For Everything There is a Season

Opening Day!

Baseball may have long since lost its revered position as the national pastime, but still nothing compares to Opening Day of the baseball season – even when it occurs in March, which as any baseball fan knows it never, ever should, but we’ll save that rant for another day, because…

It’s Opening Day!

Opening Day, like the season in which it occurs, is a time of hope, a time of rebirth, renewal, and resurrection. A new day dawns. Every team is 0-0. Anything is possible.

It is also a time of reflection and remembering the past, your past and baseball’s past. Memories of he first time that your Dad took you to a game and you saw a major league diamond in person,  and memories of the greats who played on it over the years. The players you made you love the game and the people you loved to watch those games with who are no longer with us.

Each new baseball season, like life, also is a journey into the unknown. You don’t know what’s going to unfold as you move through the season. Not only with regard to how well the old town team (i.e., the local nine, the boys of summer) will perform this year, but also what twists and turns will occur along the way. What new stars will emerge and what careers might be coming to an end, sometimes suddenly.

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jack

In this post, I want to focus on one weekend early in the 1984 championship season: May 18-20, 1984 – a three-game series between my newly adopted Twins and my beloved Red Sox.

Note, the term “championship season” is the official name given to the 162-game Major League Baseball “regular” season because, as any baseball fan knows, there is nothing remotely regular about a baseball season.

I was within a few weeks of completing the first year of my doctoral program at the University of Minnesota. During that school year, I met five people who would become lifelong friends, mentors, and trusted advisors. In my memoir, that chapter will be titled, The Five People I Met in Minneapolis, which I know, sounds a lot like Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven, but Minneapolis, of course, isn’t heaven, because as any baseball fan knows, Iowa is heaven, although many Minnesotans might disagree.

Anyway, one of those five people, Eric, was my baseball buddy that season. Every Friday night that the Twins were at home, after an early dinner in the dining hall, we would make the 2-mile hike from Frontier Hall to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, one of us singing Old Man River each time we crossed the Mississippi. I don’t know why, but there is something special about crossing the Mississippi that demands that someone sing.

Many weekends, I would return on my own for the Saturday afternoon game after spending the morning wandering around downtown Minneapolis and grabbing lunch at the McDonalds on Nicollet Mall – the one that had a waterfall inside. (On my weekend walks around St. Paul, lunch was a slice or a calzone at Sbarro’s.)

That May weekend, in our seats behind the first base dugout (an upgrade from our usual $4 general admission outfield seats because the Sox were in town) Eric was able to set aside one of his own demons, catching a foul ball off the bat of Red Sox second baseman Marty Barrett, finally atoning for the home run ball he had dropped and lost as a child at Tigers Stadium. As any baseball fan knows, a caught ball is the ultimate baseball souvenir and I’m sure that Eric still has his.

Minneapolis may not have the confluence of rivers that just might make Pittsburgh the most beautiful setting for a major league baseball park, but on the field that weekend at the Metrodome there was an amazing confluence of baseball history, old and new, the kind that you can only look back on in awe and say I was there, because you don’t realize what’s happening at the time.

Put Me in Coach – a time to be born

The major excitement surrounding the Twins in May 1984 was the start of the great ticket buyout, or buy-up, to prevent the Twins from terminating their lease with the Metrodome and moving to Florida to become the Devil Rays or Marlins.

But that mid-May homestand was also the Minnesota debut of Kirby Puckett. The stocky centerfielder had been called up the week before when the Twins were on the road and had four hits in his first major league game. Hope.

Puckett was dynamic in the field and aggressive at the plate. In his second year, he came just one hit short of the amazing statistical anomaly of amassing 200 hits with a batting average below .300. When John Fogerty’s Centerfield was released the following spring, there was no doubt in the minds of anyone in Minnesota that Kirby was the brown-eyed handsome man a-roundin’ third, headed for home that he was singing about.

He led the Twins to two World Series victories and had a Hall of Fame career. Tragically, his career and later his life both came to sudden ends much sooner than they should have.

