By Jake Rossen
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"I'd like to start things off with my vendor Hall of Fame," says Angelo Giuliani, standing in the middle of his kitchen and waving a bag of potato chips. I haven't been in his house long enough to get my shoes off before the monologue begins. Back in the early 1960s, when he roamed the state in his baggy flannels with a station wagon full of baseballs and bats, Giuliani was the first man I ever saw in a Twins uniform. I had no idea at the time that this was a man who had played baseball against the likes of Babe Ruth and Joe Dimaggio. I knew he scouted for the Twins, though; all of us were informed that if we were ever to realize our Big League dreams, our performance in Mr. Giuliani's Twins youth clinic could make an important first impression.
But now Angelo has baseball's great vendors on his mind. "At Lexington Park where I played for the old St. Paul Saints, there was a vendor who sold ice cream bars, and he would holler out, 'Have delicious Tutti-Frutti ice cream bars! Anyone else here? Tutti-Frutti! Freeze your teeth and give your tongue a sleigh ride!' The greatest popcorn vendor I ever saw was a fellow in old Comiskey Park, where I played against the White Sox for the Washington Senators and the St. Louis Browns. Now, this man never even mentioned popcorn. The acoustics in that ballpark were tremendous and you could hear this fellow's great baritone throughout the grandstands like a ruffle of drums: 'Buttered all over! Buttered all over!' And, boy, he sold the popcorn hand over fist and certainly belongs in my Hall of Fame of vendors. And, finally, I'll turn back the clock a bit to Nicollet Park in Minneapolis, where there was a peanut man named Gus who presented his pitch in a way that was very original, and he had a great arm; unfortunately Gus was a little long in years, so I couldn't sign him as a pitcher. At any event, Gus used to throw the peanuts down the rows and he was very accurate, and he would shout out, 'Pee-nots! Pee-nots! Anyone else here?' They all had that last jargon, 'Anyone else here?' It was a trademark of the great vendors."
That is only the abbreviated roster of Angelo's Hall of Fame vendors. At 83, Giuliani remains a reservoir of stories that come pouring out in torrents. His status as a figure in Minnesota baseball--as a player, scout, and longtime director of the Twins baseball clinics--is almost certainly unequalled by anyone still living. He continues to live in the two-story colonial he built in Highland in 1940. His wife of 59 years, Genevieve, passed away last year, and these days Angelo seems grateful for the company. "You're two minutes late," he says at the front door. "Not bad. I shoveled and sanded the driveway and sidewalks this morning. How'd it look to you? We'll go down in the basement and have some lunch." The house is an impossibly tidy shrine to the passions of a good Italian boy from St. Paul: baseball, family, homing pigeons, and the Catholic church.
Down in the basement Angelo cranks up the gas fireplace and plugs in his carbon monoxide detector. The basement is filled with 75 years of baseball history. Here is a picture of Angelo huddled together with his grade school team on a St. Paul sandlot in the early '20s. Over there is a framed photograph of him and Kent Hrbek bowling.
Giuliani has deep roots in St. Paul. He was born in 1914, "two and a half blocks from the centerfield gate at Lexington Park," to Italian-speaking immigrant parents. While still an infant, he accompanied his pregnant mother back to Italy to tend to his ailing grandmother. They were stranded there by the outbreak of World War I, and when they finally made it back to St. Paul, Angelo was 7 years old. In the family's absence his father had become a baseball fan. "Because of the proximity to Lexington Park," Angelo remembers, "my father could hear all the screaming and yelling that went on down there and of course that will make a fellow curious. He started going down there to investigate and became a tremendous fan."
Angelo's father took him to his first game in 1924, the minor-league World Series between the American Association champion Saints and the International League's Baltimore Orioles. "Alphonse Thomas was the winning pitcher for Baltimore that afternoon," he says. "Twelve years later he was my first major-league roommate with the St. Louis Browns."
In those days Angelo would make the long daily hike over to St. Luke's Catholic School on Summit Avenue, where he was a catcher--his first and only position--with the St. Luke's Silkstocking Lads in the Parochial League. "Here I was, an Italian kid from the shadows of the gas tanks," Giuliani says, "playing ball with all these Summit Avenue boys. You know who also was a St. Luke's boy, don't you? Paul Molitor. Of course that was well after my time."