Saturday, March 3, 2012

25 Years Later

There are parallels in life that are unexplainable, yet seem to balance the harsh and bitter with things that are a bit easier to accept. And it seems the worse one end of the spectrum is, the better the other is to maintain a flat line of being when it’s all added up.

Case in point. My father passed away 25 years ago today after a lengthy illness. We knew it was coming, but it was still devastating. I had yet to become seasoned in the death of loved ones and his passing stung me deeply. But his passing made what happened in October so much more amazing, and it gave me a chance to hold on to my father for a long time.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s on July  24, 1970, in Fargo, N.D. I remember the date because that was when former Pres. Richard Nixon visited the town. We stayed in a hotel by a large medical complex — the same hotel Nixon stayed when he addressed a governor’s conference there.

My dad battled the disease bravely. But Parkinson’s limited his physical abilities and I didn’t get to play catch or shoot baskets with him like other children did with their fathers. Instead, he taught me to think and to analyze. And to enjoy sports.

Living in northern Minnesota at the time, we watched the Twins play baseball each summer. It was during their bleak years and we saw a lot of losses then, yet we continued to watch and we continued to root for them.

When we moved to Arkansas, we still followed the Minnesota Twins while they continued to play dismally.

My dad began getting worse and, as is the case with those dying, he recalled the past in an attempt to grasp a shard of mortality. He often told me about watching the New York Yankees as a child and seeing Mantle and DiMaggio and Berra play.

When he died, it began unraveling the safety net we feel from our parents even though we are adults.

Soon after he passed away, the Minnesota Twins opened their 1987 training camp. I didn’t know that it’d be a special year.

In August, I made a trip to Minnesota and caught a Twins' game in the old Metrodome. Stunningly, the Twinkies were in a pennant race and the fever hit Minneapolis. Kirby Puckett could run for governor and win. Kent Hrbek was a cult figure and Frankie Viola was throwing his “chin music” at opposing batters.

I often thought of my father during that season, hoping he could see the success of our team.

They won their division and then dispatched the Detroit Tigers in five games. They were heading to the World Series. Meanwhile, St. Louis defeated San Francisco in seven games, meaning the Series would be 200 miles from me.

I went to Game 5 in St. Louis, wearing a Twins tee-shirt and sitting way above third base in Busch Stadium. The Twins lost that game, but then returned to the Dome where they won both games and the Series.

I cried when the final out of the 1987 Series was over and the Twins rejoiced on the field, serenaded by the 55,000 who were at the game. But the tears weren’t for joy or the fact that it was Minnesota’s first championship. Instead, it was for my father who remained close by me during that season and who I believed had some hand in trying to ease the pain of losing him.

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