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Baseball on the 4th of July July 4, 2006

Posted by fajita in 4th of July, Baseball, family.
6 comments

“Basball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.” It was the 1970’s and my grandfather was good at treating us grandkids to a little something. Silver dollar here, a bounce on his knee with the “pony boy” song there. He never left the grocery store without a treat of some kind that managed its way into our hands and out of my mother’s sight.

Besides fishing at Fox Lake in southern Minnesota, the best treat of all was the 4th of July trip to the old Met stadium to see the Twins play the Yankees with fireworks to follow.

Below where the famed Mall of America now stands in the Twin Cities suburb of Bloomington rests hallowed ground. The old Met, home of the Minnesota Twins, occupied that land before the force of commercialism swept it away.

“We need a domed stadium,” was the argument, “sometimes it snows in April.”

100 years of basball prior to that didn’t need a dome, but that didn’t seem to matter. Now, as the Twins are about to break ground for their new multi-hundred million dollar open air stadium, echoes of the old Met surface in the truest Twins fans’ ears.    

We stood in line in the snack bar hallway that circles the stadium, near the entrance to where the seats were in the stadium. Scorecard & pencil were necessary before inning one began. The muffled noise of the already cheering crowd oozed out the entrances and built the kind of anticipation that makes any boy think he could play in the World Series some day.

I followed my grandfather toward the entrance as the cheering crowd became louder and more crisp sounding.

“Batting third and playing first base, for the Minnesota Twins, Rod Carew,” the annoucer teased great cheers out of the crowd.

“Batting fourth, the designated hitter, Glenn Adams,” the annoucer exuded, but didn’t get quite as big a cheer as Carew.

My grandfather mumbled something about Harmon Killebrew as the smoke from his cigar hung in the air with his gripe, clinging to the heat of the late afternoon sun, which refused to break too early. It was the 4th of July.

Geoff Zahn for the Twins versus Ron Guidry for the Yankees was a classic David & Goliath pitching duel – advantage Yankees. The game got moving quickly, 1-2-3 innings, one after another. By the third inning my grandfahter asked me if I wanted a brat.

“What’s a brat?” I asked. I was about to be initiated into the savory world of exotic meat.

“It’s like a hot dog, only much better,” he responded knowingly.

“Hot dogs, brats, cold beer here.” The vendors, with their trays hanging from the strap wrapped around the back of their necks were an essential part of the game.

“Two brats,” grampa said as he waved some money in the air. He passed his 5 dollar bill down the row. Back came two brats. He tried to pursuade me to put sour kraut on them, but it was slimy and nasty and I wasn’t as German as he was. He’d married a Norwegian and my mother married a Mexican. Mexicans, even half Mexicans, don’t eat sour kraut – I knew it instinctively.   

The game pressed on, and although I was enjoying it, I was ready for some fireworks. We stood up and sang “Take me out to the Ballgame,” during the 7th inning, the game was tied and I felt a fireworks-filled excitement growing enough to ward off the sleepinees that tried to creep in the with dusk. One last order of popcorn came down the row in its classic red and white striped box. Grampa also threw in a malt cup with the little wooden spoon, just because. They had stopped serving beer by this time, which was a good thing, because he probably would have had one for the road.

Top of the 9th and the game was tied. The crowd was into it. Mike Marshall was the Twins’ ace in the bullpen that year. He fanned the first two batters with a wicked screwball that had mystified hitters all year. The only problem was that the next batter was Mr. October. Reggie Jackson stepped up to the plate in the top of the 9th and faced off against screwballer, Mike Marshall. It was tense.

Marshall was not intimidated one bit. He threw the first pitch so far inside and so high that had Jackson not fallen back into the dusty batter’s box, he would have gotten hit in the head. Jackson was also not intimidated one bit. He stood up and took one step toward the mound as if to say, “I dare you to try that again.” The crowd booed.

