"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)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Our beloved Tony Oliva worthy of poetry

1965 seemed like "the old days" at the time our Minnesota Twins won their two world championships. The two titles came in 1987 and 1991. Increasingly we feel like old-timers when reflecting on the '87 and '91 seasons. Many years have rolled by.
Our ballpark for the two title campaigns has gone out of existence. It wasn't really a "ballpark," it was a "building." An embittered manager Whitey Herzog of St. Louis said of the Twins after our '87 success: "They do well in this building." He was trying to apply a dagger as if to suggest we didn't have a true "ballpark," and there was more than a grain of truth there.
Well, if those who share nostalgia about '87 and '91 are old-timers, what does that make me? I will always embrace memories of our '65 team. Bittersweet memories indeed. We climbed so far, yet we were denied the World Series title in the maximum seven games. We burst our buttons with pride about our Metropolitan Stadium. Quite logical, as five years earlier we were a "cold Omaha" with our minor league Minneapolis Millers.
Minnesota was awash with unbridled state pride for the '65 season and the climactic World Series. Imagine, the World Series in Minnesota! The whole idea required adjustment. Along the way we knocked off the New York Yankees, mainly with a perfectly-timed Harmon Killebrew home run that symbolically seemed to extinguish the Yankees' dynasty of that era - the Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle dynasty. Oh, and Roger Maris.
In '65 we had the dazzling Tony Oliva - "Tony O" as he was so affectionately called by Herb Carneal. What a prodigy with the bat, from Cuba. He burst on the scene in 1964, playing all 162 games. I look at that "162" number now and question the judgment of having him play daily. Why not a day off after a night game, or sitting down for game 2 of a doubleheader? Today that would surely be done. Was baseball scared of getting complaints from fans who wanted to see Oliva on a given day?
Gate receipts were more important then, in the days with such limited TV reach. Was Tony like a circus attraction, though? His body may have been worn down in ways that brought consequences later. We're learning all about what happens to football players today.
Tony had a marvelous career but his body wasn't resilient enough to get the kind of longevity needed for the Hall of Fame. Just one more solid season would have sealed it. Many argue he was good enough anyway.
Tony did not distinguish himself in post-season play. I'm sure that hurt. One heroic World Series would have gotten him in. We won our division in '69 and '70 but got stopped short of the Series. I will never forget how, by the time of those division-winning seasons, we had come to take the "Met" (our stadium) for granted, almost dissing it sometimes. By the end of the '70s it was common to hear people talk about the stadium like it was passé. Strange.
Cities go through generations of stadiums. It's as if the public demands a new one every 20-30 years, the way restaurant customers expect a little re-decorating once in a while.
I will remind you that I have written a song about Tony Oliva, and it's online. Here's the link:
 
Just days ago I posted the song I wrote about our current Target Field. I invite you to listen by clicking on this link:
 
Today I have some straight poetry to share, inspired by that unique Cuban athlete who is so beloved. The poem about "Tony O" reflects on his journey from when he was just a prospect. I invite you to read:
 
A young man here from Cuban shores
Could he break down baseball's doors?
In the spring of '61
He looked raw to everyone
 
People said his outfield play
Wasn't going to win the day
Never mind his bat was hot
He might never get a shot
 
Drifting after getting cut
He found refuge in Charlotte
Training with a friend he made
He scored points with his big frame
 
Charlotte's GM placed a call
To the Twins of big league ball
On the phone he did demand
"Let's re-sign this Cuban man"
 
On to Wytheville he did bound
In Class 'D' he'd make some sounds
In the Appalachian League
He could hit but could he field?
 
He signed up for winter ball
Puerto Rico gave that call
Second in the batting race
He proclaimed a solid case
 
So he came to Single-A
Back in Charlotte, primed to play
Hitting like a superstar
Now we knew he could go far
 
In the fall of '62
So to see what he could do
He was called with nine games left
By the Twins who placed their bets
 
Coming up to bat 12 times
Our young man connected fine
Getting hits and turning heads
Such anticipation fed
 
Bring on 1963
Springtime and its reverie
Would our young man carve a niche
Honing in on each new pitch?
 
No, the answer came so bleak
He would not get big league cleats
Down in Texas he would play
Making strides in Triple-A
 
Dallas-Ft. Worth was his club
He stuck with the game he loved
Starting slow and ending hot
Now we knew he'd get his shot
 
Sure enough in '64
We all heard the bat that roared
No more holding back that man
As his bat assumed command
 
People all around the league
Watched with awe his many deeds
He was Rookie of the Year
As his talent garnered cheers
 
Capturing the batting crown
He hit liners all around
Some would call them frozen ropes
He projected Twins' fans hopes
 
Then in '65 they won
While the Yankees came undone
Ready at the All-Star break
To seal up the Yankees' fate
 
Our young man was in the glow
Of his pastime's biggest show
Festive bunting greeted all
For the showcase in the fall
 
Twins were matched against L.A.
Could they hit and make the plays?
Minnesotans watched with awe
Caught up with that little ball
 
So high in that firmament
Where the Yankees left their print
Now the Midwest came to shine
With a lineup full of pride
 
With the "T/C" on their caps
Twins inspired fans to clap
With our Cuban hero primed
Maybe we would see them climb
 
Twins and Dodgers went to seven
Our Met Stadium seemed like heaven
We won three games in that place
Not enough to win the day
 
Though we showed we did belong
Dodgers sang a winning song
Thanks to Koufax on the hill
They prevailed with their sheer will
 
What a lefty who bore down
Master of that pitching mound
He was rested on a day
All 'cause of his Jewish faith
 
Never mind, he'd be around
When his precious faith allowed
He was king when it meant most
Jews would surely raise a toast
 
All in L.A. paused and bowed
That includes the movie crowd
Meanwhile in our Northern state
We still knew our team was great
 
Very high on that prime list
Was that Cuban with those wrists
In the groove for hitting hard
Hitting long, looking large
 
Surely you must know the name
Of the man who lit a flame
Making fans cheer long and hard
Coveting his baseball card
 
We all called him "Tony O."
That Oliva stole the show
As we grew up we were wowed
By that man whose bat was loud
 
Back in Cuba things were grim
No place for a man like him
In the U.S. he was free
To pursue his destiny
 
With his baseball expertise
He could seal his inner peace
"Tony O." was born to thrive
Touching all in '65
 
© Copyright 2016 Brian R. Williams

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