In the spring of 1987 I was 15 and finishing up 9th grade. Living in a small town, most of the other guys were dreaming about getting their drivers licenses and girls, and finally getting invited to the keg parties. I was excited because Dan Gladden would be leading off and Jeff Reardon would be closing out games.
Prior to the quasi-pennant-push in 1984 I had not been terribly interested in baseball or the Twins. Dad took my younger brother an me to a mid-week matinee game at the Met circa 1978. I do not remember a whole lot about the game. They lost to Rod Carew and the Angels. A foul ball ricocheted off the railing next to my hand (about midway between 1st base and the right field foul pole. I was too stunned to realize I should run and get the ball. There were maybe 5000 people at the game.
When the Dome opened, plans to go to a game were put on hold until the air-conditioning was added. Again, I do not remember much. But they were good seats...about midway up/down in the lower deck behind home plate.
In 1984 the team was actually kind of in the race for the West. They made blockbuster deals to bring in Pat Putnam and Chris Speier. I kind of began to follow along some. But not real seriously. I remember Dad and a couple of my friends get excited when the deals to bring Roy Smalley and Bert Blyleven back happened during the 1985 season. And in 1986 I would sometimes listen to games on my not-walkman radio.
But in 1987, I was actually excited for the season to begin. The new uniforms were cool in a classic way. Reardon and Gladden and Newman felt like meaningful acquisitions. I wrote my 9th grade theme paper on why the Twins would win the AL West. This was before Fox Sports. Before Midwest Sports Channel. I lived in cornfield county...a stone's throw from the Iowa border. My only option was the radio. And the local AM/FM station actually broke away from their country music to put the Twins on the air. And I listened to almost every game.
I learned how to milk batteries for maximum life, turning the radio off during commercial breaks and keeping the volume as low as possible so less current was needed to drive the earphone speakers. I would listen to the pre-game. I remained tuned in for the post-game to get all of the scores, stats, and standings.
I suppose I should mention that my step-dad was an abusive alcoholic. Sunday nights were when he raged the worst (probably because he had to stop drinking so he could sober up in time to go to work). That's also the one time that there was never a game being played. It made me appreciate being able to tune out the ugliness around me even more.
Herb Carneal was the grandpa I had lost a few years earlier. Oddly enough, grandpa would fuss around half the night to keep CCO tuned in on his Motorola tabletop radio. The names Castino and Wynegar as intoned by Herb remain indelibly etched into my ears. I didn't pay any attention to the games then. It was about spending time with grandpa as he played solitaire and grumbled about another lousy pitcher giving up too many hits and runs.
Midway through the summer, the step-dad finally turned his anger toward me. It had always only been toward mom up until this point. But that was the last straw and as soon as he passed out, mom had us pack up some stuff and we moved in with grandma a couple towns away.
Now I'm the new kid in a town where everyone else knows everyone else. 15 years old. Coming out of an abusive home. Living in a 2.5 bedroom house with his brother, mom, and grandma. If it weren't for the Twins and the year they were having and my ability to listen in every night...I'm not sure I'd have ever seen 1988.
The team was scrappy and plucky and gutty. They had two good starting pitchers, a couple good relievers, and a reasonably potent lineup. It could be painful to listen when Mark Portugal or Steve Carlton or Joe Klink were pitching. But it was also thrilling when Senor Smoke quashed a rally. This was an age where 25 home runs was darn good. They had four guys who could hit that mark. You just knew that if Puck failed to drive in the runner, well Hrbie or Gaetti or Bruno would get it done.
I only got to see maybe 6 or 7 games on TV during the 1987 season. Mostly on channel 9 when we would visit dad, with maybe one or two Game of the Week appearances. So when the playoffs rolled around, it was absolute bliss. Every game on TV? Simply amazing!
Game four of the World Series was on a Wednesday night. The night before MEA break. That's high school football night. The last night of the regular season. And in cornfield county if you were a boy, you played football. And in small towns the 10th graders (and some 9th graders) suited up just in case there were injuries. It was a cold, unpleasant night. One of the fans had a portable battery-powered TV. I spent as much time as I dared as close to him as possible. I was 5th or 6th string...there was no way I was going to get on the field. Thankfully the Twins lost that game. I was OK with missing a loss. Not being able to cheer on a victory would have been painful.
I could go on. But this is already approaching Gleeman territory. But the 1987 team is the one that hooked me. 1991 was delicious frosting as a college sophomore. The long dry spell of the late 90s is mostly forgotten. And the Gardy years were nice but not really fulfilling. The 2019 club made me feel like I did in 1987. I am hopeful for 2020.