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Jim Kaat and the 1965 Opener (players arriving by helicopter)

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ID:	1095I get a regular e-mail from Richie Decker with "legal blasts" related to
baseball. He had this, Opening Day memories, from Jim Kaat that includes
the 1965 Opener:

Blog #27 - New Legal Blasts (and Unrelated Baseball Opening Day Memories)

In 1965, I was scheduled to start against the Yankees. I left for the
park in Minnesota, but there was a huge traffic backup. I got out of my
car and a guy told me that the bridge was closed because of a big rain
storm, and the river was flooded and no one could get over the bridge.
And I said, 'I'm supposed to pitch today.' I called WCCO, where Paul
Gale, who was a teammate of mine a few years before, was the sports
director, and he flew a helicopter out to Birdsville HS, and [16]Rich
Rollins, [17]Dick Stigman, [18]Bill Bethea and myself flew two at a
time to the stadium. I think we only had about 15,000 for the game
because of the flood. I was one out from a win, and [19]Cesar Tovar
dropped a little pop up, but he made up for that by knocking in the
winning run in the eleventh.

Paul Giel and Burnsville High School are misspelled, but it's interesting.
I had heard about the players being helicoptered in and wondered why they
didn't use a different bridge. Apparently it was the traffic jam resulting
from the Cedar Avenue bridge being closed. I was at that game with my dad,
grandma, and cousin - the beginning of the end of the great Yankees
dynasty. Mantle had led off the ninth with a single off Kaat and
pinch-runner Arturo Lopez got to second with two out when Tovar dropped the
pop up, allowing Lopez to score the tying run. Lopez then dropped a fly
ball to start the last of the 11th, setting up Tovar's game-winning hit.
That might have been the start of problems for Jim Bouton, who started for
the Yankees. He said he hurt his arm on such a cold day and never was the
same, leading him to the knuckleball and Ball Four. The game was on a
Monday and probably wouldn't have been played if it hadn't been the Opener.
During the game, the Twins announced that the game the next day was being
postponed because of the cold.

My dad took some good pictures, which I've dug up. One is of Kaat making
the first pitch of the season. Another is with Mantle at bat. Another is of
the construction of the double-decked grandstand in left field. Elston
Howard homered out there, and one of the construction workers got the ball.


Updated 05-31-2012 at 09:11 PM by stewthornley

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  1. John Bonnes's Avatar
    Thanks for sharing this Stew. I'll admit, I had never heard this story before. Having an eye-witness from the game is even more interesting. I love that you tied it to the Bouton injury and the bit about the construction worker is awesome.

    Any idea why the Cedar Avenue Bridge was closed? Spring flooding?

    Also, if you have digital images of those pictures, send them to me and I'll see if we can figure out a way to add them to the site. You could also add them to this entry, using the button that looks like a picture in the tool bar above.
  2. stewthornley's Avatar
    I'll send the photo of Mantle at bat, and I think I've scanned the construction photo. I don't think I've scanned the first-pitch photo, but I'll try and do that - first pitch of their pennant-winning season. Kaat said it was because of the rain, but I'm sure it was general flooding. That was a big year for the floods. I think there are still high-water marks on some places down there.
  3. Parker Hageman's Avatar

    The old Cedar Avenue bridge was very similar to the Old Bloomington Ferry Bridge or the 101 bridge in Shakopee -- low bridges that flood over regularly in the spring. As you can see in this picture, high waters on the Minnesota would block everyone in the south metro -- http://www.flickr.com/photos/23545272@N05/5575552255/.
  4. Seth Stohs's Avatar
    was there a different cedar avenue bridge at that time? when I lived in the cities and worked in eagan, I went over that ridge nearly every day. it's hard for me to imagine how high that water must have been or how much rain must have caused it to be out. this was a fun read. Like john said, I have never heard this story before. thank you so much for sharing it with us!
  5. John Bonnes's Avatar
    That's an awesome picture Parker. It explains a lot about the story. I'd completely forgotten that bridge ever existed.

    Kaat does a fair amount of speaking locally. I'd love to ask him to tell that story. I love how his "go to" solution was to call WCCO. Gawd, but they were massive in the 60s and 70s.
  6. Parker Hageman's Avatar
    "That's an awesome picture Parker. It explains a lot about the story. I'd completely forgotten that bridge ever existed."

    It still exists. Use to be a pedestrian bridge that I would bike across but now I believe it has been shut down completely to all traffic.
  7. Nick Nelson's Avatar
    Cool story Stew, thanks for sharing. I'd love to see the pictures you dug up.
  8. stewthornley's Avatar
    The picture of Mantle at bat and of the construction are now up there. Thanks, guys.
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