It’s been 50 years since my husband Terry attended the 1965 All-Star baseball game in Minneapolis. He would have been 13 years old at the time.
I’m told that tickets for the MLB All-Star game next Tuesday could be had for $300 if a person were really lucky (if you could get one at a regular price, you might get by for $800). Pile on top of that the cost of travel, parking, food, lodging, and souvenirs, well, it’s an outing not for the faint of financial support.
In 1965, however, when Terry’s brother Grant won through a lottery system the opportunity to purchase tickets, he paid the full price: $8 each. Grant’s plan was to take a friend and head from the farm in South Dakota to Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis for this opportunity of a lifetime. At the last minute, the friend canceled and Grant was scrambling to find someone else to go with him.
His options failed. And while $8 a ticket doesn’t sound like much today, it was a lot of money for a kid whose dad was a sharecropper and whose house didn’t even have indoor plumbing. It wasn’t money to waste. So the boys’ dad (who always referred to Terry as “the round-headed kid”) told Grant to take his brother. Now, Grant is seven years older than Terry so he was 20. We can imagine the enthusiasm with which he resigned himself to taking his 13-year-old brother with him. But he did. The afternoon before the game, the boys loaded their necessities in the car and left the farm for the Big City.
Before long they found themselves in the midst of a blinding rainstorm so Terry made himself useful by watching the side of the road and guiding Grant while the young man drove. Eventually they landed in a motel 60 miles from the stadium. Up and at ‘em early the next morning, the two found their way to the ballpark among the first wave of fans.
Now, I suspect this story would not be complete if I did not add that Terry was only mildly interested in baseball. He was kind of pressured into joining a Little League team in the nearby town, but by his own admission he wasn’t much of an athlete and lacked ability. The other boys made fun of him. So trying to fit in, he decided he was going to adopt a professional baseball team of which he could be a fan. His nemesis in Little League was an avid Yankees fan. Terry decided he would back the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In those days, team paraphernalia wasn’t readily available, so in order to demonstrate to everyone his allegiance to the Dodgers, Terry bought himself a blue ball cap and sent away for the Los Angeles logo which his mom sewed on the cap for him. Terry was wearing that homemade cap to Metropolitan Stadium that morning. He also had in hand a baseball and a ballpoint pen just in case he ran into someone he might want to ask to sign his ball.
Right off the bat, the boys found Minnesota Twins Manager and the American League team coach Sam Mele and Twins catcher Earle Battey. Both men were friendly and seemed pleased to sign Terry’s baseball. When they caught sight of Willie Mays, it was almost too good to be true, but Mays just waved and said, “Sorry, Kids, I can’t sign.” Perhaps that was the beginning of the end of players gladly interacting with their fans and giving away their signatures for free.
This was, of course, Terry’s first professional athletic event. There were 46,705 fans in the stadium that day, a huge crowd by anyone’s count, but for a kid from a small farm in South Dakota, it left him awestruck. He remembers the men in the crowd wearing white shirts and neckties. Terry, of course, was wearing blue jeans, a t-shirt, and his homemade L.A. Dodgers cap.
That day his brother patiently taught Terry how to keep score, but there was a lot going on and a lot to see. Willie Mays, Joe Torre, and Willie Stargell hit home runs. When the American League came to the plate they found themselves shut out by the game’s Most Valuable Player, Juan Marichal. Still, the AL found a way to tie the game: home runs for Dick McAuliffe and Harmon Killebrew. But the National League, Terry’s newly adopted allegiance, won the game when Willie Mays was driven home by a shot from third baseman Ron Santo. The game lasted two hours and 45 minutes.
Now, you’d think that would be the end of the story or at least just lead to a drive back to the farm with the brothers debriefing the game. But Terry’s brother got the idea to head across the street from Metropolitan Stadium to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. His reasoning was that the players had to get home somehow and that maybe, just maybe, the boys might find a few of them there.
In 1965, air traffic was pretty much limited to those traveling on business or vacationers with money to spare so the Lindbergh Terminal was almost empty. There was no security in those days so the boys could wander almost anywhere they wanted to go, but they didn’t know where to go. All of a sudden, they heard an announcement over the public address system, “Bob Gibson. Will Mr. Bob Gibson please come to the TWA ticket counter?” Terry remembers, “Like a line drive to center field, we left our spots and shot down the steps and pulled up to the end of the airline’s counter.” When Gibson, one of baseball’s greatest pitchers, turned toward the boys, he was quick to oblige Terry’s request to sign his baseball.
It was all the encouragement they needed. They headed back upstairs to pursue other players, but the only activity they could find was in the bar where, of course, they were not allowed to go. Men lined the bar and they all seemed to know each other. Terry’s brother decided to dump him and headed in to belly up to the bar to join in the conversation.
Meanwhile, Terry craned his neck to see to the tables past the bar. Somehow, his eyes met those of Yogi Berra who shouted to him, “Hey, Kid, come on in; they are all in here.” With an invitation like that, who would question a 13-year-old in a bar?
Berra signed his ball and then passed it around the table so everyone else could sign as well. That work completed, Terry just hustled right up to the bar itself and passed his ball down the line where everyone signed. Then he picked up his ball and headed to the hallway before the bartender could get upset.
“I was about to match signatures with program pictures to see who had signed when I looked down the hall and saw three figures headed my way. The sun was lowering in the sky so the figures were back lit and I could not see their faces.” So he waited. “It was as though we were the only four people in the terminal,” he remembers. “I found myself looking into the faces of Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax and Maury Wills. My mouth dropped open but I could not say a word.”
So Koufax stepped up to him, “Hi, Kid, how are you?” Terry screwed up the courage to ask the pitching great to sign his ball (remember, Terry was wearing his homemade Dodgers cap). Koufax, then Drysdale, and Wills all signed not only his ball, but their publicity pictures in the All-Star program.
Then Terry looked at Koufax and said, “Oh, please, Mr. Koufax, you are my favorite ballplayer. Will you sign my cap?” Smiling, Koufax affixed his signature to the underside of the bill of Terry’s homespun cap.
On the trip home, Terry had lots of time to examine whose autographs he had secured. Twenty-three All-Stars including such greats as Hank Aaron, Willie Stargell, Joe Garagiola, Ernie Banks, Joe Pepitone, Elston Howard, and Al Kaline.
Willie Mays was the only player Terry saw but who refused to sign. Ron Santo was not among those Terry saw up close and personal, but in 2002 Santo walked out to the fence near the players’ entrance at Wrigley Field and signed a brand new ball just for Terry.
Not long after that All-Star game, and in order to protect the All-Star ball and keep it as white as possible, Terry bought two glass sherbet dishes for less than a quarter, put the ball into one and ran Elmer’s Glue around the rim. To that he affixed the other glass, upside down. Just a few years ago, an Antiques Road Show appraiser pronounced the value of the pristine ball to be between $700 and $1,200. It’s still secured between the two sherbet glasses.
Terry won’t sell the ball. But when he contacted the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., they were thrilled when he offered to give it to them. In a couple of years we’ll make that trip so Terry can make the official presentation.
This year, 2015, and even though Terry is now a die-hard Cubs fan, he’s going to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the adventure of that “round-headed kid” and his makeshift Dodger cap and, oh, yes, that baseball.
“O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
In the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.” – Psalm 5:3