When the Twins and Yankees square off at the Metrodome this weekend in the first round of the American League playoffs, seat 75 in the back row of the baseball press box, the one with the nameplate that says just "Peggy," will be occupied by an interloper. That's because Peggy Imhoff, the woman who has occupied that seat since the Twins moved into the Dome more than 20 years ago, will be downstairs, in the bowels of the building, dispensing food and kindness in equal measure to the horde of assembled media.
While her playoff digs will deny her the bird's-eye view to which she is accustomed, her basic role won't be much different than during any other game. Because wherever she is in the Metrodome, Imhoff serves as the Twins' all-around goodwill ambassador, equal parts den mother and throwback Midwestern hostess.
For 28 seasons now, since she first started working for the organization out at the old Met stadium, Imhoff has represented continuity and a familiar face to several generations of ballpark regulars.
Throughout the regular season, she holds down the fort in the press box, dispensing hot dogs, soda, coffee, and aspirin to the media. Imhoff is a remarkably patient and reliable person--she missed just one game over the last two seasons, to attend a funeral--and she has a gift for making what she does appear effortless, no small accomplishment considering the diverse cast of characters she contends with on a regular basis. On any given game day, press box denizens might wolf down anywhere from six to twelve dozen hot dogs.
Imhoff was a young stay-at-home mother of three when she got a call back in 1976 offering her a job working at the old Met stadium. Her 10-year-old daughter was ill with cancer at the time, and Imhoff now refers to that offer as "a call from God, getting me off His back." Her daughter survived, and Imhoff credits her job and the support she received from the community at the ballpark with helping her through the experience.
Watching Imhoff work is one of the enduring pleasures of having a Twins media credential. It's continually amazing to see her interact with the people who pass through the press box. One minute she's exchanging playful small talk with Bert Blyleven and the next she's on the receiving end of a hug from notoriously crusty ex-Twins manager Tom Kelly. "I love T.K.," she says. "The whole time he was here he never once failed to stop and talk to me in the hallway. He was always willing to make the extra effort to make me feel special."
Imhoff, in fact, seems to inspire the same sort of affection in everyone from visiting broadcasters and umpires, former players and managers, to anonymous old scouts, organization insiders, and reporters young and old. Over the years, she's been on the receiving end of hugs, kisses, and regular pats on the back from a who's who of baseball legends and lifers. "That's really the fun part of this job," she says. "Just about everybody who comes in here touches me, and I love that human contact. I get to see familiar faces and people I've known for years, and then there are always all sorts of people, even people I've seen around forever, whose names I still don't know. I try to treat them all the same. More than anything else my job is to make everyone who comes in here feel welcome and, hopefully, at home."
The most touching thing I've ever seen at a baseball park--on or off the field--was in 1999, when I watched as legendary Detroit Tigers' broadcaster Ernie Harwell, a member of the Hall of Fame's media wing, prayed with Imhoff in the press box during pre-game ceremonies. At the time, her husband of 38 years, Don, was dying of cancer, and just as she had more than 20 years earlier, Imhoff found comfort and support through colleagues and friends at work.
"Coming to the park every day during that experience really kept me sane," she says. "I got so much strength from the people here. The people in this organization, and the Pohlad family, have never been anything but good to me. There are so many people here who've worked harder and longer than I have, and as long as I've been here no one has ever bought a ticket to see me work. Yet in 28 years I've never filled out a job application, never had a job review, and have never once been called into anyone's office. How could anybody ask for more? And what else could I do where I could get kissed by Harmon Killebrew, Kent Hrbek, and Dan Gladden all in one night?"
The only real downside to her job, Imhoff says, is bidding farewell to everyone at the end of each season. "Every year I know somebody won't be back," she says, "And it's going to be sad when I have to go, but everybody has their time. I started out as everybody's sister, and then I was everybody's mother. Now I'm everybody's grandmother, so I don't know what's left."