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Former Duluth teacher donates to Twins history

Willie Mays' home run ball from the 1965 All-Star Game is on display at Target Field, courtesy of former Duluth school teacher Ken Jensen. The display includes a ticket from the game, a newspaper account of Jensen's father recovering the ball and a bat used by former Minnesota Twins catcher Earl Battey. Submitted photo.1 / 2
Ken Jensen of Duluth with the ball his father, Frank, recovered after Willie Mays hit a home run on the second pitch of the 1965 All-Star Game at Met Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. Ken donated the ball to the Minnesota Twins last year and it’s now on display at Target Field. Submitted photo2 / 2

Ken Jensen was enjoying a summer day at home in July 1965 when his mother received an odd phone call.

“I was in the backyard playing with my dog and my mom came out about     4 o’clock in the afternoon and said there was a reporter that wants to talk to you,” Jensen recalled. “I said, ‘About what?’ She said, ‘Apparently your dad caught some ball or something.’ ”

That “something” was a home run ball hit by Willie Mays on the second pitch of baseball’s 1965 All-Star Game at Met Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. Jensen’s father, Frank, was sitting in the left-center field bleachers when he recovered the blast from the San Francisco Giants slugger off pitcher Milt Pappas.

The reporter — Jensen remembers it being venerable sportswriter Sid Hartman, though Dick Gordon’s byline appears above the story on the front page of the following day’s Minneapolis Star — told the 15-year-old his father possessed the ball.

“I said, ‘Nah, it can’t be my dad.’ I had no idea he even went to the game,” Jensen said. “He said, ‘Yeah, your dad caught it and he’s coming home with the ball, and we’d like to send a photographer out to your house to take pictures.’ ”

Frank Jensen gave the souvenir to his son, who kept it for more than 48 years before giving it to the Minnesota Twins last year so that the team could display it in advance of this year’s All-Star Game at Target Field.

In return, the Twins invited Ken Jensen and friends to Saturday’s game against Kansas City at Target Field, where he will throw out the first pitch.

Jensen grew up about a couple of miles from the old ballpark in Bloomington before moving to Duluth to begin a teaching career. He started at Woodland Middle School and spent a few years teaching at West Junior High before spending 34 years as a social studies instructor at East High School. The 64-year-old retired in 2007.

Frank Jensen, who died in 2006 after moving to Duluth a year earlier, was a manager at a Montgomery Ward store in the Southtown Mall at the time of the game. He often brought Ken to Twins contests — but not for the annual battle between the best players in the American and National leagues.

After the game, father gave the ball, game program and ticket to his son, who eventually displayed it in his Duluth home.

About 20 years ago, Jensen contacted New York brokers in an effort to determine the ball’s worth. The brokers, without quoting a price, wanted to perform tests on the ball to determine if dirt rubbed on it was from that game — a process estimated to cost Jensen $300.

“I thought, ‘For crying out loud, forget it,’ ” Jensen said. “So I just kept it and that was the only time I was tempted (to sell it).”

Dukes Knutson, a fellow former East teacher who later worked for the Twins, informed team curator Clyde Doepner of Jensen’s treasure trove. Jensen met up with the archivist last year.

“He said, ‘Is there any way we can get it?’ ” Jensen recounted. “I said, ‘I can loan it to you.’ He said, ‘That would be great, but if you gave it to us, hundreds of thousands of people could see it.’ Being a history teacher, I thought that is what should probably happen with this ball.”

That altruistic gesture doesn’t surprise Jensen’s good friend, former East activities director and current Duluth School Board member Mike Miernicki.

“He’s a history major and has an absolute love of history,” said Miernicki, who attended Game 1 of the 1987 American League Championship Series against Detroit with Jensen and were among the first to receive Homer Hankies. “He always said, ‘I could sell it to somebody who is going to have it down in the den or I could have it on display for history.’ So he chose the latter.

“If he had something from John Kennedy, he would have given it to the Smithsonian rather than sell it.”

Married for 44 years, Ken and Sheryl Jensen had no children to whom they could pass on the heirloom.

“That’s one of the considerations that I had — what would I do with this ball when I die?” Jensen said. “It was something really important to the Twins with the All-Star Game coming back to Minnesota.”

The Twins put together a display of the 1965 and 1987 All-Star games at Target Field’s Kirby Puckett Atrium, centerpiecing Jensen’s mementos and a bat used by former Twins catcher Earl Battey — one of six team members selected to the ’65 game.

One condition Jensen placed on the donation was that the Twins attempt to have Mays sign the ball during All-Star festivities, something Frank Jensen dearly wanted.

“Before he died, he said, ‘I really wish I had gotten Willie Mays to sign it. That’s my big regret. That would have been something to have Willie Mays sign it,’ ” Ken Jensen said.

Twins officials were unavailable for comment Thursday so it’s not known if Mays, a former member of the Minneapolis Millers minor-league team, will return to town for the game.