by Tom West
It is the true sports fan’s lot to suffer. True sports fans stick with their team through thick and thin.
They don’t jump on and off the bandwagon; their team is their team no matter what.
For some such fans, such as those who follow the Ohio State Buckeyes or the New York Yankees, this is still a relatively easy task, but even the Buckeyes and the Yankees don’t always win the championship.
Minnesota sports fans have a tougher row to hoe. The Twins have won two and the Lynx have won one world championship in the existence of all our current professional teams. (The Minneapolis Lakers won six championships, but then moved to Los Angeles, taking the Laker name with them — a lasting sting.) And yet, like so many others, I doggedly root for the locals no matter what.
In fact, I was there on the most painful day in Twins’ history. I was at Fenway Park in Boston for the last game of the 1967 season between the Twins and the Red Sox. The American League pennant race was the most incredible in history with four teams battling it out down to the last weekend — the Twins, Red Sox, Tigers and White Sox.
All the Twins had to do was win one of the last two games against Boston and the pennant was theirs. They lost on Saturday. On Sunday, I had a ticket in the outfield bleachers.
I remember three things about the game. Beforehand, a fan threw an apple to Twins pitcher Mudcat Grant. Grant took a bite, and then feigned being poisoned, crumpling to the ground. It was an omen.
Then, trailing 5-2, the Twins’ Bob Allison hit a line drive high off the Green Monster in left field. Red Sox leftfielder Carl Yastrzemski fielded the carom on the fly and threw out Allison trying to stretch it into a double.
The last thing I remember is that when the Twins made the final out, the Red Sox centerfielder, Reggie Smith, threw his glove straight up, at least 50 feet in the air. I watched that glove, and when it came back down, already a thousand fans were on the field mobbing the Red Sox.
As I said, true sports fans suffer. I was one of about 10 Twins fans in the stadium. We made a quick exit.
I recall, too, the trading away of Rod Carew, the many gopher balls served up by closer Ron Davis, and the devastating news of Kirby Puckett’s premature retirement. I’ve stuck with them through 100-loss seasons in hopes that a 100-win season is only one winter away. That’s why, a week ago, when shortstop Brian Dozier of the last-place Twins got an amazing base hit, I was still watching, and what’s more, I recalled a similar incident from a game long ago.
Dozier hit a little nubber into foul territory about 25 feet from home plate, but the ball had so much spin on it, that it practically leaped back into fair territory. Dozier alertly beat out the hit. Even more alertly, Twins base runner Brian Doumit scored all the way from second. The scorecard said it was an RBI single, when in reality it was a quirky dribbler.
While the announcers went berserk, my mind wandered back to the Twins’ first season.
In only my second visit to a Twins game, they played the Cleveland Indians on a cloudy, cool, misting kind of day in July 1961. It was a weekday afternoon game, and the most notable thing about it was that Twins pitcher Don Lee threw a no-hitter for seven and two-thirds innings — until the Indians’ Woody Held hit a two-run homer to tie the game in the eighth inning.
As I said, it was misting, and the grass was damp. In the bottom of the ninth, with the score still tied, the Twins’s Jose Valdevielso was on second base.
I have forgotten who the hitter was, but he dribbled a little grounder halfway to first base. The Indians’ pitcher Joe Schaffernoth, went over to field the ball and slipped on the wet grass, sliding past the ball. Valdevielso never hesitated rounding third and slid in under the tag. It was a walk-off RBI single in the scorebook.
Over the years, I have seen other amazing feats by the Twins. In 1964, I was there when the Red Sox’ Bill Monbouquette threw a one-hitter against the Twins — and lost, 2-1, on a two-run home run by Zoilo Versalles.
I saw Tony Oliva hit three home runs in one game in Kansas City. I watched Carew hit a walk-off single against the the Yankees’ Sparky Lyle, the best reliever in the game at the time.
And my five seconds of relative fame came in the second game of the 1987 World Series, when the camera caught me in the background saying “Hi, mom,” or something equally stupid. I was sitting in the left field bleachers two seats from where Gary Gaetti’s home run landed, and the fan who had the ball held it up while the announcer said something like, “And this is the difference in the game so far.”
But in order to appreciate fully achievements like Gaetti’s or other successes, one has to be there when they fail. In 1990, the Twins slumped to last place with a 74-88 record. The next year, however, they had their best season ever, winning their second championship and going 95-67. Fans who gave up after 1990 would have missed all the fun.
True fans suffer a lot — but one never knows when lightning will strike. When what was essentially a foul tip turns into a single scoring a runner from second, maybe the baseball gods are smiling on the Northland once again.We aren’t out of the playoff hunt yet. True fans never give up hoping.
Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. He may be reached at (320) 632-2345 or by e-mail at [email protected]