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Jim Heffernan column: Don’t take me out to the ball game

I grew up, as many children tend to do, steadfast in my baseball boredom.

Jim Heffernan
Jim Heffernan
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Well, the Baseball Hall of Fame passed me over again this year. Thanks a million, Cooperstown. Then the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame did the same thing a couple of weeks ago. Cripes, that’s the team I ignore the most.

There is no justice. Surely they have a category of “Worst Baseball Fan.” That’s me, year in, year out, although the label “Fan” hardly applies. I have been trying to ignore “America’s Pastime” all my life, although it ain’t easy.

It started when I was a kid, when every other kid in my neighborhood loved baseball. Loved it so much we played baseball just about every day in the summer. We? Sure, I joined in. I didn’t want to be friendless.

So over to the Lincoln playground in the former West End (it’s right by Lincoln Park) we trudged, bats, balls, bags, mitts in tow, chose sides and away we went. I didn’t own a mitt, though, so I used my older brother’s. Unfortunately I am left handed and he wasn’t, so I wore his mitt backward on my right hand, thumb in pinkie, so my left would be free for throwing.

Got that? Care?

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Of course not. I didn’t care either. One of my main problems playing kid baseball — I never advanced out of kid baseball to, say, teen baseball or super-patriotic Legion baseball — was that I couldn’t hit. Another was that I couldn’t catch. Another was that I didn’t care. I used to buy baseball cards for the gum they came with, throwing the card away. You know, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, “Campy” Campanella, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle. (I heard the other day that a Mantle card sold for a record $12 million. Oops, maybe I should have kept the cards and tossed the gum.)

I got one great home run hit in my entire kid career, a doozie pulled to the right that sent the ball over the fence, and I rounded the bases for the first and last time. I was maybe 12.

In those same years, my father, a dutiful sports fan, would take me to Duluth Dukes games at Wade Stadium. I loved going — the crowd, the peanuts, the Cracker Jacks, the smell of cigar smoke in the air — but didn’t give a hoot about watching the game itself. Other kids worshiped certain Dukes players; I didn’t even know who was who. My dad would remind me to watch the game when he sensed I was bored. I’d fake watching for awhile and then my gaze would drift off again. Maybe I’d hit the men’s room just for a break, eagerly anticipating the seventh inning stretch.

So you can see I have all the makings for Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Worst Fan” award. Plus, I think I’d look good as a statue.

But there’s more. I grew up, as many children tend to do, steadfast in my baseball boredom. In my teens I was at a youth convention in Chicago and in the hotel lobby a crowd of fellow conventioneers was gathered around this big guy all decked out in a suit and tie. He was signing autographs.

I strolled nearby and had no idea who it was. Turns out it was one of baseball’s major heroes at the time, a pitcher named Don Newcombe of the then Brooklyn Dodgers. I’d never heard of him. Around that time I knew boys in high school who skipped school to watch the World Series on TV. I dutifully attended classes, continuing my quest for bad grades.

I was able to ignore baseball entirely for many years, but eventually got married and had children. A daughter and son. And our son developed into a sports fan, including baseball.

So I had to take him to Twins games when we could get to Minneapolis. What an ordeal for me. One time the game was tied at the end of the ninth and went into what they call “extra” innings. I think they made it to 11 before the Twins lost (of course). I was more fascinated by a nearby fan who kissed his girlfriend on the strikes.

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Twins games in that era were a thrill for my son, though. One time we had front row seats right above the Twins dugout, and out and about would run Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and others of that era that I never heard of but my son knew.

I was hoping to avoid baseball forever after that, but I did get stuck a couple of times at Duluth Huskies games with my grandsons (my son’s boys). I guess an interest in baseball can run in the family, but not through me, I’m afraid.

Well, that’s my pitch for “Worst Baseball Fan” in some Hall of Fame. Oops, did I say “pitch?’ Wonder how that word cropped up?

MORE BY JIM HEFFERNAN
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Related Topics: DULUTHBASEBALL
Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He maintains a blog at jimheffernan.org and can be reached by email at jimheffernan@jimheffernan.org.
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