"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Harmon homered at the Met way back in '58

I found baseball cards to be a good geography lesson. You could learn about the existence of certain minor league baseball cities, cities that otherwise might not come to your attention.
Our teachers disdained such apparent frivolity as baseball cards and comic books. They would be surprised how much learning could be done. Comic books taught me the term "doomed." Calvin Griffith, original owner of the Twins, once said Jim Eisenreich was "doomed" to become an all-star. Of course he meant "destined." Norm Crosby built a comic career misusing words. "That was back when my wife was stagnant."
When I saw "Indianapolis" on the back of a baseball card, I realized that was a minor league stop on the way up. Or "Des Moines," or "Winston-Salem" (the "Filters?").
I think many people would be surprised that Harmon Killebrew played at Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington, with Indianapolis in 1958. He homered at Met Stadium then. Indianapolis was in the American Association. A very young Harmon was in Minnesota for a game against the Minneapolis Millers.
We can forget there was a "twilight zone" period of five years when Met Stadium had no big league occupant. It's surprising that the Twin Cities weren't considered big league yet. But remember, pro basketball sputtered here before finally, in the late 1980s, it stuck. Along the way, the best nickname for the team, "Muskies," got used up. Apparently when a team folds, its nickname must be retired forever.
We had a pro basketball team called the "Pipers" here too. Pro basketball just couldn't get established at the Met Sports Center, out by Metropolitan Stadium. Today the Mall of America is out in those environs. That area used to be called the "Bloomington prairie."
The atmosphere really was rather pastoral around the Met. We'd hear an occasional jet roar overhead. The surrounding roads were busy. But we were only on the far fringe of the big city. A retired Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce president said at the time of the Met's closure: "My best memory? I guess it would have to be that pleasant setting. I'm concerned about the move downtown. I think we're losing too much. . .of the flavor."
The downtown Metrodome did present a sea change. We did come to love the Metrodome. The sterile surroundings were offset by the fact all games could be played under predictable and comfortable conditions. Eventually we couldn't even accept these pluses anymore and we decided to depart. By "we" I mean the major sports teams who coldly calculate on such matters. That includes the University of Minnesota.
There was a time not long ago that the Twins, Vikings and Gophers all played in the quite decent atmosphere of the Dome. Each one of these teams now needs its own palace. Are we nearing the end of this stadium-building? Would we dare build anything more opulent than what we have now? Is the new Vikings stadium "a bridge too far?" Will Mark Dayton regret being a toady for those New Jersey real estate interests?
Are football fans whistling past the graveyard in terms of their sport staying popular? Concussions loom, as does saturation exposure. I have trouble predicting the future but maybe I'll be right on this one. I have a mere fleeting interest in football today. And the brawl in Mankato didn't help. The old testosterone-fueled football culture is looking ever more archaic. The ravages on the human body are becoming too much.
Let's encourage boys to play other sports. Is that so difficult?
That retired Chamber president, name of Gerald Moore, had a gut feeling of affection for the old Metropolitan Stadium, just like me. He was a heavy lifter in helping that place get built. There had to be apprehension, given there was no immediate guarantee (hardly) of major league baseball coming here.
"It was such a kick to see the place go up," Moore told Joe Soucheray. "It was like making a million dollars and you know you've got the million, but you just don't have the money. We got a lot of compliments on the place over the years."
Maybe not from Jim Murray. Murray was the syndicated sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times who got locked in the women's restroom adjacent to the football press box on the Met's second deck. Murray found the men's restroom locked from the outside. The hallways were deserted. The Vikings had completed a playoff win over the Los Angeles Rams. He ducked into the women's facilities. He couldn't get out! The temperature outside was 12 degrees.
The scribe began fearing he might not be discovered until the following spring. He shouted. Ho help was forthcoming, but Mr. Murray found a piece of steel which he used to pry the door open. Actually this story isn't funny.
The Los Angeles media might be skeptical enough about covering a game in a place where the temperature is 12 degrees. And now this. Oh, the Vikings defeated the Rams 24-13 in the NFL title game.
