Bill Dircks Sr. answers his phone and immediately asks to step away so he can turn his TV down. He’s watching Game 4 of the 1991 World Series between the Twins and Atlanta Braves on MLB Network.
This is how the 88-year-old gets his baseball fix these days: replays of Twins classics.
“I bought season tickets the minute they moved to town,” he says.
That was 1961. He’s been a season-ticket holder ever since. He has attended almost every Opening Day and still gets to 60 home games every season with wife Terry.
Like many fans, Dircks misses baseball right now, especially the joy of being at Target Field. He begins every morning the same way: He goes to the guest room of his downtown condo at the Carlyle, looks down at Target Field’s second deck and wishes he could take in a game later that night.
“I miss it horribly,” he says. “I can’t wait for them to start playing again.”
Baseball is a communal activity for all ages. But for many senior citizens, a ballgame often serves as a primary social connection or simply a lovely way to pass the time. Either in person at the ballpark, if possible, or in senior living centers throughout Minnesota.
Dircks calls himself an “old-timer.” His father used to take him to Minneapolis Millers games as a kid in the 1940s. He has loved baseball for as long as he can remember.
“When it gets in your blood,” he says, “you don’t get rid of it.”
He still likes to keep score at games, and he doesn’t join the beat-the-traffic crowd that leaves games early.
“If they’re behind 20-1, I might leave,” he says, “but other than that, I don’t.”
Not even for extra innings. Dircks and his wife made it through the 22-inning game against Cleveland in 1993 and a few marathon games at Target Field.
He loved watching the Twins set an MLB record for home runs last season — “A once-in-a-lifetime season,” he says — and is ready for the encore.
“I’m a little bit nervous about the pitching, but we’ve always been that way as Twins fans,” he says. “The only time I wasn’t nervous was back when they won the two World Series.”
• • •
Sandy Rubenstein was at the Metrodome for every game of those two World Series. She slept in a lawn chair overnight downtown waiting to buy single-game tickets in 1987.
She purchased partial season tickets the following year and a full package starting in 2001. There have been seasons in which the single 69-year-old retired teacher has attended all 81 home games, sometimes with family or friends and other times by herself.
“It’s a way of life,” she says.
Her passion for baseball also is rooted in attending Millers games with her dad. She started collecting baseball cards in fourth grade and still owns them. Her prize possession in the collection: two autographed Harmon Killebrew cards — one with the Washington Senators and one with the Twins.
Rubenstein briefly debated dropping her tickets during a stretch of lean years for the Twins because, well, her tickets cost more than her mortgage. She’s glad she didn’t.
“I just could never give them up,” she says. “It would be a huge void in my life.”
• • •
Lloyd Kepple still practices law at age 70, but he feels that void, too. A season-ticket holder since 1984, he remembers picking plums on his family’s hobby farm as a kid listening to the game on the radio the day Killebrew and Bob Allison both hit grand slams in the first inning against Cleveland in 1962.
Kepple has brought his family to every Opening Day for the past 20 years. He has attended Twins fantasy camp and still plays in an over-50 league. He even got recruited to play in a national tournament on a senior team from Boston whose starting pitcher was Bill “Spaceman” Lee.
“He loved me as a 70-year-old rookie because I can still chase down the fly balls,” Kepple says.
Yes, he misses baseball dearly. Playing it, watching it and talking about it. When his parents lived in a nursing home, Kepple would walk down the hall and hear broadcasts of Twins games from one room to the next.
For him, Opening Day represents something special.
“It’s a rite of spring,” he says.
Not this year, sadly. Maybe soon.