Seriously, does this question-asking guy ever lighten up?
When you grow up in northwest Iowa you have two problems, although I’m sure you’re standing by to suggest others. One, you’re a long way away from a major airport, at least 3-4 hours. Now, of course, midwesterners are used to driving great distances, either to vacation in Yellowstone, or to find a pizza that is actually baked by an Italian. But they also have the second problem — getting to a major league ballpark. That’s why it’s an infrequent experience, and also why when you happen to pull it off it’s a bit like stepping into Oz. (Note I’m not referring here to Ozzie Smith, although my brother Dave would be, may he RIP). And before drawing you ever deeper into this gripping tale let me just say that, yes, the prairie requires long drives. But there is also a Dairy Queen at every intersection, and heaven knows that’s a supreme consolation. (“…medium Snickers Blizzard, please”…).
Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington, Minnesota, circa 1962. (And its ghosts now haunt the Mall of America. You heard it here). We made the trip up to the Twins game in our Oldsmobile station wagon, the one my dad bought after someone told him the SUV hadn’t been invented yet. I don’t remember if this was the car with the smoked glass sunroof and the faux wood paneling on the sides, but I’m sure it had the rear-facing seat way in the back that allowed me to look out the back window and command the broken white lines on the highway that were the torpedoes I fired at the cars behind us. I always missed, but not by much. (“Those lucky _______ “). And I don’t remember if on this trip we stopped at the Happy Chef in Mankato, but that was our traditional half-way point where I would order a “pop” and a slice of banana cream pie. ("So I like to layer my sugars…").
I remember we were in the left field seats during BP, and Tony Oliva lifted one right to me. (Actually I don’t remember which player it was, but hey, give the kid a break). It rattled around and then suddenly there it was, right in front of me, like Shirley Temple waiting to be kissed. A gen-u-ine major league baseball, snagged by my grubby little pee wee paws. Sure, it was a little scuffed, but it was beautiful and it welcomed its new ownership in my hand. Unlike me it smelled good, and on top of that it was imprinted with the signature of American League President, Joe Cronin. And if that doesn’t make you all tingly I don’t know what will.
But sadly, boredom set in during the game. I mean, that’s a lot of innings to sit through, even when you space out the hot dogs. It would have helped if the Grain Belt Beer guy had come through for me, but for some reason he never stopped to crack open a cold one for me even though I kept waving my twenty. Thanks, pal. I think I’ll get up and go to the car. And I did. And I didn’t tell my dad.
The problem was I didn’t really know where the car was. And those were some long ramps to walk down at the Met, only to be delivered to a huge parking lot where I soon realized I would have to call upon my finest Daniel Boone tracking skills to locate the wagon. And why go through all of this? Why? Because the Oldsmobile sheltered and offered what I most desired in life at that moment… to be released from the monotony of America’s Pastime… to step away from the celebrity players of my youth and the cheering throng… and to once again put my hands on and re-enter the world of… my Superman comics.
But crap, the car was locked. And what help is Daniel Boone now? He’s dead to me. So I tried to gather my thoughts, which would have been easier if my buddy had come through with the Grain Belt. Then, in the distance, I saw a guy making his way toward me. A man in a suit. I guess young boys wandering aimlessly in stadium parking lots draw attention, and now the stadium security forces were after me. (“So I returned fire!!”). Actually, he was a very nice fellow, and proceeded to walk me back to the security office. Now here’s the good part…
Over the PA system in Metropolitan Stadium is heard… “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a young boy here in the security office who says his name is Jimmy Wigdahl, and his father owns a hardware store in Ruthven, Iowa. Mr. Wigdahl, would you please come to the security office to retrieve your son.” (And he could have added, “before he asks us any more questions and drinks every bottle of orange pop in the office”…). Dad was more relieved than angry, so I got away with one there. But really, comic books? What gives?
I think it was stirring early on in my life. Earth-bound longings for the heaven-bound. Boyhood encounters with darkness, even that which seemed to take up residence within me. Sorting it out. Looking for battle lines. A pull toward the sky. Hearing stories of the natural being altered by the supernatural. Stories that also carried an invitation to “come and see.” Jesus engaging. Always returning serve. We invented God? You mean, like we invented the sun so we could grow soybeans? Wondering if ours is the simple human reality, not of having willed God into existence, but of responding to what may be eternally so at God’s initiative. And a crying out. Or a shaking of our fists. Or both.