"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)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Let's enshrine Vic Power in memories

The summer of 1962 was a most charmed time in Minnesota. Two years earlier we had no big league baseball at all. We had the Millers, a very dubious consolation prize. Jim Bouton once wrote that the biggest jump in baseball was between Triple-A and the majors. He added "the minor leagues are all very minor."
We had the football Gophers in Minnesota. We thumped our chest over that, but very little else.
We had to pinch ourselves to see if we were dreaming when big league ball came here for 1961. Our new Minnesota Twins had a losing campaign but we were excited.
With Sam Mele pulling the levers, we came up with a contending team in 1962. If you could put aside the Cold War and the Cuban missile scare - OK we really couldn't put that aside - it was our "summer of love" with our Twins and their home of Metropolitan Stadium, then considered state of the art. We finished in second place behind the dynastic Yankees with Mickey Mantle. Second place was the stratosphere.
And, who was voted the team MVP? It was none other than Vic Power. Vic ought to be remembered better by Minnesota Twins fans. He was not only a superior first baseman with his glove, he was flashy and flamboyant. He was a mature ballplayer in our young infield. Obviously he was a stabilizing influence for the likes of Zoilo Versalles, and not only that, he batted a quite fine .290, supplying his usual dose of "frozen ropes." What an exciting player he could be! Jim McRoberts of Morris well remembers.
I was seven years old in 1962. My father Ralph took the UMM men's chorus to Seattle for the World's Fair. John F. Kennedy had to cancel out for the closing ceremonies of the Fair, reportedly due to being ill, but that was just a cover story: He had to deal with the Cuban missile crisis. Remember the old joke about "kiss your ass goodbye?" Well fortunately it didn't happen.
The '62 Twins team carved out a special niche in team history. It's an underrated team in my view. Only one team per league made the post-season in those days. We had to be thrilled just challenging the Yankees. Here in Minnesota. Here in what Steve Cannon called the "tundra."
Vic Power was a man of color from Puerto Rico. That nation had no real racial issues. Welcome to America! Here, Power had to get oriented to a climate with plenty of racial issues and tension, especially when he had a stint in Philadelphia with the Athletics.
I remember reading that Vic liked getting his food in grocery stores so as not to have to deal with segregationist practices in restaurants. He'd buy lots of salami and bananas, he said.
Power often fielded the ball with one hand. The style was a trademark of his. Fielding one-handed actually increases your reach. His style influenced others at the first base position. Power also had a sharp wit and a dark deadpan humor. He played for several teams in his career. We most appreciate that he came to Minnesota. Hope he was able to go walleye fishing! He struck out only 247 times in 6,046 career at-bats. He helped groom a young Tony Oliva.
Today I have a poem I wish to share with you, honoring the great Vic Power. Here it is:
 
He came from that island land
Where a man was just a man
Never in a pigeon hole
Where your color spelled your role
 
Yes, Nirvana it did seem
Color-blind and so serene
Territory, not a state
No room there for racial hate
 
As a young man he could see
Where he'd fetch his destiny
Puerto Rico had its charms
but he'd have to go afar
 
Milk and honey was that place
Even if you felt your race
Mr. Power had black skin
He'd be challenged to fit in
 
Meanwhile he would feed his urge
With the San Juan Senators
Learning baseball with its skills
Moving forward with sheer will
 
Parking by the first base bag
He was quite the gifted lad
Fielding grounders hot and fast
In the role where he was cast
 
A Yankees scout with roving eyes
Fixed upon this diamond prize
Making sure he'd get his due
Signing with a big-time crew
 
Here in North America
Victor would display his glove
Playing first like it's an art
To this game he gave his heart
 
First he joined the minor leagues
'Cause he had to plant his seeds
That's the lot for all young guys
Yearning to complete their climb
 
Drummondville was where he went
That meek burg was in Quebec
Four years after World War II
Baseball had a growing mood
 
Victor thrived and rode the wave
With the Sky Chiefs he was great
Syracuse was where they played
In the good ol' USA
 
Now he was a mere stone's throw
From the most prestigious show
Playing fine in Triple-A
Now he sought the big league game
 
Oh, but he would toil more
Showing patience with that chore
Hitting liners with the Blues
Kansas City's baseball crew
 
K.C. of the minor leagues
Gave Vic Power room to breathe
So he hit like on a tear
Posting stats beyond compare
 
Doubles, triples off his bat
Got the notice of the fans
So they wondered why this guy
Could not rise, be big-time
 
On and on his bat did smoke
Could he get the Yankees' vote?
Could he cross that big league grass
Joining with that famous cast?
 
Yes the theory crossed our lips
Vic's black skin was a hindrance
Baseball had Neanderthals
Pulling levers in those walls
 
Yankees had a cautious stance
As they guarded their big dance
Vic was not reserved enough
He had too much flamboyance
 
Power dated light-skinned dames
Such a faux pas for that game
It's so quaint to conjure up
How our nation wouldn't budge
 
Yankees courted baby steps
Integration, no not yet
Not in its more proper form
Let's talk "token," just the norm
 
Elston Howard was the man
He was hand-picked by the brass
To put on a proper show
As the Yankees' first Negro
 
We can weigh the might-have-beens
Had Vic Power helped them win
Frozen ropes to thrill the fans
Fielding grounders with one hand
 
What if New York kept the faith
Keeping Victor in his gait?
Wouldn't he look prim and right
Putting on those grand pinstripes?
 
But the story would not fly
Never meant to crystallize
Yankees dealt him in a trade
To a less high-profile place
 
Philly was his new backyard
Racial tensions looming large
Puerto Rico seemed so pure
Next to Philly's daunting brew
 
Hotels, restaurants made their case
To discrim-nate based on race
So bizarre, such ignorance
When we should push excellence
 
Life in U.S. plodded on
Slowly shedding what was wrong
Victor's team moved to the west
Now in K.C., whole new test
 
Year was nineteen fifty-five
Eisenhower's eight-year ride
Rock n' roll was on the fringe
As Athletics sought their wins
 
Power was phenomenal
Hitting like an angry bull
Second in the batting race
Everyone now knew his name
 
Then he joined the Indians
Helping Cleveland roll up wins
He was so adaptable
Earning cheers, never dull
 
With the Twins he kept that pace
Helping them to second place
Minnesota felt the love
So enamored with his glove
 
Twins were in their second year
When Vic Power earned those cheers
They made sure the Yankees felt
Pressure from the vast corn belt
 
His Gold Gloves made us aware
Of a fielding skill so rare
He was chosen an All-Star
Like a golfer under par
 
He could surely savor all
Accolades earned in baseball
Still to make it really right
Let's discard the racial strife
 
© Copyright 2016 Brian R. Williams

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