My kid brother and I were sharing our Sunday morning with 5,000 or so Mary Kay Cosmetics saleswomen.
We were at a baseball park -- Minneapolis' Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome -- in the fall of 1987, watching a game that could clinch a playoff berth for our beloved Minnesota Twins for the first time since my brother was in kindergarten.
Of course, months earlier, the rational business minds in the Twins ticket office couldn't have predicted that possibility. Last home game of the year? For a team that hadn't finished above .500 since the Pleistocene era? And an 11 a.m. game time so the Metrodome could be cleared for something far more important, a Vikings game? Mary Kay wants a few thousand tickets for a sales promotion? Sold!
We were indignant, of course. For years, we had alternated between frustration and abject despair as our once-proud Twins descended first to mediocrity, then to comedy. We'd fanned flames of hope when young kids with impossibly spelled names -- Hrbek, Gaetti, Brunansky -- got us into a pennant race. And now, for the most important game in two decades, hordes of giggly cosmetics mavens had better seats than we did!
And, still ... maybe it was all that pink that unnerved Charlie Leibrandt. The starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, he gave up three first-inning homers -- no-doubter bombs -- before all the Mary Kaysters had settled into their seats. I've had a fondness for pink Cadillacs ever since.
So many of our passions are the result of quirks of fate. I was born in Minnesota. I love baseball. Ergo, I'm a Minnesota Twins fan. These days, that means I'm on the verge of being forcibly excommunicated.
Major League Baseball has decreed that two of its teams must be killed off -- "contraction" is the polite word. The Twins are No. 2 on the list, largely because Twins owner Carl Pohlad is aging, tired of fighting for a new stadium and figures his fellow team owners are the only people desperate enough to pay him $250 million for a team that had slunk back to mediocrity.
I understand business logic. But kill the Twins -- my Twins? How can you eliminate a team that gave us Kirby Puckett's smile?
I've been alive 41 years. The Twins have played 41 seasons. We can stretch that coincidence too far, but it's not a stretch to say that for every phase of my life, there's a corresponding memory about the Twins.
Youth is supposed to be about learning. But it wasn't the Rolling Stones who taught me that you can't always get what you want. It was Sandy Koufax (a 2-0 shutout in Game 7 of the '65 Series -- on two days rest!) and a couple guys named Robinson (in back-to-back annihilations at the hands of the O's in the '69 and '70 playoffs).
Adolescence is about rebellion. Patriarchal owner Cal Griffith lost me -- for good! I screamed -- when his parsimony chased off stars like Rod Carew, Bert Blyleven and even Harmon Killebrew (who, shame of shames, finished his Hall of Fame career in another uniform). I watched the Vikings instead.
Adulthood is about learning to handle adversity by some other method than flight. The Twins taught me that, too. By then, my career had taken me to Iowa. (Want to know the best shortcut from Des Moines to Waterloo? Turn north just before Grundy Center -- pop. 2,491. You miss both the stoplights that way.)
Griffith's scouts found a great bunch of kids in the early '80s. They flirted with the playoffs in '84, then lost a horrific 10 in a row down the stretch. For the next couple of seasons, they struggled, as if the horrors of '84 were still rattling in their brains. Then, in '87, they seemed to just grow up. They won the division, the pennant, and, miracle of miracles, the World Series.
The Twins were becoming grown-ups, but I was still acting like a kid. The Game 7 party in St. Paul ended at 2 in the morning. I had an assignment in Iowa at 9. Giddiness and adrenaline do wonders.
A big game coming up, but there's no radio in Iowa carrying the Twins? Well, I can always find a hilltop (or maybe drive the two hours to Grundy Center?) and try to pick up WCCO out of Minneapolis. Wait -- it's against Oakland? Maybe time to bribe the bartender at that wretched dive bar with a satellite dish over on Grand Avenue in Des Moines. To hell with it, I'll just go, and drive all night -- a good four hours -- to be back at work tomorrow.
My partner in obsession during most of these years was my kid brother (37 now, a successful lawyer, but still the "kid brother"). Bill scored the tickets to the '87 playoffs and Series. We sneered together at all the bandwagon-jumpers who hopped on in '88 and hopped off just as fast in '89 when mediocrity seemed to return.
By then, I was off to Florida. Bill and I swapped gossip and insight. I caught spring training games in '91. This team might just be good, I reported. Bill, just married and dead broke, sprung for partial season tickets. They were better than good, he reported -- they were the best Twins team of our lives.