A Fan is a Terrible Thing to Waste

A view from the cheap seats of baseball past, present, and future.

Nonfans, and even some sportswriter types, resent the baseball zealot's weakness for corn. Most offenders would plead guilty. No matter how cynical the times, baseball always lends itself to sentimentality. How could one watch Cal Ripken's 2,131st consecutive game, or Randy Johnson's playoff performance last fall, and remain unmoved?

One recent midnight I took my dog for a walk in a neighborhood park. The Little League fields had all emerged beneath the melt, and there in the lamplight and the mist of late winter I was struck again by the perfection of even the humblest baseball diamond. I remember as a kid trying desperately to mow our lawn so we'd have that almost Escher-like weave of light and dark, the checkerboard grass of the big-league parks.

With baseball as a childhood presence--the ways in which we get introduced, seduced, and indoctrinated into the game and its traditions--for a starting point, we invited seven local true believers to sit down and talk baseball.

ORIGINS

Where baseball comes from

Helen Pierce: My interest in baseball goes way back to when I was just a little girl. My father was interested in baseball, and that was back in the days when you had to wait for tomorrow morning's paper to find out how today's games came out. It was before radio was big.

I didn't know much of anything about the American League until I came to Minnesota. We were Cubs fans. Everybody in my little town was. It was in Illinois--called Sandwich. It was on the main line of the Burlington. When they started broadcasting I think my father thought he'd died and gone to heaven. He was just glued to that radio.

After I was married and we moved to Minnesota, I lost interest in baseball because there wasn't any here, and then one day the Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins. Instant fan. And I've been a fan of the Twins ever since. I like to have 'em win, but win or lose I'm still theirs.

David Unowsky: I grew up in St. Paul with the Saints in the late '40s, early '50s. The first game I ever went to, Campanella was catching. I'd swear that he hit a 500-foot line drive over the 469-foot center-field fence in Lexington Park.

They were great teams. They were the Dodgers' farm club. Montreal was actually the number-one Dodgers farm club, but in 1948 the Saints won the Junior World Series, I believe, with Walter Alston managing them. Even the next few teams were terrific teams. Don Zimmer played for the Saints and hit a huge number
of home runs before taking several shots in
the head.

There was a great rivalry between the Saints and the [Minneapolis] Millers, with the split doubleheaders on the holidays. You were a fan of one or the other. You couldn't be both. You couldn't be neither, either, if you lived in the Twin Cities.

Bill Ward: I was in Nashville, and the TV age was coming on. Dizzy Dean and Peewee Reese were doing games on TV. The closest team was the Cardinals, and Harry Caray and Jack Buck were doing their games on the radio. By the time I got to a major-league ballpark--it was like that opening scene in Bull Durham where she walks into the ballpark and it's just the greenest thing you've ever seen. My first major-league games were the 1961 World Series [in Cincinnati]. My dad took me.

Brad Zellar: To me, Met Stadium was a fantasy place. Living down in Austin, we never got to go to games there. We just listened on the radio to Herb, and we would play in our neighborhood. I don't remember organized baseball, I don't remember television baseball, I remember listening to the radio and playing catch, staying out until it got dark and playing until our mom called us home. I came up here when the Twins had moved into the Dome, and I've never had an objection to going to games there because I never knew anything else. I was just anxious to see pro baseball.

John Beggs: I never really missed the Met. At that point in my life, in the early '80s, drugs and rock & roll kinda took over. I didn't really give a shit about sports for a couple of years there, so when the Met went away, I wasn't there.

Shawn Stewart: I lost track of baseball for a few years because I refused to go to the Dome. When I moved here I actually would go to the Met because I knew John Castino. My dad had coached him in Little League. John would come over to my dorm at Macalester and pick me up and take me to the Met. And there was never anyone there. It was really desolate, so I just thought Minnesotans must not understand baseball.

Then the Dome came along, and I didn't go until I had tickets to the playoff games and the '87 World Series. That was it. I've had season tickets ever since. I love the Dome. I don't care that it's inside and I don't care that there's bad air and that the lights are horrible. I just want to see the game.

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