Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Don’t take me out to the ball game...

Well, the Baseball Hall of Fame passed me over again this year. Thanks a million, Cooperstown. Then the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame did the same thing a couple of weeks ago. Cripes, that’s the team I ignore the most.


There is no justice. Surely they have a category of “Worst Baseball Fan.” That’s me, year in, year out, although the label “Fan” hardly applies. I have been trying to ignore “America’s Pastime” all my life, although it ain’t easy.


It started when I was a kid, when every other kid in my neighborhood loved baseball. Loved it so much we played baseball just about every day in the summer. We? Sure, I joined in. I didn’t want to be friendless.


So over to the Lincoln playground in the former West End (it’s right by Lincoln Park) we trudged, bats, balls, bags, mitts in tow, chose sides and away we went. I didn’t own a mitt, though, so I used my older brother’s. Unfortunately I am left handed and he wasn’t, so I wore his mitt backwards on my right hand, thumb in pinkie, so my left would be free for throwing. 


Got that? Care?


Mickey Mantle (Wikipedia)
Of course not. I didn’t care either. One of my main problems playing kid baseball — I never advanced out of kid baseball to, say, teen baseball or super-patriotic Legion baseball — was that I couldn’t hit. Another was that I couldn’t catch. Another was that I didn’t care. I used to buy baseball cards for the gum they came with, throwing the card away. You know, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, “Campy” Campanella, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle. (I heard the other day that a Mantle card sold for a record $12 million. Oops, maybe I should have kept the cards and tossed the gum.)


I got one great home run hit in my entire kid career, a doozie pulled to the right that sent the ball over the fence, and I rounded the bases for the first and last time. I was maybe 12.


In those same years, my father, a dutiful sports fan, would take me to Duluth Dukes games at Wade Stadium. I loved going — the crowd, the peanuts, the Cracker Jacks, the smell of cigar smoke in the air — but didn’t give a hoot about watching the game itself. Other kids worshiped certain Dukes players; I didn’t even know who was who. My dad would remind me to watch the game when he sensed I was bored. I’d fake watching for awhile and then my gaze would drift off again. Maybe I’d hit the men’s room just for a break, eagerly anticipating the seventh inning stretch.


So you can see I have all the makings for Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Worst Fan” award. Plus, I think I’d look good as a statue.


But there’s more. I grew up, as many children tend to do, steadfast in my baseball boredom. In my teens I was at a youth convention in Chicago and in the hotel lobby a crowd of fellow conventioneers was gathered around this big guy all decked out in a suit and tie. He was signing autographs.


I strolled nearby and had no idea who it was. Turns out it was one of baseball’s major heroes at the time, a pitcher named Don Newcombe of the then Brooklyn Dodgers. I’d never heard of him. Around that time I knew boys in high school who skipped school to watch the World Series on TV. I dutifully attended classes, continuing my quest for bad grades.


I was able to ignore baseball entirely for many years, but eventually got married and had children. A daughter and son. And our son developed into a sports fan, including baseball.


So I had to take him to Twins games when we could get to Minneapolis. What an ordeal for me. One time the game was tied at the end of the ninth and went into what they call “extra” innings. I think they made it to 11 before the Twins lost (of course). I was more fascinated by a nearby fan who kissed his girlfriend on the strikes.


Twins games in that era were a thrill for my son, though. One time we had front row seats right above the Twins dugout, and out and about would run Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and others of that era that I never heard of but my son knew.


I was hoping to avoid baseball forever after that, but I did get stuck a couple of times at Duluth Huskies games with my grandsons (my son’s boys). I guess an interest in baseball can run in the family, but not through me, I’m afraid.


Well, that’s my pitch for “Worst Baseball Fan” in some Hall of Fame. Oops, did I say “pitch?’ Wonder how that word cropped up?


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Politics changed over the decades...

Hubert Humphrey
Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/Saturday, 8-20-22

Well, here we go again, headlong into another election season. There’s no holding it back, I’m afraid, although I’d just as soon.