Music at the Met
The biggest crowd ever at the Met was for a music event: the Eagles headlined and were complemented by Pablo Cruise and the Steve Miller Band, on August 1, 1978. People were everywhere, covering the field and filling the stands. The stage was in center field.
Young people could be rambunctious in those days. I remember. We didn't always respect property appropriately. But the crowd for that record-setting pop music concert was surprisingly well-behaved. The biggest problem seemed to be barefooted (barefeet?) youth getting cuts on feet. Another problem, one that could have been fully expected, was litter across that expansive sea of a parking lot around the Met.
It was quite a spectacle to see a large crowd depart from the Met. It was amazing that any crowd of 35,000 or more made the place look like it was absolutely filled. Some sort of illusion was in effect.
I always appreciated how a general admission ticket holder for a baseball game could wander all over the place. I was fond of standing at the rear of any of the three decks. If one vantage point got boring, I'd move to another. 
The Twins, at the beginning
Amazingly, the very first home opener back in 1961 wasn't a sellout, this despite the fact there was an obvious statewide mania over the Twins. The date was April 21, 1961, a Friday. Special bunting adorned the Met.
The Millers had tumbled into the obscurity of yesteryear. There were never many efforts to keep the memory of the Millers alive, except maybe from Dave Moore, the old WCCO TV newsman. Dave waxed nostalgic. Maybe that's understandable if you once courted a fine young lady there.
I've seen pictures of the old Nicollet Park and it looks pretty minimal. Willie Mays played there in 1951.
The first Twins home opener attracted 24,606. We aren't particularly eager to go outdoors for our entertainment in April. But the conditions were nice on that 1961 date: clear, sunny and 63 degrees. Don Mincher and Lenny Green hit home runs.
Morris legend has it that Gary Rose traded a substantial portion of his baseball card collection to get one Lenny Green card, and then the Twins promptly traded Green. A lesson in the vagaries of the marketplace!
The Twins lost the 1961 opener 5-3. Oh, the parking lot hadn't been blacktopped yet! Muddy conditions might have discouraged some would-be fans. People had less discretionary money for entertainment.
The best was clearly yet to come.
Zoilo Versalles was our leadoff batter, Green was No. 2. Mincher and Bob Allison were penciled in at 3 and 4. Harmon Killebrew was hurt and no-go. Earl Battey was our catcher. Billy Gardner, later to manage the Twins, was our second baseman. We remember good ol' Billy as manager when the team started coming out of its late '70s and early '80s funk. He also lived in a motel, didn't he?
We can compliment the late Calvin Griffith on being enthusiastic about signing and promoting players of color, in contrast to some other fellow owners. We can attribute his infamous "Waseca speech" to the loss of discretion coming with age. Or, to an overzealous, self-absorbed and pretentious writer name of Nick Coleman.
Popularity builds
The first sellout at the Met would be on May 21 of that inaugural year, for a doubleheader vs. Cleveland. There were no right field stands yet. Alas, we were shut out in both games.
In 1962 we saw Jack Kralick throw his no-hitter. Kralick tossed his gem, the only nine-inning no-hitter at the Met, on August 26. The Twins won 1-0. The backdrop was a perfect summer day: 81 degrees and clear skies. I can just imagine sitting in those bleachers, or wandering behind the decks, clutching my Frosty Malt or whatever. The dollar-size beer was the "large" size! Try to keep from fainting.
Kralick came within two outs of a perfect game. Bob Allison saved a probable home run in the fourth with a leaping catch. Allison robbed Ed Charles, who I have written about before because he was inspired to be a big league player by Jackie Robinson. I was writing about the biopic about Robinson, "42."
Jack Kralick said: "I lost five minutes of my warmup because it was Camera Day."
Camera Day! Such innocence then. If I remember right, fans milled around with players pre-game, taking photos at will, asking players to pose for them etc. It was a more trusting world.
If I could step into a time machine, I'd like to go back to Camera Day in those early years and use a movie camera, eventually to put clips on YouTube. That stuff would be priceless. As things stand, my memories of Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington, are priceless.
The Met and its big league status were an escape for me, into a "macro" world that I found much more interesting than my "micro" Morris MN. Nevertheless,  "I Love Morris" (the name of this website).
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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