Mostly baseball

Football star Red Grange in a raccoon coat

Before my last column went out, I remembered that the mad Russian wore a raccoon coat, but I forgot to correct it.

Raccoon coats were very popular in the 1920s, and you probably can find pictures of collegiate types wearing raccoon coats and straw hats, waving little flags with the letter “H” on them. I don’t think the Russian was a collegiate type EVER.

On warm summer weekends before TV took over our entertainment needs, Cloquet residents would flock to Pinehearst Park for the fast pitch softball games. All three of the major industries fielded a team.

Bobo Johnson (no relation) pitched for Northwest Paper. I used to know Bob Ellison, who pitched for Diamond Match too. I don’t remember the name of the guy who pitched for Wood Conversion, but Leo Guckenberg managed that team.

Pitchers developed huge biceps on their pitching arms. I often wondered how they kept from walking bent over to that side.

Other players I remember were George Rodd and Gene Hobbes. George was an older brother of my classmates Bob and Frank. Long after his playing days, I rented a house from Gene.

Two other teams were fielded by A&B Bar and Benkoski and Holmes. There may have been others that I have forgotten.

The bleachers were always packed, and people would lay on the grass beyond right field and sit at the picnic tables on the little hill beyond left field. If a home run ball went out there, you were expected to return it.

Baseball was played at Athletic Park. Cloquet had a town ball team, and my father would take me to watch games there. The first baseman was John E. Johnson (again, no relation.) I think my father worked with him.

We occasionally could pick up a major league game on the radio, but the World Series were a must to listen to. I know some teachers let their class listen to the World Series (I suspect these teachers were mostly male baseball fans.)

The Chicago teams were closest to us, but I think most people here were fans of the Yankees or the Brooklyn Dodgers, because those teams got the most press.

I didn’t actually see a major league game until I was in Army Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood. We went to St. Louis on a weekend to go to a Cardinals game.

My buddy and I were wearing our uniforms, looking where we had to go for military seating. A man tapped us on the shoulder and said “Come with me. I’ve got seats for you.” He brought us to his box seats right on the first base line.

We felt a little guilty rooting for the Milwaukee Braves, because we knew our host had to be a big Cardinals fan.

That was the days when Johnny Sain and Warren Spahn pitched for Milwaukee, and their fans prayed for Spahn, Sain and two days of rain.

Stan Musial was still playing for the Cards, and Spahn pitched for the Braves. Spahn hit a solo home run, and Milwaukee won the game by one run.

The Vikings and Twins came to Minnesota in 1961. They both played at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, but the only game I ever went to there was a Vikings Packer game. We had seats on the 50-yard line, which would have been perfect if it hadn’t started to rain. It came down in buckets, so we moved to the end zone and stood there for the rest of the game.

The players uniforms were so muddy we couldn’t tell one from another. When the game ended, the traffic was horrible. I swore I would never go there again, and I didn’t. It was a lot more comfortable watching the game from my living room.

The next stop was the Metrodome, and I did go to a few baseball games there. The seating was designed for football, so I got a stiff neck trying to see home plate once sitting on the third base line, but other than that, it was OK.

It has been only in the last few years that I have been able to watch the Twins on TV. Now it is the rare game that isn’t televised. Sometimes they are televised on a different channel. One recent game was televised on something called the Apple+ channel. I suspect that is something I need to subscribe to. I don’t want to do that, so I listened to it the old-fashioned way on KDAL 610. It was AM radio, so there was a lot of static. 

I don’t know if it was on FM too, but I didn’t know where to set the dial for that. The internet gives me two different numbers for them: 95.7 and 103.9.

For many years, Twins games were only on radio. If I couldn’t listen to a game, I would set up my tape recorder to record it so I could listen to it later.

Unfortunately, I recorded one game I didn’t care to listen to more that once. For some reason, they had put Harmon Killebrew in left field. 

Now that baseball is run by analytics, we know there is not only some skill required to play the outfield, but the skills are different for left, center and right fields. 

Harmon had played third base most of the time, and despite his power hitting home runs, he didn’t have a strong throwing arm.

A Baltimore player hit a fly ball to left field. The announcer said “It’s a long fly ball. Harmon has it measured, he’s pounding his glove—IT’S OVER HIS HEAD!.”

 recorded music over that game, but it seemed that I would turn on the music, and when it was over, I heard: “IT’S OVER HIS HEAD.” I don’t know why it always got stuck at that point. It was just a nasty reminder of one bad game.

Minnesota was considered a small market team, so the networks were not much interested in televising their games. I was not particularly interested in the games they did televise, but I did happen to watch one memorable one. 

Nolan Ryan was a rookie that year, I believe. His first pitch was a 100-mile an hour fastball that went four feet over the batter’s head. The opposing batters all seemed a little nervous after that.