Tuesday, August 23, 2005

 

Half of the Fun

These days the Twins play in the Baggiedome in downtown Minneapolis, but in the '60's and '70's they were out in the suburbs. My first major league game was at age 11 on June 22, 1968 at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.

Today the Mall of America sits on the site, but back in 1968 it was baseball under open skies. In the game program (25 cents) it says, "Half of the fun at a ballgame is keeping score," and instructions were provided on how to do so. It didn't say what the other half of the fun was, so I kept score.

Visiting was a mediocre Yankee team, six years removed from winning the World Series and nine years away from winning their next one. Twins pitcher Jim Kaat got the first two Yanks to fly out, but the third connected for a home run. It was my first major league hit, so to speak. Referring to the scoring instructions, next to the name "Mantle" I drew four horizontal bars (four-base hit) and a "7" (to left field) then circled all of it (run scored). The scoreboard flashed the message that it was the 528th home run of Mickey Mantle's career.

Of course I remember that The Mick hit a home run in the first major league game I attended, but documented on the scorecard are forgotten details. For instance, Mantle was playing first base, not the outfield. The designated hitter hadn't been adopted by the American League yet, so I figured the move to first base was because of his knees. Web research today verified that one of the great center fielders of all time spent the last two years of his career at first base due to bad knees, and they were two awful years. He retired after the 1968 season after hitting only .237 with 18 homers in 144 games. The notation on the scorecard that he was playing first base is what compelled me to look it up. Perhaps the "other half of the fun" is looking at a scorecard 37 years later and seeing details and clues that add substance to imperfect memory.

The scorecard also shows: Tony Oliva put the Twins ahead with a two-run homer in the fourth, but the Yankees scratched out four runs in the seventh and won 5-2. Stan Bahnsen allowed six hits (three to Oliva) and struck out nine to get the win. Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew went 0-4. With the help of Baseball Almanac, I have recreated the box score as it would have appeared in the paper the next day.

I have to be in Baltimore next week on business, so I'm going down early to take in weekend games at Camden Yards (Athletics at Orioles) and RFK Stadium (Cardinals at Nationals). I haven't been to either one before so maybe that's what got me thinking about that first game in Minnesota.

Frank Robinson
Frank Robinson tolerates
a snapshot, 1999
Although I haven't been to Camden Yards, I saw the Royals play the Orioles on July 31, 1988 at old Memorial Stadium. At the time, the Royals were in the middle of the pack (51-52 according to the Baseball Almanac) and the Orioles were simply awful (32-70). The Oriole manager was Frank Robinson, who had replaced Cal Ripken, Sr. early in the season. Once again, my scorecard scratchings reveal forgotten details of the game.

The Royals had two on and two out in the fourth when Vincent Edward "Bo" Jackson launched a moonball that would have hit the roof if there had been one. The outfielders drifted slowly back, waiting for what seemed like several minutes for the ball to return to earth. When it did, it was just over the wall in right-center for a three-run homer. I remember Bo's moonball, but the scorecard fills me in on some of the other details: On base for Bo were the famous George Brett (hit by pitch) and the infamous Bill Buckner (double). In the ninth, Cal Ripken, Jr. hit a solo homer for the Orioles to break up the shutout, but Charlie Liebrandt went on to finish a complete game four-hitter, 4-1. Here's the box score at Baseball Almanac.

The O's finished 54-107 that year. I will see Frank Robinson, now manager of the Nationals, put a better team on the field this Sunday than he was able to back then. I've gotten out of the habit of buying programs and keeping score but maybe I'll revive that practice this weekend.


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