homers in one game.
Dad spent the better part of his summer gloating about how Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech “saved democracy.”
Then the heartache: The Yankees, not the Twins, won the pennant again. We lost JFK.
I remember nothing about the following winter except for disbelief I’d never felt before that wouldn’t go away.
In the spring a bunch of our parents got together and decided it would be good to let us skip school for the home opener.
Dick Schwartz lives in Minneapolis.