My husband and I had the profound pleasure of catching some Minnesota Twins spring training at Hammond Stadium last month.
The spring training trip was an adventure I had noted on my bucket list. You know, those once in a lifetime activities you hope to experience before “kicking the bucket.”
You see, I’ve been a fan of the Twins since I was just a kid growing up in Coon Rapids.
I was only four years old when the Twins won the 1965 American League championship, so I don’t really remember that winning season, but watching the Twins games was a regular part of all my summers growing up.
I remember watching the games on our giant black and white TV that sat on the living room floor. We’d munch on hot dogs and chips as teams were introduced and the first pitch was thrown. Then we’d be gulping down frosty mugs of root beer during the seventh inning stretch.
And we’d always sit an arm’s length away from the console – you know, close enough to reach the dial and turn up the volume and cheer with fans in the bleachers when Harmon Killebrew hit a grand slam.
When I was still in grade school, I got to go to a Twins game at Met Stadium. What a thrill to see my heroes playing ball right there in front of me … Harmon Killebrew, Tony Olivia, Rod Carew, Mudcat Grant, Jim Kaat … Wow! I mean, I know I was just a kid, but you knew you were seeing something beautiful when you sit in the bleachers watching America’s favorite pastime being played by some of the greats in the game right there in front of you.
Another Twins baseball thrill came a couple years later when it was announced that Bert Blyleven would award a trophy to the winner of a pitching contest staged at the local Dairy Queen. Well, my dear old dad and mom, always encouraging my athletic endeavors, got me registered for the contest.
Now I didn’t care if all the other kids who signed up were boys – Bert Blyleven was going to award the trophy and I was going to win that pitching contest! So every day I’d race home from the bus stop after school and practice pitching in the backyard with Dad coaching me how to best throw for speed and accuracy.
Well, I pitched and pitched … and when that pitching contest came around, I was the only girl among a dozen boys, but with Bert Blyleven watching, I just threw and threw, hitting the strike zone time after time. And guess what? I did win that pitching contest and Bert Blyleven awarded me the trophy. He even autographed my Spalding baseball glove as a special treat “for the girl who out-pitched all the boys.”
Of course, I continued rooting for the Twins as I grew up, finished school, got married and had kids.
And this year I got to see the Twins play some spring training games.
During a week’s time in Fort Myers, my husband and I took in the Twins vs. Pirates and the Twins vs. Red Sox games, watched Bethel University’s varsity squad take the diamond against the Twins rookie team and saw the AA and AAA Orioles vs. Twins games.
That meant we were standing just outside the dugouts as Tom Kelly floated between the minor league games, checking pitch counts, batting stats and RBIs and going over game plans with coaches Doug Mientkiewicz and Jake Mauer.
Oh yeah, and Ron Gardenhire was up in the tower watching all the minor league games, too.
We were in the presence of Twins baseball greatness on many different levels when we were on Hammond Stadium ground that week.
The greatest level for me was the right field lawn because that’s where we were sitting for the Pirates game on that sunny Florida afternoon when, long about the third inning, here comes Jack Morris. That’s right, the 1991 World Series game seven pitcher who threw 10 hitless innings to clinch the series for the Twins had been up in the press box where he was interviewed during the opening innings. After the interview he came right down and sat right next to me on the right field lawn.
Over the next four innings – in between games of catch with his grandsons (our lawn-mates for the game) – Mr. Morris signed a few autographs, talked a little shop and watched the boys play ball.
Yep, our Twins spring training trip was truly one for the bucket list – and I didn’t even mention the afternoon we spent shelling on North Captiva with a couple of the Twins’ wives and one of the Twin’s mothers …. but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Sue Austreng can be reached at [email protected]