A Fan's Notes

Ballpark fixture Thomas Hodne on a season for the ages

BY THOMAS HODNE, AS TOLD TO G.R. ANDERSON JR.

I quit alcohol in 1975, and I took up baseball. Baseball is my addiction now. I was an architect, and I worked 150 percent—75 percent on architecture, 1 percent on human relations, and 74 percent on alcohol. I had a "Cheers bar" in Dinkytown, and that's where I spent my time. Baseball helped me out of that.

I go to every home game. I've missed two in 11 years, 81 games a year. I've held season tickets since that damn Dome opened. Before, I didn't go to every game, but since 1975, I'd go to at least three-quarters of the games, out at the stupid stadium in Bloomington. I don't know how many games I've been to in the Dome—when did it open, 1981, 1982? So there's 25 years' worth there where I've gone to almost every home game. Hell, I don't know how many that is.

I just celebrated by 40th 39th-year birthday last May 14. So, I'm only 39. Now I'm coming up to celebrate my 41st 39th birthday. I look in the obituaries in the New York Times, because I see architects that I knew. I do that during the day, and baseball at night. Thomas Hodne Architects, Inc was my business. I did the American Indian Center on Franklin. But otherwise I did most of my buildings in other parts of the world.

But back to the Cheers bar—that's why I go to all the games. Everybody knows me, and we talk, and we give it the thumbs-up or thumbs-down. I'm in section 120, in what's really row one—they added a few rows a couple years ago, so now it's seven. It's okay, I don't mind looking at the chicks down there. I sit opposite the Twins dugout so I could give Tom Kelly the finger. Gardenhire's my good buddy—he's so good. Tom Kelly shit on everybody he didn't like, including Gardenhire.

I used to sneak in during spring training, down in Fort Myers. It used to just rack him. Finally, Kelly saw me sneaking in early in the game one year—oh, did he give me hell. He brought the police over and got me out and said, "If you ever sneak in here before the crowd can come in, we'll have you arrested!" Ha-ha, that was pretty good. So, I know some people don't like me.

I saw Ted Williams play the Minneapolis Millers, before he went up to the big leagues. I'll never forget that—I was about eight years old. That's when the Millers played down on Nicollet. I never got his autograph, but he was wonderful, just great.

I had a paper route, and we had no money. My mother, Martha, worked at Powers department store for 37 dollars a week. My father was a race-car driver, Tom Hodne. He died when I was one and a half years old. So, she married Tubby Clemens as her third husband. Tubby played for the St. Louis Cardinals. And Tubby was such a good guy—oh, I loved the guy. She used to take a streetcar—we lived at 22nd and Fremont—and she used to walk to Hennepin Avenue. At 24th Street, there was actually a bus that ran there. And Tubby picked her up while she was waiting for a bus, and wooed her. He got out of the game in 1926. She married him after I got out of the Navy in 1945. I myself have been married three times. I have seven children from my first family, and two sons from my second, and 15 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

I'd go to those games at the Nicollet ballpark after my paper route, and wait for a home run ball during batting practice. I'd get the ball and I could get in for free. The balls would land right in the alley and on 31st Street. And Willie Mays played for the Millers, sure. But I don't remember that as much as Ted Williams, my idol.

Then there was the Met. The biggest thing I remember about Met Stadium is I had a hell of a time driving out there. And the parking lot—oh, god I hated that parking lot. At the end of the game you'd have to wait and wait to get out of that parking lot. Absolutely hated it. But I did go out there to those games. I was hooked on it. I was so happy when they came and built the dumb Dome, as I call it.

I go to football games and Gopher basketball games, but the spirit of baseball fans is much better. You can meet people and talk a lot, in between pitches and in between innings. It's a wonderful thing. Even the losses are beautiful. I pray at night, and I tell God I've had a good day, and a good night, and usually I tell him, after games, I've had an excellent evening. Winning or losing doesn't matter much. He understands me. And my third wife puts up with me on this too—she likes baseball.