I spent the final 25 years or so of my active career in journalism at this newspaper participating in interviews with politicians/candidates for the paper’s editorial endorsements. It was interesting work most of the time. Of course we met with both Republicans and Democrats and the occasional Independent, like Gov. Jesse Ventura, whose demeanor could only be described as gruff. Always.


I liked most of them on both sides of the aisle, and won’t be taking sides here, just recounting some memories of those days and adding thoughts on the system.


I had some favorites who showed up for these interviews. Among Republicans, I particularly liked former U.S. Sen. David Durenberger. Very cheerful guy. Of course among Democrats there was Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich, always affable and open. He was sometimes called “governor goofy” and he didn’t seem to mind. It was, as they say, the secret of his charm. His successor, Republican Arne Carlson, was always good humored, sometimes borderline giddy.


I filled out a small lunch table one time with Hubert Humphrey when he was a senator. He was perpetually “on” and had a reputation for always remembering people’s names. I was never sure, though, that he remembered mine, even after several contacts. Always got a Christmas card though.


Of course former vice president and ex-U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale was an occasional, affable, guest at the newspaper. He came once as vice president and they shut down First Street in front of our building and spread the Secret Service around the office glaring at everybody.


Can’t forget U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar who served our area in Congress for so long, following his predecessor John A. Blatnik. We saw a lot of Oberstar, who was an erudite policy wonk if there ever was one — always friendly, always “on” too. One time meeting with him in a restaurant with two of my female colleagues, he arrived late and kissed the women on the cheek. I told him if he kissed me, “I’m moving to Canada.” He loved it.


There are so many others, great and not-so. One of the greats was Sen. Paul Wellstone who visited many times. He knocked off Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, much to Boschwitz’s surprise, and distinguished himself as an outspoken liberal voice before he was killed in an Iron Range plane crash. He had an appointment to meet with us later that same day that was left unfulfilled. Instead he had an appointment in Samarra.


Oh, but I go on. The list includes local politicians too — Duluth mayors, city councilors, county commissioners and legislators from this area. Lately I’ve been thinking about the time young Dave Tomassoni of Chisholm came in and said he was going to run for the Minnesota Legislature. He did. He won a House seat and later won a Senate seat. He died a little over week ago, leaving an outstanding legacy of public service. 


One local official years ago opened our interview with the confession that he had gone back to his wife after an affair, wrongly assuming that we knew about it and that we paid heed to politicians’ personal lives. We don’t unless they drive drunk or shoot somebody and a couple of other offenses.


With all that contact, you notice certain traits that many of the successful politicians — local and national — have in common. For example, a few seldom use the first person pronoun, always referring to themselves as “we.” I suppose they’re referring to their staffs or supporters or maybe their pets. “We” covers a lot of ground, we believe.


Invariably they “roll up their sleeves” to tackle any project, before putting their “shoulder to the wheel” and working 24-7 at all times to serve the “hard-working” people in their districts. Constituents are invariably “hard working” Minnesotans or Americans or whatever. Nobody’s lazy, I guess.


The higher-ups exude patriotism at all times, the men unfailingly sporting American flag pins on suit lapels. They are seldom photographed without an actual American flag nearby and describe all military veterans and active armed services personnel as “heroes” and “brave.” Some are, of course, but everyone in uniform? I served years ago but never felt I qualified as either.


But those who get elected, especially to Congress, love it. Oh, House members have to run for re-election every two years. What a bummer that is — the possibility of losing a six-figure salary, sizable office staff in Washington kowtowing to their every whim, free parking at the Washington airports while regularly flying back home at no personal cost. Oh, then there’s a big travel budget and that lavish House gym, To keep all that all they have to do is vote the way their party leaders tell them and risk losing it all in elections.


And here we are, another election looming. Things in politics have changed since those olden days I describe here. A lot. While competition in politics has always been fierce, back then at least it was usually polite, even respectful. There was the “loyal opposition” and challengers would be called “worthy” opponents.


