The joy in reading Dick Bremer's new book, at least for somebody of a certain vintage who grew up in Minnesota rooting for the state's big-league ballclub, is that so much of it is relatable. The Twins' television play-by-play broadcaster for more than 30 years, Bremer, is at heart a small-town Minnesota boy who listened to the team on the radio, watched the handful of available TV games and was intoxicated by his first visit to Metropolitan Stadium to see a game in person.
"It was the first time I experienced the smell specific to a big league ballpark, a wonderful blend of freshly mown grass, cotton candy, hot dogs, and beer," Bremer writes of that 1964 game against the Boston Red Sox in "Game Used: My Life in Stitches with the Minnesota Twins."
"There were greater days to follow," Bremer added, "but that day was, to that point in my life, the greatest ever."
There are hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans (and North Dakotans, South Dakotans and Iowans) who've lived that same experience and felt that same way about their first trip to a baseball stadium, whether it was the Met, Target Field or even, yes, the Metrodome. Some of us, decades after the first time, still get that thrill walking into a ballpark.
Maybe it is the shared background that makes Bremer's memoir such a fun distraction. And with the current goings on, we'll take all distractions we can get.
"When you write a memoir, hopefully you tell people things that resonate or that they connect to, not just stories about you," Bremer said in a podcast interview I did with him. "Other fans will remember their first time they went to Metropolitan Stadium or the first time they saw Harmon Killebrew. That was the intent and hopefully I succeeded."
(Listen to Mike McFeely's conversation with Dick Bremer in this podcast:)
The book was released in mid-March, meant to coincide with the run-up to the baseball season starting late in the month. The coronavirus pandemic put an end to that and forced the cancellation of Bremer's first Minnesota book signing, which was scheduled to be held in a bar in the tiny town of Dumont in the western part of the state.
That's where Bremer spent the formative years of his life, until he was 9, the adopted son of a Lutheran pastor and his wife. His first experience with live baseball was the local town-team Dumont Saints. The Twins of that era were incredible: Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Earl Battey, Rich Rollins and Bremer's favorite player, Bob Allison.
"You don't remember everything about your childhood. You do remember the significant parts of your childhood and for me that was Twins baseball," Bremer said.
The book recounts Bremer's life from Dumont to Missouri, to Staples, Minn., to St. Cloud State University and through his professional climb as a sports broadcaster. It's arranged in nine "innings" (instead of sections) and 108 "stitches" (instead of chapters). There are 108 stitches on a baseball, hence that figure.
Each "stitch" is a brief vignette from Bremer's life, mixing personal stories about himself or his family with baseball-related and Twins items. Bremer is wise enough to have more baseball than personal stories, but it is remarkable how often the Twins and his family intersect in his life. Bremer's style is self-deprecating, told from the perspective of a man who understands he tells the stories but isn't himself the story.
This is key: Bremer's stories are, for the most part, interesting. Not all sports broadcaster memoirs are. He's had enough experience rubbing shoulders with the greats to compile a catalog of stories and has test-driven them enough times emceeing banquets that he can separate the interesting from the not-so-much.
The brevity of the stories helps, too.
"I thought it would be a good format for the book, to make it easy to pick up because there wasn't going to be a commitment to spend 25 minutes reading a chapter," Bremer said.
You won't find any titillating tales, but Bremer does share some insight into past Twins teams that might surprise even the most die-hard of fans. One talented squad, for example, was fractured in the clubhouse in part because a deeply religious high-profile player believed the Rapture was going to occur on a specific date during the season.
Bremer, too, shares a story about the time he, as a reporter covering a high school tournament, might've have instituted the first instant replay in sports history.
Most of his recollections about the Twins allow the reader to travel back in time and relive the franchise's high moments since the mid-1980s. Sometimes, he jogs a memory. For me, it was Bremer's re-telling of the Twins' final home regular-season game in 1987 that had me searching Google and YouTube for video of that extraordinary contest against the Kansas City Royals.
It's easy to recall what happened in the 1987 postseason, but do you remember what happened in that game?
If you don't, take time during this pandemic shutdown to read Bremer's book. You'll be reminded of it, and the general wonderfulness of baseball. That's not a bad thing during these strange times.