On Boston and a couple of old shirts

A week ago today, without even thinking, I put on an old grey sweatshirt I’ve had since 1996 but have probably not worn for several years. It wasn’t until after hearing about the horror in Boston last Monday that I thought about the shirt I’d worn the night before. It was an inexpensive sweatshirt with the word “BOSTON” printed on it that I’d bought it as a souvenir of my trip to run the Boston Marathon 17 years ago. I got a chill when I realized I hadn’t even remembered that it was marathon weekend until I heard about the bombings the next afternoon.

Yesterday I wore a Twin Cities Marathon shirt to the health club, as I often do. A woman walking by me said, “good to see you guys wearing your shirts”. I looked around and two other people near me had marathon shirts on, too — but they were from other races. I wondered why a stranger would say she was glad to see the shirts. As I watched some of the endless reports about the tragedy on the TV screens while running on the treadmill, it dawned on me that she might have been referring to our shirts as a sign of support for the people at the Boston race.

As I chugged away on the treadmill — 17 years older, 20 pounds heavier and a LOT slower — memories of my big race day flooded back to me. I thought about the bus ride to the little town of Hopkinton, part of the enormous field of runners (almost 40,000) who ran that year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this unique and historic event. I remembered the exhilaration of the start and the energy created by the river of thousands of runners flowing through the countryside and small towns on the first part of the course. I could picture the huge billboards with old black and white photos from the early races. But most of all, I remember the people, the spectators, all along the course. They were there to cheer on the runners, to be sure, but really they were there to cheer for the community — to cheer for themselves and for each other. There were bands, there were Patriots Day parties, there were kids up in trees, there were people wearing (and painted in) red, white and blue all along the way. All were cheerful, all were proud and all were glad to be part of this American spectacle.

I think an urban marathon is a community event in ways that no other sporting event can match. It’s about so much more than just the athletes. Think about it — you can walk up to the course at any point and (free of charge) literally touch everyone from a world-class runner down to a plodding 6-hour jogger. The race cuts right through neighborhoods and downtown streets — no need to drive to a suburban stadium or buy an expensive ticket at a downtown arena.

Over the past week, the people of Boston have shown what they’re made of. They’ve shown the rest of us how to handle unthinkable tragedy — just like New Town has recently, just like New York City did in 2001, just like Oklahoma City before that, and just like other communities who have suffered severe trauma. None of us know for sure how we will react when and if it’s our turn, but this week we can take strength from watching and listening to the people of Boston. Because they are strong and resilient — even defiant — we believe that we can be, too.

The bombers chose a big event, an important event, an event with easy access, to spread their particular brand of terror. What they didn’t realize is that they chose an event in a city that will not shrink in fear and ultimately will be stronger, not weaker because of their actions. My deepest sympathy to those directly affected last Monday and my thanks to the people of Boston for what you’ve taught us.

I’m wearing my BOSTON sweatshirt as I type this and I’m going to be wearing it a lot for a while. It’s an honor to have had the chance to be a miniscule part of the history of this great event and great city.

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Strange encounter on the golf course

Yesterday I played golf with daughter Emily. All was going well (except for the golf) until we were walking to the tee of the final hole and my cell phone rang. It was a mysterious male voice asking where we were.

Against my better judgement, I told the voice our location — on the 9th tee waiting for group of elderly women playing just ahead of us. The voice said, “OK — I have a visual on you just behind the Cotton Tops”. Moments later, two well dressed, but shadowy figures were walking toward us.

As they got closer, they paused for a moment and appeared to be holding hands.

I had a queasy feeling about what was going down. Who were these guys — FBI agents? An Evangelical conversion squad? The IRS? Door-to-door shoulder bag salesmen?

They gave me the creeps and I wanted to run, but Emily was my daughter after all, and I felt I needed to protect her.

So I backed up slowly instead of breaking into a full gallop.

Then they got close enough for me to see their faces.

They identified themselves as resident psychiatrists from the nearby clinic, apparently part of some sort of outreach program designed to identify potential “clients”.

Emily was greatly relieved and played the final hole masterfully.


