The Night We Were Winners

Searchlights dazzled overhead. Champagne flowed in the streets. And it all started at the dome.

I don't care what he did with his women
I don't care what he did when he drank
I want to hear just one note
From his lonesome old throat
Has anybody here seen Hank?

--The Waterboys, "Has Anybody Here Seen Hank?"

I was working as a copy aide in the sports department of the Star Tribune when the Twins won the World Series in 1987. One of my duties was to run film from the photographers back to the newspaper, so I got to walk on the field between innings and feel a part of things. I scammed my way out of work the night of Game Seven, got a ticket from my old friend David Brauer, and snuck my big brother in. He sat in the aisle and on my lap.

Gary Gaetti got the ball. Threw it to his old friend Kent Hrbek. The place erupted, and I stood on my seat and blew kisses to the field, thanking the magnificent men below for a moment I'd grown up believing never would come. We floated out of the Dome to find bedlam on Chicago Avenue. I looked up and saw airplanes. The sky was filled with searchlights, I was wearing my leather bomber jacket: this was our VJ Day.

Scott Hansen and George Wallace--two very large, very funny men; one black, one white --lumbered by with grins the size of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. We made it to my car, which I'd strategically parked in the Strib parking lot, and got out a bottle of champagne. I stood on top of the car and popped the cork in full view of the cops, who looked the other way. One gave me a thumbs-up.

I told my brothers and my friend Paul to wait for me by the car. I went up to the Strib newsroom. A few of my fellow grunt-work buddies shared muted high-fives, but a newsroom is not the place of celebrations. Deadlines loom, cranks abound, and serious work is being done. The only voice that could be heard was that of Sid Hartman, who stood in the middle of the busy room and muttered to no one in particular what was in the rest of the state's heart: "I can't believe they did it."

I went down to the pressroom and waited. Fifteen minutes. Thirty. I wasn't going anywhere. The same sense of business-as-usual held forth there, but one of the old press guys knew what I was waiting for and he indulged me. I watched the papers roll off the presses, just like in the movies. I grabbed five copies, the first five copies, and walked out the door and into the street. The headlines said "World Champions!" and "Magic!"

We marched down 5th Street to Hennepin Avenue, holding the papers, the proof, over our heads like chalices. The street was chaos, with guys hanging off lampposts and cops on horseback telling people to get in line. Strangers slapped five with strangers until their palms hurt.

"Where did you get that?! Where did you get that?!," everyone screamed at us and our parchment. Everyone wanted to touch it. Everyone wanted to read it. Everyone thought the "Magic!" bit was perfect. My brother said it was like having the best drug at the party. We gave all but one of them away to cute girls and went back to the car.

At four in the morning we drove down King's Highway. Someone had set the VCR and we wanted to watch the game again, see what the newsies had made of the celebration, and get more proof. I drove. My little brother sat in the passenger seat and quietly read the Strib's new columnist, Dan Barreiro, whose column (headline: "Impossible Dream Becomes Reality") went like this:

"Sit down for a moment, take a deep breath and ask yourself a question. It's April 1, six days before the baseball season is to open, and you're walking down the street, minding your own business and a man wearing a Twins cap walks up to you and grabs you by the arm and says he has seen the future. He tells you that at exactly 10:29 p.m. on Oct. 25, 1987, there will be 55,376 people locked inside the Metrodome, frantically waving little white handkerchiefs in one hand and raising the index finger on the other and yelling their lungs off and shouting: 'One! One more! One more!'

"And the man tells you that the one more is one more out and that the one more out will make the Minnesota Twins champions of the baseball world.

"Would you not have called him an April Fool?"

On the night of March 6, 2006, WCCO-TV's Amelia Santaniello looked into the camera and couldn't muster a sign-off because she was too choked up. She actually recoiled a little, put her head down, and had to let Don Shelby say her goodnights to mourning Minnesota. I know how she feels.

Jim Walsh can be reached at jwalsh@citypages.com or 612.372.3775

 
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