After being drafted by Minnesota in 1969 I made my major-league debut on June 5, 1970 in Washington, D.C., pitching seven innings and getting the win in the Twins' 2-1 win over the Senators. That was certainly a thrill but an even bigger thrill would come five days later when I would make my second start in the big leagues in – of all places – Yankee Stadium.
I was 19 and having grown up in Southern California my first visit to New York brought me a bit of culture shock. All the tall buildings, so many people on the streets and the subways. Just driving up to Yankee Stadium on the bus I was in awe. Fans were lined up all around the entrance to the stadium when we got off the bus. They were screaming the names of some of my teammates like Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew but they didn’t know who the heck I was -- they probably thought I was a batboy.
My second encounter with Yankees fans came on the field. They wanted me to throw them a baseball but in those days that was prohibited. When I tried explaining to them why I couldn’t flip them a ball they called me a bum and much worse. I got away from the fans real fast and went out to center field to absorb as much as I could the scene and the atmosphere.
I remember I got dressed really quickly and I went upstairs to the visitors’ dugout and the Yankees were taking batting practice. To just to sit on the bench and watch that was really incredible. After the Yankees had finished batting practice I and a couple of my teammates walked out to the monuments of great Yankees players that were in center field (there was no monument park in the original stadium). It was amazing to see the monuments up close and even more amazing that they were in the field of play.
If I recall correctly in the first game of our series with the Yankees our catcher that day, Paul Ratliff, hit a triple which Yankees center fielder Bobby Murcer had to chase down by running around a monument.
I started off with four shutout innings and had a 1-0 lead but in the fifth inning I hung a breaking ball and Yankees second baseman Horace Clarke hit about a 298-foot fly ball down the right-field line and it went for a home run since the short porch there was 296 feet. I pitched seven innings and took the loss as that was the final score, 2-1.
After the game some of the reporters wanted to know what I thought about pitching at Yankee Stadium and out of frustration the first words that came out of mouth were, “no wonder Babe Ruth hit so many home runs here.” By the way Clarke’s home run was his fourth and final one of that season.
I look back now and even though I was unhappy that I lost that game, giving up two runs in seven innings probably gave me confidence for my next start, which was my first in Minnesota. I was nervous pitching in Yankee Stadium but even more nervous my next start – my first time before Twins fans but that turned out to be a win for me.
In that game at Yankee Stadium I also got my first major league hit and time was called and the baseball taken out of play and given to me. I still have that baseball and I still remember the hit -- it was a high chopper that went over Stottlemyre’s head and trickled into center field.
I will make my last visit to Yankee Stadium, site of this season's All-Star Game, later this month as a broadcaster for the Twins who play a three-game series in the Bronx from July 21-23. It will be sad but as player and now as a broadcaster I’ve always enjoyed going to Yankee Stadium.
I know nothing stands in the way of progress but if it was my call it would have been to keep such sacred baseball ground intact and opt to renovate instead of building a new Yankee Stadium – which is what has been done adjacent from the current one. It opens next season and as far as ballparks go it sure has one tough act to follow.
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