Somewhere ballplayers are throwing and hitting baseballs on green grass. That's all a fan needs to know. It is spring.
It's spring, and another Minnesota Twins season begins. Last year, I actually got to live through two Twins seasons. Let me explain.
In a Star Tribune column last March, Patrick Reusse was reflecting on Twins memories and specifically Rod Carew. "I was a Twins beat writer in 1977 and could give you a Carew memory from most every day between April 9 and Oct. 2. Best. Twins. Season. Ever."
I agreed. It. Was. I was 21, somewhere between a boy playing ball at Prairieville and the man who would have more serious concerns. It was the last summer that "having fun" was my main objective. Much of it was spent listening to Herb Carneal and tailgating in the Baltimore lot at Met Stadium.
The Twins had a surprising season that found them in first place in August. "Sir Rodney" Carew had a season for the ages, landing on the covers of Time and Sports Illustrated. Larry Hisle had MVP numbers. Lyman Bostock, Butch "I love that kid" Wynegar, "Nephew" Smalley, "Mongo" Kusick were all part of the Minnesota Lumber Company. Rothsay, Minnesota's Dave Goltz won 20 games. Manager Gene Mauch was a baseball savant and a gentleman.
There were some clouds. Mauch was patching together a pitching staff behind Goltz with bubblegum and duct tape. There were questions about Calvin Griffith's ability to hold it all together. Met Stadium itself appeared to be on death row; a new stadium was being debated, maybe even with a, gasp, roof. Finally, the Twins' collapse in September ate our hearts out.
As I thought about the '77 season, looking at the snow piled in the yard, an idea came to me. Why not relive it? I told wife Pam of my plan, and she asked if that wasn't living in the past. To which I replied, "What's so great about the present?"
The kernel of my idea was the "box score." The story of a baseball game is wondrously told in that form. If you are a fan, you spent time as a kid gazing at box scores over your bowl of cereal. There in three column inches, the game plays in your mind.
I organized about 20 baseball fan-friends into an e-mail group, and on April 9 sent out my plans to "relive" the season that began on that date 36 years ago. After my introduction, I wrote, "This is the last post from 2013. From now on, it is 1977. How are we e-mailing each other in 1977? Uh, magic?"
Next, I posted the box score from the Twins opening day 7 to 4 loss at Oakland. I included some thoughts about starting pitcher Goltz, the Twins lineup, and A's owner Charlie Finley.
Amazingly, 161 box scores with commentary followed. It turned out to be a Herculean task; there is no way I would have completed it on my own. Dean Brinkman and Scott Surprenant began to give me "off-days." Then they picked up whole weeks when I was busy. And the group made it to season's end and the 6 to 2 win at Milwaukee on October 2.
What happened in between was inanely fun for our band of time travelers. Each day's game was only the beginning. The e-mail banter that followed went from music to news, politics, television, you name it. Just enough photos and video can be found from 1977 to be interesting, but not overwhelming. If there was a downturn in productivity in our nation's economy last summer, I may be responsible.
It's 1977. I'm a junior at St. John's University, home on the farm for the summer. Dean Brinkman is a 13-year-old baseball-rat town kid. Terry Helget is an 8-year-old farm kid out by Stark. Scott Surprenant is a junior in Luverne. Dean Koll is at the U., working the summer for his uncle Richard Mathiowetz. Bob Skillings is 16 and spending the summer at a dude ranch in Colorado. We had a few "grownups" like Greg Roiger who owns the Sportsman's Grill in New Ulm.
This was the era when Howard Cosell had proclaimed baseball to be boring, and its popularity was waning. Not for kids and geeks like me, though. Reggie Jackson was in New York, the biggest free agent ever. Reggie and Billy Martin feuded all year, but the season ended with Reggie hitting three home runs in the last game of the World Series.
With the benefit of foresight (or is it hindsight?) curious things happened all season. One example: in May, Twins' pitchers Mike Pazik and Don Carruthers got into a serious car accident on 494. Pazik never pitched again. But he did meet a Minnesota woman who he married and a year later they had a daughter Kristen. Kristen Pazik would grow up to be a super-model, and marry Andriy Shevchenko, a Ukrainian soccer star. Shevchenko became a political leader and is active in the civil unrest in the Ukraine today. There, an impossible-to-predict path from 1977 to 2014.
The whole season was a history lesson. Jimmy Carter's speech declares the energy crisis to be the "moral equivalent of war," April 18. (Twins 8, Royals 6) The Great New York City Blackout sends the city into chaos, July 13. (Twins 6, Angels 5) Son of Sam, murderer David Berkowitz is arrested, August 10. (Twins 7, Blue jays 3)
The "kids" ? Dean, cousin Brian, Terry, Leon Kral ? are big into pro rasslin' and there are lots of posts about All Star Wrestling, jumping off couches, and breaking stuff. Elvis dies on August 20, 1977. (Orioles 6, Twins 2) Much of the summer leads eerily to his demise, including grainy video of his concert in St. Paul on April 30. It's almost like we knew what was coming.
Next week, the '77 gang will take you to Met Stadium.