SLAYTON — Dad grew up here in the 30s and 40s. He was fond of baseball.
I was a kid in the 50s and 60s. And I loved the game. Then and now.
So the top memory of my school years doesn’t revolve around books, or learning, or practices, or even a special girl. Nope, the most magical moment of those days gone by happened almost 50 years ago: April 7, 1970.
Dad came to school late in the morning and got me out of class. It was the best feeling in the world.
You see, it was Opening Day.
My family has deep roots in Murray County. But we moved to Milwaukee in 1963, when I was not quite 7. That was fine, because Milwaukee had the Braves.
Warren Spahn. Eddie Mathews. Henry Aaron.
It hurt badly when the team was sold to investors in Atlanta. We lost our ball team. A 10-year-old kid couldn’t understand.
Dad had a portable Philco radio. The signal from Chicago was clear and I listened regularly to the Cubs and White Sox, not really caring for either team.
The Braves were long gone, so I recall following the box scores that noted the exploits of Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Tony Oliva ... the Twins, after all, were still my hometown club.
Then a miracle happened.
When the Seattle Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers exactly 50 years ago, a court-ordered transaction finalized with barely a week left in spring training, folks throughout Wisconsin had a real reason to hoist a toast.
Dad took me to the ticket office and bought seats for the opener. New Brewers owner Bud Selig was a customer of my father’s. Unbelievably, Eddie Mathews — the now-retired great Braves’ slugger who still maintained ties to Milwaukee — was in the ticket office that day.
I was 13. The tickets were like gold. The world was beautiful.
That first Brewer game? A 12-0 loss to the Angels. Only four Milwaukee hits off Andy Messersmith.
Didn’t matter. It was a glorious day.
Fast forward a few years and our family had returned home to Minnesota. And we were all in on the Twins.
There were several home openers at Metropolitan Stadium that remain fresh. Then a college boy, I was in the bleachers for a couple of the Twins’ opening days. A few of my best pals from Slayton — they’re still my best buddies — were along.
In 1977, we sat in the lower left field bleachers. An Oakland lightweight named Rob Picciolo socked one right at us. Most of the boys were holding beers that restricted their reach. My brother Larry, an excellent all-around Slayton High and Hamline University athlete, did not drink and had two free hands.
The homer was headed right at Larry. But he failed to catch it and the ball bounced away.
We still give my brother a hard time about that.
There are a few more special Opening Day memories. They involve Jim Eisenreich, my former college teammate and good friend.
Jimmy was two years out of St. Cloud State when he earned the starting centerfield job for the Twins in 1982. What a player he was.
What nobody knew was his affliction with Tourette’s Syndrome.
In 1983, the Twins opened with two at the Metrodome against the Tigers. I and a few of my Slayton pals were there. Jimmy went 2-for-7 in the first two games, including a double.
I cheered like crazy.
The next day, while driving back to my job at the Globe the news on the radio was that Eisenreich had been forced to retire because of an unknown ailment.
I had to pull the pickup over for a few minutes, because my eyes were watering.
Jim Eisenreich eventually returned to the major leagues. I traveled to many ballparks to say howdy and watch him hit line drives.
In 1994 Jimmy was a starting outfielder for the defending National League champion Phillies. Philadelphia opened the season in Denver and I was there.
Jim was by then a millionaire ball player. But he didn’t act like it. He was the same humble guy I’d known years before in college.
Jimmy hit several line drives that memorable Opening Day in Denver. I rooted for him like crazy.
This year is different.
You know why. This week was supposed to mark Opening Day. Instead we’re keeping our distance from our friends and dreaming of when baseball will return.
And it will.
Of course, things are different. Jimmy has retired. The old Met Stadium is gone. And so is Dad.
But the memories, they don’t die. And for baseball fans near and far, they never will.
Scott Mansch is a lifelong baseball fan and part-time sports writer at the Globe. He can be reached at email@example.com