For the most part, any child who has ever stepped onto a youth sports playing field has dreamt of professional stardom. For all but a fraction of those youngsters, of course, at a certain point they come to the realization that factors like genetics, work ethic, or fast-twitch muscle fibers might prevent them from performing under the lights in front of roaring fans for a career. When this happens, a pivot is made to interacting with sports in other capacities. For my Dad, that meant a few glorious adolescent summers under the Minnesota sun working for his favorite ball club.
From 1970-1973, or between the ages of 15-17, my Dad worked as a concession vendor at Metropolitan Stadium. Stationed at the concourse food stands, he cooked hot dogs ($1), scooped shovel-fulls of popcorn (25¢) into paper cones, filled paper drink cups (25¢) with Coke and orange soda—the only two flavors—and retrieved frosty malts (75¢) from an icy cooler (more on that later). His reward for such labor? $1.42/hour—roughly $6 per game—and all the hot dogs he could eat (his estimate being about six per shift).
Once the stands shuttered for the day’s contest after seven frames, him and his fellow compatriots were released into the stands, able to sit anywhere and praying for extra innings simply to witness a few more at-bats. Normally, the action was viewed from the lower deck by first base, but sometimes Dad would stand at field-level in left field, marveling at how Tony Oliva could ever pick up high flies through the banks of lights.
Speaking of heroes, Dad idolized Harmon Killebrew, mimicking his stance and swing both in little league and neighborhood pickup games. Once, while exiting the Met after a day’s work, he was shocked to see Harm without a baseball cap, startled by the Killer’s premature balding. Oliva, Rod Carew, and George Mitterwald (mostly for the number of batting-practice homers from him Dad was able to snag) were others that stood out as favorites.
In terms of humorous stories from the old Met, apparently dropping various sundry items from the upper deck onto the lower regions was high entertainment for the rapscallions of the early 1970s. On one occasion, a few kids were caught filling cups with ice and trying to bullseye the vendors down below. Once caught, they were subject to some time locked in the 0-degree ice cream freezer (probably not strictly legal, but I’m sure the statute of limitations has run out by now). After about 10-15 minutes, the once-recalcitrant youngsters were reduced to tears, pleading to be set free and promising to be model citizens from that point forward.
Another time, Dad witnessed a few other boys fill a paper hot dog wrapper completely full of a ketchup and mustard goulash, then pitch it over the railing and have its final destination be the back of a completely unsuspecting man’s neck (imagine the water balloon scene from Little Big League) sitting in the premium seats—a whole $6.50/ticket—right behind home plate.
A final Met Stadium memory that stands out as vivid to Dad: Bat Days, in which 10,000 slabs of lumber were given out and banged upon the floor of the sheet-metal outfield bleachers when the Twins were rallying, producing a roar that had to be physically heard to truly be understood. Despite the bat being far too heavy for him, he’d use it in his suburban little league contests. If it came from the stadium his heroic slugger called home, it had to help him on the sandlot, right?!
Roughly 15 years after those halcyon days of baseball adolescence, my Dad would have a son. Though the heroic slugger was different (Killebrew vs. Puckett) and the home ballpark featured a white roof instead of a blue sky, that boy was almost instantly attracted to and fascinated with the National Pastime. How could he—me—not be?
“You will see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father the son.” (Jor-El, Superman)