But their explanation didn’t put my mind at ease one bit. In fact, the whole experience traumatized me. I had nightmares all through the night and now I can’t get those smirky smiles or that voice on the phone out of my head.

And I may never be able to play golf again.

Target Field makes me happy.

Last year the upper midwest emerged from a 3-decade funk of watching baseball indoors in the world’s worst stadium. Yes, the Twins won two World Series at the Metrodome and created great excitement and community spirit in 1987 and 1991. But that was because of the teams, not the venue.

A few nights ago I went to a game by myself at our year-old ballpark, courtesy of a last minute cancellation and discount price offer of a friend with season tickets. (Thanks Rita!) I took the opportunity to just wander around for the whole game, sit in different sections all over the ballpark, take some pictures, and just let the sights, sounds and smells waft.

You can almost see the Metrodome from here - but who wants to? (photo by Steve Date)

I went to 3 games last year and fell in love with Target Field like just about everyone else. But last year the place was new — unfamiliar and unexplored. Monday night I felt like I spent some quality time with a new friend.

I’d never gone to a ballgame alone before and I enjoyed the experience in a whole new way. Not that I don’t like good conversation (because I do) but it was a chance to just look around and get to know the place. The baseball game seemed like a backdrop for the real event, which was the ballpark itself, and seeing how the people interact with it and with each other.

There were a lot of "#3s" on this night. Everyone who passed by paid their respects at the Harmon Killebrew statue. (photo by Steve Date)


Two young fans are thrilled to talk with Twins pregame co-host Anthony LaPanta. (photo by Steve Date)


I'm not sure if I wish I could be the kid or the dad. (photo by Steve Date)

The evening began with a tribute to Twins great Harmon Killebrew, who recently died of cancer (see previous post). There was a video and a moving moment when the entire Twins team surrounded the big #3 etched in the infield dirt as manager Ron Gardenhire gave a short speech about his hero and held Harmon’s jersey in the air.

Gardy and the current Twins team remember their mentor and friend, Harmon Killebrew. (photo by Steve Date)


She's too young to appreciate the importance of Harmon Killebrew to Twins fans, but when she's older, she'll remember being here on this night. (photo by Steve Date)


Everybody is #3 this week. (photo by Steve Date)

Right field (photo by Steve Date)

I think my favorite part of Target Field is the outfield — asymetrical, quirky and visually interesting from every angle. Little flower beds, an overhanging home run porch in right field, the iconic Twins-shaking-hands sign in center, the steep angular lines of the seats, the view of the Minneapolis skyline to the east — I can go on and on.

On this night, slugger Jim Thome returned from the disabled list with a vengeance and hit two homers – one a 465 foot monster that landed almost at Gate 34 in the right field plaza.

(photo by Steve Date)


Target Field gets even more beautiful as night falls. (photo by Steve Date)

The Twins were great last year, winning the division and providing us with a lot of excitement. This year they’re off to a slow start, to say the least. As I write this, the Twins have the worst winning percentage in major league baseball and are 14.5 games out of first place. But people are filling the ballpark every night and having a good time anyway. Why? Because they’re spending time together outdoors, in a place that is better than they had hoped for and which has quickly become much more than just a place to watch a baseball game.

My daughter Emily's long-time friend Kelsey Boesch (center) happened to be on the Kiss-Cam that night. You'll have to guess who she just kissed. (photo by Steve Date)


This night was all about Harmon Killebrew (photo by Steve Date)

Tomorrow night I’ll be back at Target Field with my daughter Lauren — Chicago’s biggest Twins fan and lover of Target Field. I can’t wait.

Lauren with her first Target Field Kramarczuk's brat last July. There will be more.

But in the longer term, I’m also looking forward to growing old together with my new friend — this wonderful place.

(To see more photos from this game, go to my Flickr set here.)

(photo by Steve Date)

Harmon Killebrew

The Minnesota Twins’ inaugural season began a few days after my 8th birthday. I knew nothing about baseball and neither did any of my friends, but we all signed up to play little league that spring. I still remember going to the registration night with my dad, new glove on my hand, as if we were going to hit the field right after we filled out the form.

