Aboard That Minnesota Cannonball

Rollie Reynen of Devils Lake, N.Dak. sings loud and clear as he helps to keep the party lively on the special railroad car taking a delegation 400 miles to the ball game. Fans came by train, bus, car and plane from all over the Northwest and parts of Canada to see the hot Minnesota Twins take on Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle and the rest of the hated New York Yankees
July 29, 1962

Some nights Calvin R. Griffith, proprietor of the Minnesota Twins, must wake up shouting:

"Butte, Billings and Blooming Prairie! Coon Rapids, Circle Pines, Grey Eagle and Owatonna! Devils Lake, Fargo, Sauk Center and Bismarck! Come one, come all! Minnesota, Montana, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan! Send us your delegations and see your home town's name flashed on that big scoreboard! Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan—there are still choice seats available!"

Admittedly, that's a pretty long shout, but if Mr. Griffith is subject to such pleasant nightmares nobody deserves them more. For one thing, Mr. Griffith must have had many a horrible dream when he was operating the old Washington Senators (born again as the Twins) in a ramshackle ball park that sometimes, with the team deep in eighth place, had difficulty drawing fans across the street. Now, thanks to a team that is very much in contention and thanks, too, to intensive off-season promotion work, Mr. Griffith recently had the pleasure of seeing Metropolitan Stadium in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington jammed to capacity with people from seven states and three Canadian provinces. It was a three-game series—with the Yankees, naturally.

One group of 110 traveled 1,100 miles from Butte, Mont, on a Milwaukee Road special train that made stops at 21 other Montana towns and five Dakota towns. The delegations throughout the vast area were sponsored by Lions Clubs, the Shriners, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, business firms and radio stations. St. Mary's Church in For-man, N.Dak. sent its altar boys by special bus. Some smaller groups came by chartered plane and private railroad coaches—all contributing in their fashion to the purse and peace of mind of Calvin G.

The excitement that preceded the departure for Minneapolis and the Big Yankee series could be observed in the thriving North Dakota town of Devils Lake (pop. about 7,000). There were two groups going from Devils Lake. One of about 30 fans, all Shriners, was headed up by Russ Dushinske, the editor of the daily Journal. The other, numbering almost 50, was organized by Paul Lange, the commercial manager, and Bert Wick, the owner, of radio station KDLR—which will sell you a spot announcement for as little as $3.50 and send it booming over the Devils Lake listening area with a 250-watt wallop. The Shriners were going to make the 400-odd-mile trip by chartered bus. The KDLR crowd was driving to New Rockford to catch a special car on the Great Northern Railway's Western Star, a main-liner from Seattle.

Spirits ran high in Devils Lake for a week before the big day of the takeoff. But it should be remembered that Devils Lake has other reasons to feel good this summer. The local drinking water, which had been so unpalatable that citizens were importing bottled water, is now being supplied through a new pipeline and is no longer productive of grave gastrointestinal disturbances. Moreover, early summer rains have assured the farmers of a bumper crop of durum wheat, on which the town's economy depends entirely. Durum wheat doesn't go into government storage but commands premium prices from spaghetti and macaroni manufacturers. A good wheat crop around Devils Lake means that the 20-odd saloons will thrive all winter, that the Haugner boys, Bill and Ole, will move a lot of television and hi-fi sets and that their brother Mag, who works at Shark's clothing store, will sell a lot of suits and overcoats. It means that everybody will be able to pay his annual $80 dues at the country club. It means, too, that Dawson's Lounge, a family-type nightclub, will continue to import "name entertainers" from Chicago and Milwaukee; that the Ranch, a superior steak house, will prosper along with The Duke and The Duchess, nightclub and bowling emporium respectively, and Ye Old Tavern where David (Gravy) McPhail, the comical bartender, keeps the patrons in stitches with remarks that he makes up on the spur of the moment. Gravy was a member of the KDLR delegation and planned to wear his umpire's cap (he officiates at amateur and semipro baseball games in Devils Lake and nearby towns) all the way to Minneapolis and throughout his stay there.

Everywhere in town the talk was of the approaching baseball pilgrimage. On a street corner under the big electric sign of the Otter Tail Power Company, a pair of buxom matrons discussed the impending event in accents that were derived from German and Norwegian ancestries (these are the two predominant strains in Devils Lake) and, on the whole, they registered strong approval.

"Ja," said one, it does the boys good to get away from the wives once in a while."

"Oh, Ja," said the other. "And what is the harm? Maybe a few little beers and staying up singing songs after the ball game, but it's all just fun, you know?"

"Ja," said the first matron, "but still it takes a lot out. Not enough sleep and eating hot dogs only?"

"Ja," said the other, "but it's for three days. What harm?"

"No," conceded the first woman, "but is a strain. Like my Otto and me, we took this auto trip. We drove 1,700 miles. We don't eat right. We don't sleep right. You know what? Me, I lost 12 pounds!"