Seems like there’s a lot of outright hatred in politics these days. More’s the pity. You can figure out for yourself who’s to blame.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at

Saturday, August 6, 2022

A roll down to old Park Point...

Merry-go-round horse similar 
to the old park point carousel
Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/August 8, 2022

 I’m on quite a roll this summer recalling a Duluth that doesn’t exist anymore — call it history. Recent columns about the old Lyceum Theater and the former foghorn have elicited interesting responses from readers; so today we’ll take another trip down memory lane before summer wanes.


We’ll drive over the Aerial Lift Bridge all the way to the Park Point recreation area, where today’s recreation is quite different from what it was in the past.


Today’s volleyball courts, at the base of the hillside leading to the beach house, are the site of what was once a small summertime amusement park

with many of the typical rides — merry-go-round, flying chairs and others including my favorite — bumper cars.


There also was a miniature steam-powered train on tracks wending their way around the park, younger kids riding atop the cars pulled by the steam-spewing diminutive locomotive. And of course treat concessions — ice cream and hot dogs along with a penny arcade.


Plenty of what you’d want at such a place, and it was popular. So popular that years later when it was closed by the city some backers threatened to recall the then-mayor. More on that later.


The Park Point carnival area was the site of the annual “police boy” picnic. School crossing guards in those days were called police boys (and they were all boys). They carried yellow metal hand-held stop signs to halt oncoming traffic and chip away at nearby wooden power poles.


Anyway, the Duluth Police Department annually hosted police boys from throughout the city at the end of each school year, engaging buses to cart them down to Park Point. I got to go once, very excited to be going to the Park Point “midway” as a recent fifth-grade graduate.


We had free reign on the rides and a nice hot-dog lunch at noontime, secured with a ticket handed out beforehand at the schools. I forgot to bring my meal ticket, though, and felt, well, desperate.


I sought out an official-looking cop resplendent in his blue uniform, badge shining in the sun, and told him my plight— forgot my meal ticket. He looked me over, obviously saw an interloper, and declared, “You don’t want to eat, kid.” That was news to me.


Even though I was a police boy, I was not too old to well up inside at such a snub by the cops. All’s well that ends well, though, when my Lincoln Elementary police boy captain vouched for me and they let me have my hot dog. That was when I got stung by a bee.


But it turned out OK despite all of this adversity, and the fun of being at the Park Point carnival area was a great reward.


By that age, having outgrown the merry-go-round and steam train, my favorite ride was the bumper cars. Do they exist anywhere anymore? Just for the record, they were little red vehicles powered by electricity on a hard floor in a large open shed, the electrical current running down a pole at the back of each car from the ceiling.


Riders would scurry around and try to bump each other or just circle the place, happy to be operating a vehicle with a steering wheel. I loved it.


One time, the guy in charge of operating the bumper car concession turned out to be an older neighbor from the West End known as Junior. I was impressed and proud to be recognized by Junior as I mounted the bumper car ramp. “Hi, Junior,” I greeted. “Hello there,” he responded. I’ve been known as “There” a lot in life.


Wow, I thought, Junior has really done well in this world, finding a profession operating bumper cars. I figured he was set for life. (Remember, I was 10 years old.)


I don’t know what became of Junior but the entire midway was closed down in 1964, some 15 years after Junior and the police boys and the hot dog and the bee, and when I was working as a reporter for this newspaper.


Duluth’s mayor at the time was George D. Johnson (not to be confused with George W. Johnson, whom George D. had defeated) and he and other city officials decided the Park Point recreation area should be more “natural” and not have a tawdry carnival. It was attracting a crowd of youth wearing black jackets, they feared. Oh, the horror.


The closure didn’t sit well with some Duluthians, though, and there was even talk of recalling Johnson that never went anywhere.


But the rides and concessions did go somewhere, never to return.


Volleyball anyone?


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at