I also brought my baseball glove on my first visit to Metropolitan Stadium a couple of months later. My memory tells me that the Twins beat the Kansas City Athletics 4-3 and Harmon Killebrew hit a home run. We sat in the 2nd deck on the first base side. You can probably look it up and prove me wrong, but it’s my memory and I’m sticking to it.

The Twins were Minnesota’s only major league team at the time — the Minneapolis Lakers had left for L.A two years earlier, and the Vikings wouldn’t arrive until September. We 8-year olds didn’t know squat about playing baseball, but we knew we had a big league ball club and the bonus was that it came with an established star player — Harmon Killebrew.

Harmon was never flashy, never cocky, never sexy. He and Minnesota were a perfect fit.

He was also not particularly large in stature, although he seemed like it to us kids. At 5’11”, and a bit over 200 lbs, other big hitters tower over him in old photos. But his stocky frame and muscular legs, coupled with that memorable extension when he swung the bat, turned out to be a perfect combination for hitting a baseball a long distance. He was a power hitter — period. He even later admitted that he never paid much attention to his batting average. He drew a lot of walks and also struck out a lot, but he also gave us plenty of thrills.

Possibly the oddest tribute in all of sports is the red stadium seat that hangs high on a wall above the “Log Chute” ride inside the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. The mall was built over the old Met Stadium site. The lone seat marks the approximate landing spot of Harmon’s longest home run at the Met, estimated at 522 feet.

Harmon’s greatest attribute was not his ability to play baseball, however. When you listen to all the tributes to him over the coming days, I guarantee you will not hear a single one that doesn’t mention his character — who he was as a person. Of course it was a different era, and sports stars hadn’t yet become the rich, ungrateful, “don’t-give-crap-about-being-a-role-model”, jerks that seem all too prevalent today. But even in those innocent early ’60s, we all knew Harmon was someone special, someone we could look up to, to emulate. He might strike out with the bases loaded now and then, but he would never let us down. And he never did.

Twins baseball was a big part of my life in elementary school and Harmon was the biggest Twins’ star. To be honest, I had a lot of “favorite players” in those early years – Tony Oliva, Bob Allison, Zoilo Versailles and a little later, Rod Carew. I remember trying to start a Lennie Green fan club during that first season. But Harmon was who I imagined I was when I was at the plate.

In recent years, Harmon showed us all how to grow older. He did it by staying busy, making himself useful, caring about others and teaching younger people to appreciate the sport he loved so much. He mentored many of the current Twins players, too young to remember his playing days — and became their hero, too.

I watched the sports on a local news channel this evening and they showed a press conference with a bunch of former ballplayers. Teary-eyed Hall of Famer Paul Molitor said, “I picked the right guy to be my hero”. Jack Morris was completely choked up and said that it was Harmon’s quiet strength and kindness that he will remember. The TV sports reporter, who is about my age, concluded with, “He was my childhood. He was our superstar.”

In the past few weeks and months, Harmon also showed us how to die. His straightforward, 3-paragraph statement just last week began with this sentence, “It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end.” No sugar coating, no false hope, just the truth.

Let the tributes roll in. Harmon deserves all of them.

An aging Mickey Mantle once said something like, “Ah, to be 25 again and the star of the Yankees”. I say, “Ah, to be 8 again and pretending to be Harmon Killebrew”.

February golf in Minnesota – not all of our domes have collapsed, and we’re grateful for that

Winter golf in Minnesota is a bit of a challenge. But there are a few options:

1. Watch golf on TV. (most popular)

2. Go outdoors and try to actually play a version of the game of golf.

The Chilly Open, Wayzata, Minnesota

An example of this is the “The Chilly Open”, which takes place today in Wayzata, Minnesota on Lake Minnetonka. Unfortunately, all their tee times are sold out, so if you didn’t plan ahead, you can only go out and be part of the gallery. The event looks like it could be fun — at least the eating and drinking afterward.

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3. Head to one of Minnesota’s luxurious golf domes. This is what I do occasionally with friends Roger and Bob.

This is what I call a winter get-away

Go through the airlock revolving door and you are instantly transported to another world — one where nothing is natural, nothing real. It’s a place you can — you must — let your imagination run wild. It can be Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, or the crappy muni in your town. It can be anything you want it to be if you just close your eyes and swing away.