"Ja," the other woman nodded, "so what harm? You are a big woman. You could afford."

Meanwhile, Paul Lange, the leader of the radio station group, had his hands full. He had to prepare kits for every member of the party. The kits contained the tickets for the game, a list of the people who would be going (so there would be no trouble remembering names like Balzer Kurtz, Gerald Jorgenson, Rollie Reynen, Leo Janowski, Adolph Feldner and so forth) and a mimeographed sheet with the lyrics of songs to be sung en route. These included On a Sunday Afternoon, Down by the Old Mill Stream, Shine On Harvest Moon, My Melancholy Baby and Du, Du, Liegst Mir im Herzen.

Paul Lange set one night aside, three days before takeoff, for the preparation of sandwiches. With the help of Mr. and Mrs. Bert Wick, Paul's wife Lois, their three children and the baby sitter, Sandy Liudahl, 240 roast beef, ham, tuna and egg salad sandwiches were made, wrapped and put in the freezer. Paul had already arranged for just a little more beer than he thought would be required (on the last trip the party ran out of beer 100 miles out of Devils Lake) and some new pails to hold ice for those who preferred mixed drinks.

Downtown, along the main street, the tempo was stepping up. Al Dawson, the proprietor of Dawson's family-type cocktail lounge, was baiting his customers by wearing a Yankee cap and flaunting a Yankee pennant. Of course, he had quite a few Yankee fans on his side (Roger Maris is a Fargo, N.Dak. boy), but the majority were true to the Twins and some bets were made. Miss Marti Fiske, the name act of the week, got into the spirit of things. She varied her routine of songs and comedy patter by playing Take Me Out to the Ball Game on the piano, while a bunch of the fellows who were making the trip got up and did a snake dance around the tables.

A traveling man, passing through town, joined in the dance although nobody invited him. Then he asked Marti Fiske, who is an attractive blonde from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to repeat some of the comedy patter she had used on the late show the night before. ' "You know," he said, "like your definition of a bachelor, he's a fellow comes to work from a different direction every morning?"

"I have cut out that part of my routine," said Miss Marti coolly. "It is not suitable for a family-type cocktail lounge and, besides, I desire to put more emphasis on my singing and piano playing."

"Oh," said the salesman, "I surely do beg your pardon."

"Granted," said Miss Fiske, going into a reprise of Take Me Out to the Ball Game.

Meanwhile, out at the bar, men were getting acquainted, for the party would include not only the Devils Lakers but others from the towns of Cando, Minnewaukan, Lakota, Petersburg and Munich. The introductory form called upon a man to "shake hands with" Lars or Victor or Adolph, as the case might be, and the response was always a "Howdy." Finally, when everybody knew everybody else, Gravy McPhail said, "Well, now that we've been all howdied and shook, let's have a drink."

The plan was for both the Shriners' crowd and the radio station delegation to assemble on the day of departure at the Mayer Hotel at 6 a.m. The Mayer Café moved back its opening to 5 o'clock to accommodate these who would want breakfast, and the overflow was handled by the Happy Hour restaurant down the street. Quite a few of the wives were on hand to drive their husbands to New Rockford to catch the Western Star. There were some jokes made about husbands cutting up away from home, and one wife said, "Oh, not my Harry. He's the kind of husband a wife never worries about." "Ho, ho," scoffed Rollie Reynen, who is the local man for the Great Northern Railway. "They're the worst kind!"

Everybody was in high good humor. Harry Kosieracki had brought along a fishing net to catch foul balls. Balzer Kurtz showed up wearing a baseball uniform and announced he was going to keep it on all through the trip. He lost his nerve before the party took off and changed into slacks and a sport shirt. Gravy McPhail wore his umpire's cap and gave a sidewalk demonstration of how he calls "stri-i-i-i-ke" with a thrust of the arm and the kick of a leg. "I give the crowd showmanship," said Gravy. One fellow said Gravy was the best umpire in North Dakota and he just wondered why he hadn't concentrated on it and gone on up to the big leagues. "Oh," said Gravy, "I'm good, but I'm not that good."

Everything went on schedule. The Shriners got off on the dot, and the radio station people were at New Rockford in good time for the Western Star. Once aboard the train, Paul Lange broke out the beer and the ice, and pretty soon the special car was ringing out with songs from the mimeographed sheets. One fellow wept over the lyrics to I Want a Girl Just like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad and another got misty-eyed as he sang a solo version of I Only Want a Buddy, Not a Sweetheart that ended with the lines

Don't stroll down lover's lane,
Just keep right on a-sayin'
I only want a buddy, not a girl!

It somehow seemed an appropriate theme for husbands on a holiday, and a cheer went up for the soloist, who dissolved into tears at the tribute and was inconsolable until somebody brought him a fresh can of beer (460 cans were consumed during the seven-hour train ride). As the singing continued, there was a violent reaction against buddy songs by another fellow who got up and shouted: "Hey, gang, I know a hot spot in Minneapolis where they have dancing every night and don't admit anybody under 29 years of age!"

