It was an out-of-the-ordinary Sunday morning phone call to the Ryan family house. My dad took the call, and after a short conversation a smile flashed across his face.
“Yeah, I would love to go!”
I could only imagine what he was talking about. It was Sunday, October 27th, 1991 and the immortal words of Jack Buck were still ringing in my head.
“And we’l l see ya, tomorrow night!”
The Twins were hosting Game 7 of the ’91 World Series that night, thanks to a storybook walk-off home run from Kirby Puckett the night before.
Like any 5th grader in the pre-internet age, I had the local paper -the Pioneer Press – sports page open on the kitchen table and taking in every stat, picture, and interview I could.
Anxiously turning my attention to my dad as he hung up the phone, he gave me the news: he was going to Game 7!
As happy as I was for him, I was also pretty jealous. What 11 year-old wouldn’t be? I wanted to go to the game. But his friend, Mike, only had the two tickets. Plus, it was a school night. I should just be happy I was going to be allowed to stay up until the end of the game. (So says my mother)
That afternoon, I would be attending a church dinner with my Mom and 4 younger siblings. I had to plead with my Mom to come home early enough for the pre-game show. That was back in the day I thought Pat O’Brien was cool. (What can I say, I was young and naïve).
As an aside: It’s pretty crazy to think about the signs of the times. Newspapers and pregame shows were our only access to the players, storylines, and stats then. Now, I sit with a laptop, typing a blog entry online with MLB Network on in the background…
I don’t remember what I ate for dinner, where it was, or how long our family was there – but I vividly remember doing everything in my power to get my mom and siblings packed into the old Toyota min-van as 6:30pm rolled around. Dad was well on his way to the game and the pregame show was already started. (Where was live streaming when I needed it?)
In the van, I had my mom tune into WCCO, the long-time radio home of the Twins. Herb Carneal’s voice only helped build the anticipation of the epic match-up. I couldn’t get home to the TV soon enough.
But as we pulled into the driveway, my dad came walking out of the garage. What in the world is he still doing here?!? The game is starting in minutes!
In a moment that will stay with me until I die, my dad opened the sliding side door of our van, looked at me and said “Sean, get in the other car”. That’s it. No explanation. I was so confused. But I wanted to get inside and watch the pregame show…
I crawled into the passenger seat of my dad’s Saab, as my dad simply told my mom “I’ll call you and explain”. Still confused, my mind was scrambling: was I going to the game too?! This was completely out of character for my father, whose typical even keel and steady demeanor were nowhere to be found. My mom had this look of shock and disbelief on her face.
Hurriedly, my dad hopped into the Saab and backed the car into the street about as fast as I can remember. I tried to put the words together to ask him what was going on. “I’ll explain in a minute”, he responded.
He picked up the (now gigantic) car phone from the massive box to the right of the car radio and called my mom back at the house. The pieces started coming together as I heard my dad’s side of the conversation. I vaguely remember the snippets:
“So I got a call from [Mike’s mother-in-law] – they took him to the hospital”
“Yeah, he’s okay – but he needs to stay overnight”
“No, she said to come and take them both – why let them go to waste?”
My dad hung up the car phone, looked at me and said “Well, you’re going to game 7!”
My dad’s friend Mike was feeling ill while he was hunting that morning (after he spoke with my dad about the game). I don’t remember if it was dehydration, heart issues, or whatever – but he was taken to the hospital and told to stay there over night. My dad, who was obviously concerned about his friend, wasn’t worried about the game. But Mike’s family – all sports fans – said we’ve got the tickets, they might as well get used.
I was the beneficiary of some fluke health problems. (Mike – if you’re reading this – I’m glad you are better and I really do owe you one. Tickets for the next Twins World Series Game 7 are on me. Promise.)
In a reaction only a 5th grader could have, I immediately panicked that I didn’t have my Homer Hanky and that I wasn’t wearing any Twins gear. But then it dawned on me: I was a Twins super-fan. I had worn my Twins sweatshirt to the church dinner! I frantically put my hands in my pockets – and there it was: my Homer Hanky. To this day, I have no clue what compelled me to bring that to a church dinner. But damn it, I waved the hell out of it that night. I was doing God’s work.
Because we were running so late, my dad just b-lined our trip to his normal work parking spot. We were going to have to run. It was well past 7pm (when I thought the game was starting) and we were 8+ blocks from the Metrodome. I thought we’d miss the first three innings, but thanks to that pregame show, we walked in Gate B to the sounds of Jacqueline Jaquez singing the national anthem (a 7 year-old girl from Minnesota). It was the most beautiful anthem I’d ever heard.
The game was a blur. We sat in row 19, off the left field foul pole right behind Dan Gladden and right below the suite where Pat O’Brien and crew hosted the pre and post games.
I remember the bases-loaded double play, the wave of Homer-Hankies in unison to the “Hey” song, the fans chanting “Kir-by” every time Puckett came to bat, all the the highs and lows of a 0-0 baseball game through 9 innings, and sitting with 60K+ baseball fans collectively coming to the realization we were witnessing the most epic of baseball theater.
And I got to experience it with my dad.
As an expectant father myself, I can’t wait to take my son to his first game and share a similar experience with him. I can only hope I catch that lightening in a bottle one more time and share a game of such epic proportions.
You never know what an out-of-the-ordinary phone call on a Sunday morning can bring. 20 years ago, it brought me my greatest sports memory of all time.
Sean Ryan is a former TV reporter and currently a social media strategist at a Fortune 30 company. A lifelong Minnesota sports fan, he’s been told he’s worth a million dollars in nickles and dimes. He still thinks that’s a compliment. Follow him on Twitter (@seanryan25)