Archive for October 7th, 2009

Missing Minnesota

I was born at St. Barnabas hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, though my parents lived in the suburb of Bloomington at the time.  A year later Bloomington also became host to the Minnesota Twins, who moved to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul from Washington (they had been the Washington Senators), and the NFL expansion franchise, the Minnesota Vikings.  Now their original stadium is gone, replaced by the huge Mall of America complex with nearly 500 stores and an amusement park in the center.

By age 2 my family had moved to South Dakota, first to Rapid City and then Sioux Falls where I grew up, went to school (Mark Twain Elementary, Patrick Henry Jr. High, and Lincoln Sr. High) and College (Augustana).  Yet I was a dedicated Twins and Vikings fan all through, having a strong allegiance to my birth state.

In 1985, after living awhile in Bologna, Italy and Washington DC, I made it finally to the twin cities, working a year as a night manager at a Rocky Rococo’s pizza before starting the Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota.  I would live there a decade before moving out to Maine.   Life in Maine is wonderful.   We have some of the most beautiful scenery, and right now as the leaves are at peak there is no place more beautiful than a drive through the Maine countryside.  Raising kids here is superb, and I often think that I live in paradise, I can imagine no better life than here in Maine.

But sometimes, nostalgia strikes.   Yesterday I watched the Minnesota Vikings defeat the Green Bay Packers 30-23 in a game full of excitement.   When I lived in Minnesota my dad had season tickets to the Vikings.  He would drive four and  a half hours up from Sioux Falls for every home game, and then drive back.   I would accompany him to four or five games a year, and sometimes a playoff game.    The last game I watched with him, on September 25, 1994, was a thriller as the Vikings came back to beat Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins 38-35 in one of the most memorable games I’ve seen.  I also remember being amazed at Dan Marino live — the ball really did seem to move faster and with more authority than almost all other quarterbacks I’d seen.

The next week my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.   He died in late March the next year.  I gave the eulogy at his funeral the day before flying to Maine for my job interview here.  I told no one at the university that my dad had just died, that would have made the interview, well, really awkward.  Instead, I felt my dad was with me.

I have numerous memories of the Vikings.  In college I came home every Sunday to watch the Vikes with my dad on TV.  Once we saw Ahmad Rashad catch a last minute touchdown pass to defeat Cleveland.   We lept up from our chairs to cheer.   My mom, outside bringing in groceries from the store, dropped the groceries and ran in.  She saw the jumping and thought my dad was having a heart attack.   My dad received a gift from the Vikings too after he got sick — a letter, and a Vikings cap signed by Warren Moon.

So last night as I watched Monday Night Football, with the Minneapolis skyline shown at times, and the familar stands and excitement, I was transported to the early 90s and the energy I remember from those games.    My dad would usually spend the night if he came for a Monday night game (one time he didn’t, and told me how he was so tired he had to open the car windows in subfreezing temps and sing along with Christmas Carols on his tape deck to keep from falling asleep).   The magic was real, for the first time in a long time I felt I was away from my home.

As I kid I would follow the Minnesota Twins all season long, keeping stats, charts of the scores of each game, pulling for Rod Carew to bat 400, and watching as my hapless Twins struggled through the 70s.  I saw a few live games (my dad took me to a double header against the A’s in 1973 — Jim Kaat pitching, Harmon Killebrew and Tony Olivia still playing…the Twins swept the mighty A’s that day too!)   Then, while I lived in Minnesota, the Twins won the 1987 World Series.  It was a euphoric celebration and season.  Gaetti, Hrbek, Brunansky, Gladden, Viola…finally a World Series victory!

Then in 1991 I was lucky to be away in Germany while the Twins won one of the most exciting world series in history, defeating the Atlanta Braves 4 games to 3, in some close and exciting contests, culminating in one of the best individual performances by any athlete, Jack Morris defeating the Braves in a ten inning 1-0 shutout in game seven.  I was lucky to be in Germany because it forced me to listen to the game on the radio.  The Vin Scully-Johnny Bench broadcast was what baseball should be — if one can’t be there live, the drama of radio coverage by top notch announcers can’t be beat.  I stayed up until nearly 6:00 AM in Berlin to listen to the last game on Armed Forces Radio.   It was amazing.

So Tuesday night I was thrilled to watch another amazing Metrodome game, as the Twins defeated Detroit 6-5 in the one game playoff with Detroit to go to the post-season.   The Twins were behind by 7 games in mid-September, and by three games when there were only four left to play.   They won the last 17 of 21 to be in this position.  54,088 fans were at the Dome, and as they cheered after the game and the Twins took their victory lap, I felt like I really should be there, not here.  My Twins winning such a thrilling game, heading on to the playoffs!  As I saw Ron Gardenhire, the Twins Manager, cooly survey the scene, I was reminded of Tom Kelly, who was manager when I lived there (and whose one career homerun in 1975 I have on tape —  I think Larry Calton making the call).   I have been a Twins fan for as long as I can remember.  Oh to be back in Minnesota!

Alas, the much maligned Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, where I saw so many Twins and Vikings games, is losing the Twins after this year.  They are moving to a new stadium (the Gophers have moved as well, though at this point the Vikings will stay).   I remember going there back in 1982 and seeing a young Frank Viola pitch in the first year of the dome.  They didn’t have air conditioning because the architect didn’t think they’d need it, and it was sweltering hot — that was changed the next year!

I don’t follow sports much any more.   My teams are still the Vikings and the Twins, but they’re so far away that I’ve become a very infrequent viewer of sporting events.  But the last two nights brought back a lot of memories, I felt as much joy in the Twins win as I did back in 1987 or 1991.

No, I don’t want to move back there from Maine.  As much as I love the Twin Cities, Maine is my home, and I love it here.  Still, the last two days I’ve connected with my past through sporting events.  The Twins, the Vikings, my dad, listening to the radio world series (ESPN claims the 1991 series is the best ever) in Berlin, watching games at the old Met in Bloomington…  Nostalgia can be fun — especially if your team wins!