"Oh," cried Gravy McPhail, "that must be a lonely hearts club!"

"Well, so what!" retorted the other fellow. "Show me a man away from home in a big city who ain't lonely!"

Between songs, baseball debates went on all over the car. John Jensen went around getting up jackpots on the total number of runs to be scored in the series. There were admiring sentiments expressed in favor of Sam Mele, the Twin manager, and Rich Rollins, Camilo Pascual and Harmon Killebrew. Most of the travelers were personally acquainted with Roger Maris' father, who works for the Great Northern Railway in Fargo. Many of them remembered Roger himself as a basketball player around the Fargo-Moorhead and Devils Lake area. Al Dawson stirred things up by printing a card and hanging it over his seat. It read "Yankee Dugout." He was roundly booed. By this time everybody was getting hungry and Paul Lange started passing out sandwiches and potato chips. The sandwiches had thawed out fine.

The Western Star pulled into Minneapolis on time, and as the Devils Lake crowd rode to Hotel Maryland by special bus the chimes atop the Northwestern Bank building were playing That Old Gang of Mine. There was time for naps before the night game started, but the gang was too wound up for that and there was some horseplay in front of the hotel as one of the Devils Lakers—a bachelor, of course—starting chasing girls with the big fishnet that had been brought along to catch foul balls. The girls took it as good fun and allowed themselves to be netted. A few fellows went on up to their rooms for a short snooze, and one of them (he was the fellow who knew about the hotspot catering to folks over 29) slept right through the ball game and the lonely hearts dance as well. When he finally did awaken, he swore off drinking for the balance of the trip and didn't miss a play during the second and third games of the series.

About a fourth of the Devils Lake delegation had never seen a big league ball game. The first game was just about as big league as you can get. For one thing, Metropolitan Stadium was a complete sellout—without even standing room available. During batting practice the big scoreboard began flashing "Twins O Grams," and among the first was HELLO, DEVILS LAKE. There was a big cheer from the Devils Lakers, but Leo Janowski from the nearby town of Munich protested, "How about a hello for Munich?" Paul Lange explained that Munich was part of the Devils Lake setup, and if the scoreboard said hello to Munich it would have to say hello to Petersburg, Lakota, Cando and Minnewaukan as well. By that time, the scoreboard was flashing WELCOME, BUTTE AND BILLINGS, and that ended the discussion.

As the first game began, everybody was tensed up. But nobody was prepared for the thrill—in the very first inning of the series—of seeing Roger Maris hit a home run and Mickey Mantle follow with another one to send the Yankees off to a 4-0 lead. The reaction in the Devils Lake section to the second of the back-to-back four-baggers was a kind of stunned silence at first. Then Yankee and Twin fans alike went crazy. Some of the Munich fellows were angry, though. They complained that people coming down the aisles had blocked their view of the Roger Maris homer. Leo Janowski yelled to Paul Lange, "How about making reservations right now for next year so we can get some decent seats without the view being cut off by people in the aisles?" Another fellow yelled to the late arrivals, "Down in front once! You'd make a better door than a window!"

As the series progressed (the Yanks took all three games and dumped the Twins into third place), even those who had never seen a big league game before became outspoken critics. Ed Bottolfson, 64-year-old Devils Laker, a semipro player in his youth, said that modern baseball is just a game of cheap home runs and sensational catches in the outfield. "Heck," he said, "anyone could catch a fly ball one-handed with those basket-size gloves they use. We had gloves about half that size in my day, and the ball wasn't so lively that every Tom, Dick and Harry could hit it over the fence."

Balzer Kurtz said he had no complaints: he had won the $50 jackpot for total runs scored. Bert Wick said, "Well, we got HELLO DEVILS LAKE on the scoreboard three times. That ought to give the folks back home a big kick." Leo Janowski said, "How about a big kick for Munich next year, huh?" Paul Lange said maybe this could be arranged and added that, all in all, it had been a wonderful excursion and a good time had been had by all.

This certainly included the Twins' management. The total attendance of 120,956 for the series was a new record since the club had been moved from Washington. It would not have been anything near that figure without the special parties coming in from towns like Devils Lake (and Munich). They'll probably come again next summer, and it won't matter too much where the Twins are in the standings. For there is more to a baseball pilgrimage than ball games and battles for first place. There's the beer and the singing and the good fellowship—and, for the foreseeable future, more pleasant dreams for Calvin R. Griffith.

PHOTOART SHAY PHOTOART SHAYCutup Gravy McPhail shows how he'll net foul balls PHOTOART SHAYYankee minority group digs in for a long train ride PHOTOART SHAYDevils Lake rates a big hello from the Twins' scoreboard

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)