Over the past few baseball-less months, I’ve looked at how the sport has shaped relationships between myself and numerous family members—brothers, sister, mother, father, & aunt. For this final installment, I’ll pay tribute to perhaps the biggest Minnesota sports fan I ever knew—my grandfather.
Grandpa lived almost his entire life in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. He grew up in and graduated high school from Chisago City (playing about every sport imaginable), studied at Hamline, and eventually settled in Fridley, where he’d reside for 60+ years.
One of the great passions in his life was athletic competition. He was an impressive bowler, an able duffer, a surprising water-skier, and could play a mean round of around-the-world ping pong. For years he umpired a city baseball league, becoming known for his definitive calls and precise knowledge of the rulebook.
When it came to professional or amateur sports, he followed them all—Twins, Vikings, Wild, Wolves, Gophers, HS state tournaments, etc. Rare was the time I’d visit and there wouldn’t be some game on the TV. This was a man so dedicated to his Vikings that back in the 60s, when playoff games apparently had the annoying habit of being blacked-out on television, he’d pack the family in the station wagon and drive to a hotel juuuust beyond the blackout area to watch the game.
Baseball-wise, I attended many Twins contests with Grandpa, mostly at the Metrodome. He’d purchase all the tickets, park in the same liquor store parking lot every time (ironic because he’d never touch a drop of the sauce), and reliably spring for frosty malts in the late innings.
Many summers of mine were spent at his northern MN cabin, where the Twins were on the tube each and every night. Whether the dregs of the league or battling for division titles mattered little. Once the day’s activities were done and the nightly stringer of fish cleaned and accounted for, we’d sit together—the two biggest baseball fans in the family—and cheer on the home team.
My grandfather was an incredibly intelligent individual, and that would routinely manifest itself in our shared sporting interests. He was generally a man of few words or outward emotion, but when he spoke it always mattered. In a sports-watching environment populated by seemingly endless talking-heads or hot-take opinions, he’d sit back, size up any situation, and make the smartest comment in the room more often than not. As someone often overwhelmed by large gatherings, talking to Grandpa about sports at family functions was very much a “safe haven” for me.
On May 6 of this year, Grandpa passed away unexpectedly. It was about as quick, painless, and peaceful as leaving this mortal coil can be—but also shockingly sudden. Even now, I don’t think the impact has truly hit home. A sports-free environment probably has something to do with that. Once the Twins return to the diamond, I’ll miss our endless baseball conversations and how he’d always want to know “what I thought of the team this year”. When football ramps up and the extended family gathers for the annual fantasy draft, his absence will be palpable (he loved that sports-themed camaraderie perhaps more than anyone!).
When I started this Baseball & Family series, it was my full intention to interview or converse with Grandpa to get his thoughts on the earliest portions of Twins history. I never got that opportunity. I think that whenever a soul we love passes on, there’s always a tinge of regret—a sense of wanting just a bit more time. In the words of the Garth Brooks tune:
“So tell that someone that you love, just what you’re thinking of—if tomorrow never comes.”
Every summer of my existence, Grandpa had an old radio at the lake cabin (it featured a slot on the side for those newfangled 8-track tapes). You’d never have to fiddle with the tuning, because it never budged from the Twins station. That radio went out in the boat, down to the dock, and around the campfire, broadcasting the dulcet tones of Herb Carneal, John Gordon, and Cory Provus. I currently possess said device, and have vowed not to power it up until Twins baseball is on the air again. Whenever that happens, I know I’ll think of Grandpa and be a little sad. But I’ll also smile, as somewhere he’ll surely be listening as well.