A BATBOY LOOKS BACK

A BATBOY LOOKS BACK

From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

A Batboy Looks Back

I was searching for baseball ghosts when I took my family on our first trip to the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. We weren’t there to shop. I simply wanted to find the site of where home plate had been at Metropolitan Stadium, the former home of the Minnesota Twins major-league baseball team.

I spent the best days of my boyhood—along with a couple of the worst days—at Met Stadium as a batboy with the Twins. It was a great place to grow up. It’s where I learned about sex, race and ethnic relations, and celebrity, and that baseball players were a lot more human than they appeared on their bubble-gum cards.

I’m old enough to have seen construction begin on the Met in 1955. I watched the ballpark emerge from the surrounding corn and melon fields just off Cedar Avenue, the road that ran past my boyhood home. I never saw brighter lights or prettier emerald green grass than the first time I walked out on the runway and looked around the Met diamond. And what a diamond it was.

But the shrine of my youth was torn down when the Twins moved to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome after the 1981 season. That hurt.

Now the nation’s largest shopping mall, 4.2 million square feet, sits where the Met once stood. I don’t know which is a greater example of gluttonous excess—the overflowing cornucopia at the Mall of America or the greed of major-league baseball players who take stretch limos to their contract negotiations and expect multimillion-dollar contracts for mediocre performances.

Give me back the days when baseball players wore baggy flannel uniforms and appreciated the lives they led and the people who cheered them.

I know we aren’t supposed to live in the past, but when it comes to that 164-acre site in Bloomington, I’d prefer to. It took about fifteen minutes to find, but there was home plate embedded in the mall floor at Knott’s Camp Snoopy. It was black, bordered in gold and read: “Metropolitan Stadium. Home Plate. 1956–1981.”

We were the only ones looking at it. The other people were too busy racing to the hundreds of stores they had to choose from. I would have settled for seeing a Met Stadium hot dog vendor.

“It’s kind of sad. It’s kind of like a tombstone to me,” my wife said while looking at home plate.

There was a time that I wished I was resting comfortably in a casket beneath that home plate tombstone. It was a balmy summer day in 1964 and forty thousand fans were in the stands watching the Twins play the perennial American League champion New York Yankees.

My main job that day was to make sure that the home plate umpire was supplied with baseballs. The batter— I’ve forgotten if it was Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, or one of the team’s mere mortals—fouled off a half-dozen pitches. Home plate umpire Nestor Chylak called time and signaled me to bring him a new batch of baseballs.

Not wanting to delay the game, I sprinted toward home plate. But my spikes got caught in the turf. I tripped and slid in the general direction of the plate. The baseballs flew in all directions. Umpire Chylak got into his crouch, pumped his arms and hollered “Safe!”

About sixty major-league players and coaches, four umpires and forty thousand fans were roaring. At me. If I could have crawled under the plate and hid, I would have. I can honestly tell my kids that unless they break a law they’ll never face a more embarrassing moment as a teenager.

After the game I remember Killebrew—my favorite Twin—and a half-dozen other players smiling, patting me on the back and asking if I was all right. Twins trainer Doc Lentz asked if I needed a whirlpool treatment. Even I was able to laugh at that.

I went on to become the Twins’ assistant equipment manager in 1967 before entering the military. I returned to the team in the same capacity for the 1972 and ’73 seasons. By that time I was the same age as some of the players. The best stories from that era—while colorful—probably don’t belong in a wholesome publication.

When it comes to the spicier stuff I witnessed and heard, I’ll live by the old clubhouse adage: “What you see here, what you hear here, what you say here, when you leave here, let it stay here.”

Those memories will never fade. But I wish Met Stadium was still standing and that those players from my past were still able to play the game we all respected and cherished.

Mark Stodghill

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