Back in my confirmation years at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Virginia, Minnesota, it was a tradition to hold a Father/son banquet sometime around the depths of winter. I had occasion to attend this twice with my dad in the winters of 1968 and 1969. Both times it had to do with baseball.
My dad and I dressed up for these nights – sport coat and tie – a full blown men’s regalia. Dad tied his own tie, I was still in the ‘clip-on’ stage. On go the winter coats to fend off the cold evening weather, and out we go to jump into our 1965 Chevy Impala, head down the driveway, and make our way to church, where we join a group of other dads and sons the basement of the church. The room was set for a meal – each place setting had a glass, a coffee cup, the necessary silverware, a napkin from the local Lutheran Brotherhood insurance agent, and a small program of the night’s guest speakers. We all took our places and were lead in a short table grace by the pastor. I don’t recall if we were served our meals (fried chicken, etc etc etc – you know the type) or if we got up table by table and went through a line. In any case, we ate.
I do know our guests were served. There they sat at a head table with the pastor, the congregational president, and perhaps a few others from the banquet committee.
We ate, and then we heard from our guests. Like the title says, the topic was baseball.
In 1968, we first heard from a gentleman named Joe Hutton. I had no idea who he was, but he had something to do with the University of Minnesota. Joe spoke for a while about college sports. But I wanted to hear from the real reason I wanted to attend the banquet
And there he was. Earl Battey, catcher of the Minnesota Twins. Here was this chubby guy who I had seen on TV. I had his baseball cards. He was an accomplished baseball player – accomplished enough to be an all-star once or twice. At that time, he was pretty much in the last years of his playing days. It was exciting to see a real live baseball player. I had my old kodak camera with me, but I will be hanged if I can find the pictures I have of those guys.
Then 1969 – pretty much the same drill at home, the same car to church, and probably the same menu. Mr. Battey and Mr. Hutton had done their turn; this year’s guests were not just one Twin, but two. Rich Reese and the up and coming rookie Rod Carew.
Rich Reese spoke first, talking about his year as a rather successful first baseman for the Twins, backing up the starting first baseman, Harmon Killebrew. Reese presented a burly, strong figure – the kind of guy who had hit his share of home runs and played a good first base. Then he introduced this young kid Rod Carew.
Mr. Carew rose and took his place at the podium and spoke about playing for the Twins and what it was going to be like to be a rookie for the Twins. He had spent a little time in the previous season with the Twins, but not enough to spoil his standing as a rookie for the 1969 season. He would be the new second baseman. He spoke of how he’s excited to be working with the new manager Billy Martin, who was relieving former Manager Cal Ermer. He thought Martin would be a thrilling leader in the American League race this year, and that the Twins could very likely be in the race for the pennant.
Following the speeches by the two Twins, a question/answer session came up next.
There were several questions about who knew who and what was it like to travel – and so on and so on. Then, Carew saw my raised hand and pointed to me. I asked, “Mr. Carew, what team is the hardest to play defense against?” Not exactly worded like a sports guy on TV, but there it was.
I will not forget that next moment. He looked at me, rather surprised, and then said, “Young man, that is a very wise question. Good for you.”. Wow. Just wow. I was floating and so very tickled with that kind of reaction. I do remember his answer, too – he said the Oakland A’s were hardest, because they liked to run and steal bases so much.
Later on, I got his autograph on a cardboard poster showing the home schedule of the Twins for the upcoming 1969 season. I still have it, and it is my best baseball keepsake I have.
NOTE: In 1969, The Twins took first place in the new western division of the American league. They lost to the Orioles in the playoffs. Billy Martin, as popular as he was with the fans, drove Twins owner Calvin Griffith rather nuts, so Martin found himself without a job after one year. Rich Reese played through the 1973 season. Rod Carew went on to play many more years, almost batted .400 in 1977, was traded to the Angels, where he continued his fantastic career and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. He suffered a heart attack in 2014 and recently received a heart transplant.