Is it a balcony seat at Radio City Music Hall? The Hollywood Bowl, perhaps? No, it's the 100 yards your ball gets to fly before hitting the plastic tarp and falling to the floor.

But don’t think it’s all about whacking drivers or hitting fat iron shot off mats that fly just as well as crisply hit ones. There are places to hone the short game, too. The putting and chipping areas are easily as good as many mini-golf courses – without the pesky windmill, dinosaur or pirate getting in the way.

This guy understands that putting on astroturf is better than nothing. Or he thinks that's true anyway. The jury is out on that one.

So a good time was had by all on Friday afternoon. Did we improve our swings? Probably not. Did we get sore backs? Yes. Did we do anything that vaguely resembled golf? That’s unclear.

But we Minnesotans are a grateful people, and it was worth a few bucks to get out — then get in — and hang out, use our imaginations and think about real grass and warm sunshine. And just like real golf, sometimes it’s not about the golf.

So those those are pretty much all of the Minnesota winter golf options.

4. Actually, there is an option #4, which is the one Roger is choosing. Get on an airplane on Tuesday and fly to Palm Springs.

Good for Roger and his airplane. I couldn’t be happier for him.

Roger is practicing with the idea that he will actually be playing golf soon. Whoa -- It's hard for me to wrap my head around that one, but do what you must, Roger.

Bury my heart at Keller Golf Course

“Don’t try to cut the corner on #1.”

Monrad Peterson, golf coach of the Spring Lake Park High School golf team in the late ’60s was a man of few words when it came to actually giving advice about golf. But whenever I tee up on the first hole at Keller Golf Course in St. Paul, I always hear his voice — and his words still ring true more than 40 years later.

Friday was a magnificent, sunny, last-70-degree-day-of-the-year kind of a day. If you’re a golfer in Minnesota, this means you either get yourself to a golf course or regret if for six months. Friends Roger Buoen, Bob Jansen and Bob Whereatt joined me for a nice last-gasp round.

13th hole (old #4) is a short but tricky par 3 over a deep valley (photo by Steve Date)

I play Keller infrequently these days, but decided yesterday that I have to change that next year. I’ve played a lot of courses over the years, but Keller is my hands down favorite.

My love for this place comes from a mixture of beauty, golf course design, history and personal experiences.

1. Beauty
This place is gorgeous. You don’t have to be a golfer to see that the clubhouse and views of the lake off to the west, the trees, the rolling hills, interesting holes all add up to a visual feast. The fact that it’s a moderately-priced public course — a Ramsey County course — makes all of that even more amazing.

View of the 12th green - old #3 (photo by Steve Date)

2. Golf Course Design
The original layout, completed in 1929, was done by Paul Coates, the Chief Engineer of Ramsey County (!?!) How was this possible? Imagine that happening today. Hiring a county engineer to design a golf course of any kind, let alone one that would host PGA tournaments — impossible. According to a Golf Digest article, Coates, at his own expense, traveled to many of the great courses of his day for ideas. He also spent a lot of time with legendary golf course architect Donald Ross and picked his brain. I think Paul Coates should get some sort of award for rising to a challenge way above and beyond the call of duty — not to mention his expertise — and knocking this project out of the park.

There are so many interesting — even quirky — holes that it’s the kind of course you could play every day and not get tired of it. By the 1960s, Keller had become a lower-echelon course on the tour, lacking the length and amenities the PGA had become accustomed to, but it was still Minnesota’s chance to host a big-league golf event and we loved it.

An aerial view of Keller from the 1960s hangs in the clubhouse


3. History
No other golf course in Minnesota has the sheer amount of history as Keller (sorry, Hazeltine — you’re still too young and you only host a few major tournaments).
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Keller began hosting a PGA tour stop, The St. Paul Open, in 1930 — its second year of operation. This tournament continued until 1968. Keller was also the site of 2 PGA Championships (again, !?!), a Western Open, 11 LPGA events and a U.S. Publinks Championship.