This team is absolutely superb. They've melded into a great team. And the main thing is this: The attitude of that team, I can judge by watching that dugout every day, and it's wonderful. To me, it's the best team that the Twins have ever had in terms of spirit and humanization, the aspects of what I believe in. They've had their setbacks. The beginning of the season, they were still melding, and now they're together. That's the main thing.

Gardenhire is a genius. He's got a tremendous record, and even on seasons when they don't make the playoffs. Tom Kelly, well, he won two World Series. But he didn't, really. The players did. Remember when he went to go get the ball from Jack Morris in [game seven of the '91] World Series, and he wouldn't give it to him? To me, what Kelly did, certain players he built them up, and then other players and coaches, he'd just brutalize them. I don't know why they keep him around now. Those players won those two World Series.

Gardy is a human being. Kelly was not a human being. He was—I don't want to use a swear word. When people were questioning of him, he'd rip them, openly. And I think that's wrong.

I loved some of those players back then. Bert Blyleven, I'm still friends with him. And Killebrew—Kirby wasn't a friend of mine, but Harmon is still a great friend and so is Bert. I loved Paul Molitor too. A great friend, though I don't see him as often.

I don't keep track of the number of home runs or the hitting percentages. It's the players themselves and how they react and how they are as humans. Kent Hrbek, I loved the guy. And they did wonderful things as far as statistics and baseball, but I don't keep track of those things. I collect memorabilia and the posters each year, so I can remember the players. And I've got tons of autographs—though I don't collect them anymore. I don't have the energy I used to have. I collect the bobble dolls, but that's about it. But people at the Dome, my Cheers bar, people there help me now. I'll soon be 80.

And I still do my architecture, and that's my fun. But baseball is my work. This is my work, and it's good work. I put more time into going to home games and watching them on television than anything else.

I think Santana's one of the most marvelous pitchers the Twins have ever had. I think he'll be around for the long haul. And the two "Mr. M's" [Mauer and Morneau]. The infield now is all there. They didn't have it initially this season. They've got the best infield now, I think, in major league baseball. The plays Punto made the other night, well, I couldn't believe them. He's made great plays every game, almost. Every game. It's marvelous how he can do that. Bartlett is very good—he's made some extraordinary plays, too. I'm sad about Torii Hunter, because he's hurt. His hitting has been wonderful lately, but he can't jump up as high as he used to, or cover the ground like he used to. I feel bad for him.

Mauer, Cuddyer, Morneau, then Hunter. That's a great lineup. Castillo is a good leadoff, he's always on base. Even their seventh, eighth, and ninth guys are hitters. It's very seldom that teams have nine hitters, and we've got nine hitters now. Rondell White now is hitting. See, Gardy senses where the players are at, and he moves people around because he wants them to have experience, and he makes them all important. He didn't give up on White, and people would have. Gardy's one of the best.

The thing with Radke is sad. I hope that Brad can come back for the playoffs. We're going to be in the playoffs, there's no question. It doesn't matter who they play at this point. I think this team can win the World Series, that's my prediction. This is the best team they've had for many, many years. This team is doing it.

But that's not just empty. They work with each other, and don't get all clogged up speaking behind each other's backs. I watch them on the bench. They talk straight, and Gardenhire does too. He's gentle, kind, and straight. And he stands up for his team, and that's important because the players know it.

This team feels much better than either in 1987 or 1991. I was down there in spring training this March, and things weren't working out. But Gardy was juggling, and was trying to make the pieces fit. And Terry Ryan is sharp. Some of the players then weren't with this team, and those two could tell that. Every player is with this team now, and with each other. That's the biggest change that occurred. They're the best team in the major leagues. Not based on experience or big names, but as far as what they've done to pull themselves out of where they were.

They'll win enough games to take Detroit and they'll win the division. And then onto the Series. It isn't easy, but I think they've got the talent and the coaches. They work closely together, and that's what makes the talent meaningful. More than that, it takes stamina and spirit to win the World Series. And this team has both. They won't quit. The spirit is really something to hold on to.

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