thats life: hey dad, the tigers lost today
“Dear Dad,” I wrote 28 years ago to my recently-departed father, “the Tigers won today.” My brother Scott and sister Sherry and I don't know why he loved the Tigers, but they were blue collar sons of a gritty city, an automobile Mecca like no others, so his love for them was fitting. Norm Cash, Al Kaline, Mickey Lolich...
We were in Minneapolis Thursday to see the Twins, and yes, the Tigers, play—my siblings and Scott's wife, Pam. Sherry knows Target Field like the back of her hand; she's got the dream retirement job as a fan services employee for the Twins, but on Thursday she was a chatterbox fan from our seats behind the Twins dugout.
Earlier that day, Scott let us choose from some of Dad's baseball memorabilia he had stashed away. I chose a Sports Illustrated collection of covers going back to the days of Mickey Mantle, whose autographed ball I once gave to my father only to get it back too soon. Sherry picked a yearbook spanning decades of Twins baseball with pictures of every player through the World Series years. She brought it along hoping to get it autographed. She snagged Tim Laudner right off the television stage before the game, a big man with a big World Series ring on his finger. She even got him to sign my program. “Will that do you, Ma'am?” he asked politely. Oh boy, would it. She was giddy.
She was a first-rate centerfielder. I taught her myself, burning fastballs to her in the backyard until she had to ice her hand, but she always came back for more. After playing baseball with me, softball was a snap. She holds the title of fastest centerfielder in the family, a contest decided after church and instigated by Gus Speidel, who took two bucks off me while Sherry stole my pride in a sprint from the centerfield fence, 385 feet from home plate. I passed her at the pitcher's mound but she refused to yield and had me by an inch at home.
Before the game, we had a snort at Gluek's Bar, established in 1934, the kind of rustic pub Dad would have felt at home in. Scott ordered the $2 “mystery beer” which turned out to be Hamm's, great, sure, but Dad liked Grain Belt.
The crowd, some 19,000, still sparse after pandemic restrictions, was typical. A good-natured, knowledgeable, an everyone-is-your-friend kind of atmosphere that makes baseball attendance more like a picnic, and one of the reasons baseball will always be America's game. For 2 hours and 23 minutes we bonded, just as the game had bonded my father and me.
The Twins were held hitless by Tiger rookie Tarik Skubal for four innings. J.A. Happ was just as good for the Twins, eventually winning a game that saw the Twins battle back from a 3-1 deficit to win 5-3 with help from homers by Ryan Jeffers and Miguel Sano'. Jeffers, the catcher, was batting .193 and looked lost at the plate before launching one to centerfield. Former league MVP Josh Donaldson missed two pitches by six inches, going 0-3, but made a spectacular grab at third base and threw out the runner while sitting splay-legged on his rump! What an arm. Second-bagger Jorge Polanco made the play of the night though, snagging a grounder a foot in front of second base, flipping it to the shortstop Andrelton Simmons from his glove to start a double play. Two cellar-dwelling teams gave us great baseball.
On the way out, as Sherry led us to the parking garage, she spotted Twins TV broadcaster Dick Bremer and pitching great Jim Kaat in the hall. Before we could get their autograph, the elevator door opened, but Kaat invited us inside where Sherry got her autographs from the towering stars while I snapped a picture. She was beaming. Bremer, who seemed a bit put off at first, quickly recalibrated, because he could see how much this meant to the fastest centerfielder from Frederick, SD. Kaat was especially sweet. He didn't have his glasses, so Sherry helped him find his photo from 1974.
It was a wonderful way to cap a wonderful day. The elevator door opened, but before he stepped off, Bremer looked me in the eye with a grin and the enthusiasm of a true fan. “You saw a great game today, didn't you?”
It was a great game, Dad. The Tigers lost, but the Benders won, and somehow it feels like you were there.
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