Keller's hilltop clubhouse and parking lot in the 1930s (photo from Keller clubhouse)

All of the great professionals of the ’30s through the ’60s played there. Back in the days when most of the top players played most of the tournaments, you had a chance to see them all at a relatively minor stop like St. Paul. One could get misty-eyed just reciting the names as you walk around the place — Hagen, Hogan, Snead, Sarazen, Nicklaus, Palmer — and on and on.

A signed photo of Arnold Palmer putting on the 13th (then 4th) green in the 1965 St. Paul Open hangs in the Keller clubhouse

My favorite photo in the Keller clubhouse. Ben Hogan (bottom right corner carrying his hat) leads a group of spectators on the narrow, elevated path in front of the tee on the 16th (then the 7th) hole in the 1940 St. Paul Open.


Keller certainly has its share of stories. I’m not sure how true they all are, but it’s fun to think about them.

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Gene Sarazen supposedly once took 12 strokes on the short par-3 13th (now the 4th) hole, withdrew from the tournament and vowed never to return. That hole does have a funky big tree right in front of the green, but I’ve always liked it.

John McIntyre looks on as Bob Jansen hits a shot over the inconveniently placed oak tree on the 4th hole (#13 in the old days), site of Gene Sarazen's emotional blow up. But a 12? Come on, Gene -- a few of those must have been your fault. (August, 2007 photo by Steve Date)

Notorious gangsters of the ’20s and ’30s often came to St. Paul to get away from the authorities in Chicago. Legend has it that John Dillinger quickly dropped his clubs and jumped a train next to the 3rd (now the 12th) hole when he saw FBI agents coming.

Bob Whereatt does his impression of John Dillinger hitting a shot on the hole where he allegedly hopped a train to escape from the Feds. I didn't know Dillinger was a lefty. (photo by Steve Date)

Roger told me the other day that “Champagne Tony” Lema wrote in his book, Golfer’s Gold, that in the evening after a drink or two, the guys would hit balls from the old 3rd tee across Highway 61 into Keller Lake.

The PGA tour has changed.

Drunk PGA pros sometimes used Hwy 61 and Keller Lake as a driving range (photo by Steve Date)

A few years after the PGA left, the LPGA arrived with the Patty Berg Classic, which ran from 1973 – 1980, named after our local legend who helped found the women’s tour and grew up a few blocks from where I live. It kept Keller alive as a professional venue for a while longer and provided more memories for those of us in the galleries. It was a great course for the women and it was sad when the tournament left for bigger and more modern suburban courses.

4. Personal Experiences
I don’t remember much about that first visit to Keller with my golf team other than Mr. Peterson’s advice and feeling really pumped up about playing a course that the pros played.

Later that summer I went with my friend Steve Erickson to watch the St. Paul Open (by then renamed the Minnesota Golf Classic). I remember walking up to the clubhouse when we got there and the first player I saw was Tom Weiskopf, one of the top pros of that era, standing at the top of the stairs that led down to the locker room. It was the first time I ever saw a pro golfer in person and it was exciting. In those days it was much easier to get close to the players and I remember standing right next to him for a few minutes as he talked with somebody. Then we walked a few yards over to the practice green and listened to Chi Chi Rodriguez cracking wise. It was all very cool.

Roger Buoen also has a lot of memories of watching St. Paul Open/Minnesota Golf Classic as a teen and we always talk about that when we play at Keller together. My favorite story of his also involves Tom Weiskopf. Roger was sitting next to a green when Weiskopf’s group came through. While he was waiting for his turn to putt, he walked over to Roger and made eye contact with him. Roger was, of course, thrilled that this star golfer was going to speak to him. “Can’t putt these shitty greens”, big Tom said. That cracks me up every time I think about it.

Roger and I have a memory for just about every hole at Keller, whether it’s from a St. Paul Open or from playing there in high school ourselves. I vividly recall missing a 6-foot putt on the 2nd hole of a playoff in the regional tournament in 1971, my senior year. That putt kept me out of the state tournament. It was the same green as Weiskopf’s remark to Roger. I guess I couldn’t putt those greens either, shitty or not.

I remember Dan Sikes driving the green on the 1st hole, a dogleg par 4, on his way to a victory in the final PGA tournament at Keller in 1968. He “cut the corner on #1” and it paid off for him.