Rocket – a time to keep

Earlier that same week, Roger “Rocket” Clemens had made his own MLB debut with the Red Sox. That Sunday, in Minneapolis, he picked up the first of his 354 wins and first seven of his 4,672 strikeouts. Hope.

His stellar career with the Red Sox did not produce a World Series victory and by the mid-1990s had appeared to reach its twilight before being rejuvenated in Toronto, New York, and Houston.

Like Puckett, Clemens had a Hall of Fame career, but that career had a sad (but not tragic) ending.

The Eck – a time to throw away

That weekend in Minneapolis ended up being the final weekend in a Red Sox uniform for another pitcher, Dennis Eckersley (at least for the next dozen or so years). By the end of the week, Eckersley had been traded to the Cubs.

Eckersley, a young pitching phenom with a no-hitter under his belt, had been acquired by the Red Sox in a 1978 spring training trade with the Cleveland Indians. Coincidentally, that trade took place on March 30, 1978, because, as it should, the season didn’t start until April 7 back in 1978.

Among the players the Red Sox traded for Eckersley, was a top prospect named Ted Cox. Like Puckett, Cox had made a splash in his debut during a September call up the previous fall. Besting Puckett’s four hits, Cox broke a longstanding record with hits in his first six major league at bats. Hope. But he was out of the league three years later.  As any baseball fan knows…

But there’s more to the Eckersley story than Ted Cox.

The Red Sox acquired Eckersley in 1978 to add the final piece of the pitching puzzle needed to complement their fierce offense that had come up just a couple of games short in 1977.  And it seemed to work, as Eckersley was 10-2 at the All-Star Break (finishing 20-8) and the Red Sox held a commanding lead in the division.

But 1978 was a strange year. A year that began with the Blizzard of ‘78 and included the deaths of two popeswithin weeks of each other. So, it should have been no surprise when the Red Sox cushion dwindled away that summer and the Yankees took over the division lead in mid-September. But the Red Sox staged a comeback, forcing a deciding winner-take-all 163rd game against the Yankees, which produced the most heartbreaking loss, among the many heartbreaking losses, in Red Sox history.

That is, the most heartbreaking loss until 1986 and the play featuring the man that the Red Sox acquired for Eckersley in May 1984, Bill Buckner. As any baseball fan knows…

Eckersley eventually was shifted from a starting pitcher to a reliever and cemented his Hall of Fame credentials by creating the role of closer with Oakland – a role perfected by Mariano Rivera, the first person unanimously to the baseball Hall of Fame. Strangely, both Eckersley and Rivera suffered historic World Series failures – made more historic by their greatness.  That’s the way life works. As any baseball fan knows…

Opening Day!

It’s a long time since May 1984. The Twins now play in Target Field, bringing new life to a section of downtown Minneapolis that was nothing but empty warehouses in the 1980s. The Metrodome is long gone. All that remains are memories and the small jar of “Domepourri – Authentic Metrodome Artifacts” that sits on my desk next to the jar of infield dirt from Fenway Park.  US Bank Stadium now occupies the site of the Metrodome. I did see a couple of Taylor Swift concerts there. Nice place.

Eric remains a close friend. Steve, another one of those five people I met in Minneapolis in 1983-84, is now my baseball buddy as we follow the Twins and the Red Sox throughout the championship season and occasional playoff run. There are a couple of other baseball guys in the mix too, including a Yankees fan.

If not for the pandemic and my lingering fears, I would probably be walking into Fenway Park right now for the Opening Day game against the Orioles, the first team I saw the Sox play in July 1967. But the temperature today is expected only to reach the low 40s with a wind chill near 30.

Because that’s what’s likely to happen when Opening Day is in March. As any baseball fan knows…

So, I’ll watch the start of the game from home, and listen to the ending during my afternoon walk.

Happy Opening Day!

Go Red Sox! Go Twins!


Image by WOKANDAPIX from Pixabay

Published by Charlie DePascale

Charlie DePascale is an educational consultant specializing in the area of large-scale educational assessment. When absolutely necessary, he is a psychometrician. The ideas expressed in these posts are his (at least at the time they were written), and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations with which he is affiliated personally or professionally..

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