Duluth Huskies' 'Iron Fan' closing in on 400-game streak
Jon Winter was asked by the Duluth-Superior Dukes baseball team before the start of the 1993 season if he wanted to advertise in their game program.
The Dukes were back in town for the first time in more than 20 years with the return of the Northern League that year, and Winter felt it was a good fit for his fledgling business, Winter Systems Computers.
So he advertised in the program and was at Wade Stadium for the inaugural game on June 15, 1993. He has attended every Dukes or Duluth Huskies game at Wade Stadium since.
“I went out there and got hooked,” the 47-year-old said.
Today, when the Huskies host the St. Cloud Rox at 6:35 p.m., marks the 400th straight Huskies home game Winter has attended.
Where football might be America’s passion, Winter said there is a very good reason why baseball is American’s national pastime.
“I was probably more of a football fan prior to the Dukes coming in ’93, but I became a lot bigger baseball fan,” said Winter, who grew up in Superior, is single and resides in the Town of Lakeside, Wis. “I’m still not a big fan of watching baseball on TV, but I like to be at the ballpark. It is one of the few sports where you can actually carry on a conversation during the game. Many of my friends I met at Wade Stadium. It’s those conversations, that start in the stands, that kind of drew me to the game and keep me coming back.”
Counting the Dukes, who left town in 2002 and were replaced by the Huskies the next year, today will be Winter’s 848th straight home game overall.
Unlike some fans, Winter wasn’t disappointed when the Dukes left. He had prepared for it and had done his homework on the Northwoods League, a wood-bat league for college players. He knew the league was interested in expanding and felt it was a better fit for the Twin Ports.
“I was losing one thing but gaining something else,” Winter said. “It was kind of obvious at the time that the Northern League was outgrowing the baseball market in Duluth, but I looked at the Northwoods League and thought, ‘This would be a real good alternative.’ If you didn’t know which league you were watching, you really couldn’t tell the difference. It was younger guys, not quite the home run power, but a lot of the same atmosphere.
“We’re seeing players now on the way up, instead of the other way around. I think the Huskies now have had eight players make a major-league roster, where in the entire time the Dukes were here, I think we saw two players make the majors after they were here. I think that’s what makes this league special. You look around and wonder which player is going to be the next one.”
Winter hasn’t just been a bystander at games. He likes to move around and help out when he is needed. With his expertise, he has helped the Huskies with their computer systems. He has been official scorekeeper and has helped train in new scorekeepers. He brought a skill saw to the ballpark once and helped the Huskies build counters for their ticket office.
Huskies general manager Craig Smith said the team couldn’t have enough fans like Winter.
“Jon is on par with (71-year-old super fan) Joe Garson in terms of the support he gives us,” Smith said. “Jon is one of the staunchest supporters of the Huskies. He’s been around since our inception and with the Dukes before that. He’s a rabid fan and has helped us out a ton. Whenever we need it, in whatever way he can, he’s always there to give us a hand.”
Winter was asked how he does it, attending games in late May and early June, when the temperature can be in the 40s, windy and foggy. He said it’s because of winter (pardon the pun).
“No matter what the weather is like, being at the ballpark is better than minus-30 degrees in January,” Winter said. “I still have plenty of other days to get out of town.”
Winter’s streak almost came to an end in the late-1990s.
Winter was helping a client and a shelf collapsed and fell on his head.
“I got a little head scratch, and you know how those things tend to bleed,” Winter said.
Winter went to the game that night, with his head bandaged underneath his Dukes’ baseball cap. Afterward, he had the Dukes assistant trainer look him over to make sure he didn’t need stitches.
It seems nothing can stop the Huskies’ Iron Fan.
“The streak just kind of happened,” he said. “Maybe at the end of that first year I kind of realized, ‘Hey, I made it to every game. Maybe I can do that another year.’ Pretty soon, I was able to do it each year.
“I’m taking it a day at a time. Something could come up, something could happen, and if I can’t make it to the game, that’s fine. I just enjoy being around a lot of friends, and, of course, the baseball.”