On Friday, I heard Mr. Peterson’s voice, as usual, and aimed a little farther left. But the ball didn’t obey and headed right over the corner toward the green.

It ended up behind a tree and I made a bogey.

Keller's modest but classic clubhouse where I got my first up-close look at the pros back in the '60s. It was designed by Clarence Wigington, a prominent midwestern architect of the time and one the few Black architects of that era. (photo by Steve Date)


I’ve been thinking about the fact that Keller Golf Course was less than 40 years old when I played it for the first time, but it seemed old to us then. It’s now 81. It’s been a part of me for more than half its life and most of mine.

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When the time comes, I hope somebody scatters some of my ashes around this place so I can become a tiny part of it.

Damn Yankees! – Yogi was right even when he was wrong

“It ain’t over ’til it’s over”, according to Yankee legendary malapropster Yogi Berra. But he also said, “It’s like deja vu all over again”, and right now that seems closer to the truth for the Minnesota Twins. It would take either a miracle or a deal with the devil, such as an appearance by the fictional Joe Hardy, for the Twins to get past the Damn Yankees in the American League Divisional Series.

Quite simply, the Twins have not figured out a way to beat the Yankees in the playoffs. You may not want to join me in my pessimism just yet, but realism, at least, certainly seems appropriate and optimism would be downright silly in the Twins’ trip to the Bronx this weekend. So let’s just tip our hats to the Yanks (we can curse them without hating them) and give our Minnesota Twins high fives for a wonderful season in our great new ballpark.

Twins celebrate a walk-off win over the Toronto Blue Jays last Saturday (photo by Steve Date)

Rather than dwelling on the losses of the past two evenings, I prefer to remember my visit to Target Field with my family last Saturday. It was a stunningly beautiful autumn day (if you were sitting in the sun). The home town boys had been on a slide since clinching the AL Central Division title. They needed a win to stir up some mojo for the playoffs.

Wacky hijinx by the kids before the game in the big glove. (Kyle, Emily, Lauren) (photo by Steve Date)

Shortstop Alexi Casilla provided the necessary excitement with a base hit in the bottom of the ninth, driving in two runners for a walk-off win. The celebration on the field and in the stands could have been mistaken for a championship win. It was one of those moments that can make baseball as thrilling as any sport. I feel lucky to have been there.

'. . . and we'll see you tomorrow night!' - the words of 1991 World Series announcer Jack Buck echo in the ears of Twins fans when they see Kirby's statue at Target Field (photo by Steve Date)

The Twins have provided a lot of thrills over the years and I was fortunate enough to have been an in-person witness to two of the best — the Game 7 win in the 1987 World Series and Kirby Puckett’s game winning home run in Game 6 of the 1991 Series, a moment that has been immortalized by Kirby’s Statue at Target Field.

The outfield at Target Field is a work of art. (photo by Steve Date)

As I’ve said before, I love Target Field. I’m glad it was built and I’m happy with the plan the movers and shakers came up to pay for it. To the extent that taxpayers are chipping in, all I can say is that it’s worth every penny. It’s an amazing asset to downtown Minneapolis and to baseball fans all over the upper midwest.

No matter what the outcome of this playoff series, the situation is this: The Twins have a solid team with a bright future, they have a great stadium that is generating a lot of community pride and they’ve moved to the next phase of a team history that doesn’t take a backseat to anyone.

Yogi Berra also said, “When you get to a fork in the road, take it”. The Twins took the fork and will be providing the beauty, excitement and spirit that baseball brings to a community for many years to come.

Yogi missed the mark a bit though, when he said, “The future ain’t what it use to be.” For Minnesota baseball fans, it is — and maybe even better.

So my hat is off to the Minnesota Twins baseball club and the powers that be in government and business, not to mention journalists such as my friend Steve Berg (see earlier post), that had the foresight, creativity and determination to make this happen.

We Minnesota baseball fans now have plenty to look forward to and it has nothing to do with beating those damn Yankees this weekend.

So go Twins! It ain’t over ’til it’s over. New deja vus have to start somewhere.