Jackson brushed himself off and got set back in the batter’s box. Marshall came with another high, hard one, right at Jackson’s head. The crowd went nuts as they saw Jackson thrown to ground twice in a row. Reggie stood more quickly this time and took a couple of steps toward the mound. Catcher Butch Wynager shadowed Jackson just in case things got dicey. Players from both dugouts perched themselves on the top step, sentinels and warriors waiting for the word to fight.

The umpire managed to get Jackson back into the batter’s box. The crowd was electric as the lowly Twins stood up to the evil empire. Marshall had to bring something into the strike zone this time as his brush back pitches had gotten him behind Jackson on the count.

Marshall hurled a fastball right down the middle, the crowd mocked “Reg-gie, “Reg-gie,” and Jackson swung for the moon. Whiff!

“Striiiiiiiike huh,” the umpire gave the call a little extra volume igniting the fans into a 35,000 person tizzy.  

“Regi-gie, Reg-gie,” the crowd mocked more boldly and more collectively. It wasn’t just the rowny drunks in the centerfield bleachers this time. It was all of us. It was me.

Marshall wound up and tossed a screwball to Jackson. Reggie again swung for the stars. Only this time he connected. It’s a high fly ball to right filed, it’s way back. Norword is back to the warning track.

The rightfielder, Willie Norwood, was not the guy you wanted to be fielding this ball. He had been known to lose fly balls in the sun, miss ground balls in the outfield that ended going all the way to the wall, and running into other players when trying to catch pop flies.

“Oh no,” grampa said. I felt my stomach sink at the tone of his voice. The fly ball was so high it looked like it flew above the stadium lights. It flew much higher than it did for distance, but still it was going to be close. Norwood approached the warning track in an awkward half sideways and half backwards stumbl-walk as the ball made its steep decent from the stratosphere. The moment of truth approached as Jackson stood in the batter’s box waiting to see if would trot the pads or walk to the dugout – this was all or nothing.

Had it been Tori Hunter, Jackson sits down. But this was Willie Norwood. An ill-timed leap in effort to catch the towering fly ball failed. The ball landed not over the fence and not within the playing field. It literally landed on top of the fence and bounced over for a homerun.

Jackson began to trot around the bases slowly, making certain gestures to the fans. No one booed because there were 35,000 people that just got shot down by the Death Star. Once again Reggie Jackson showed why the Yankees go to post-season play and why the Twins watch it on TV.

The bottom of the 9th was uneventful. “Goose” Gossage headed to the mound for the Yankees to mop up. Gossage threw nearly 100 MPH and looked mean – like, if he didn’t strike you out, he might just rip your head off. Striking out was the preferred option for 3 Twins and the game was over.

Jackson had deflated our collective hopes and hurt us deeply. He reminded us who the real big leaguers were. After the game, thousands of fans filed out of that open air Met stadium, unable to get their excitement up for the fireworks show to follow. We stayed, although Grampa was still mumbling something about Harmon Killebrew and sucking on another stogie.

After the fireworks finale, we walked back across the huge parking lot, heat still rising from the pavement, and hopped into Grampa’s huge black car with the power locks and windows that we were not allowed to play with, but wanted to so badly. Except not tonight. Sleep had crept in as I laid down in the back seat, sweat sticking to the leather with the full blast air conditioning feeling extra cold.

He took Old Cedar Road back to our suburban home. The Old Cedar Road bridge was a metal and wood plank structure that was open about 48 weeks out of the year, when the Minnesota River was not in flood stage. The New Ceder Bridge was still a dream in some engineer’s head, so this was the only access to the southern suburbs.

Most people slowed down to cross the Old Cedar Bridge. The rickety two lane bridge provided enough room for two vehicles to pass each other going opposite ways with not so much as a strand of dental floss between them. Grampa sped up and shot the bridge every time, causing great panic and exhileration. Just south of the bridge was a large hump in the road, maybe a pipeline that they didn’t bother to bury, but just built the road over it insterad. Grampa made sure it always, “got my tummy,” when he drove ove rthe hump. Even in my sleep, he shot the bridge and hit the hump hard.

I don’t remember going to bed that night, but it was one of the best nights of my life.