A Look Back At Minn.’s First All-Star Game, As Told By Tony Oliva
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Four years after the Twins arrived in the land of 10,000 lakes, Minnesota was the center of the baseball universe. Nearly 50,000 fans crammed into Metropolitan Stadium to watch the All-Star game.
“It brings me a lot of memories,” Tony Oliva said.
The Twins legend was just a kid back then, in his second pro season.
“I was skinny. I used to fly,” he said. “I tell my kids I used to fly. They don’t believe me, you know?”
Forty-nine years later, Oliva’s wit is just as quick, and his memory of that game is pretty sharp.
“You see the Willie Mays, the Hank Aaron, the Clemente, the Mickey Mantle, the Killebrew,” he said. “All those guys, and you’re a part. You know, when you hit the field, when you walk on the ground, you don’t feel like you touch the ground. You feel like you’re in the air, flying, you know? It’s something special.”
The Twins were well-represented then, with six All-Stars.
“To be in the All-Star Game — at home — is something special,” Oliva said.
He said Zoilo Versalles was one of the best shortstops in the game, and Harmon Killebrew was a powerhouse.
“Killebrew, he was too nice to be a baseball player,” Oliva said. “All the time, he tried to help you to get better.”
“He was a very consistent guy,” Oliva said.
Jim “Mudcat” Grant?
“A lot of fun,” Oliva said. “He keep you loose.”
And Earl Battey, the starting AL catcher?
“He was the best catcher in baseball,” Oliva said.
As it happened, the National League jumped out to a 5-0 lead.
But Killebrew led a comeback.
“That was very exciting,” Oliva said, “when he hit the home run that tied the game.”
But the National League answered back in the 7th. Ron Santo hit a chopper, and beat it out.
Leading off the bottom of the 9th, Oliva himself was the American League’s last hope.
“I hit that ball so hard to left center,” Oliva said. “I was lucky because, in those days, you go to All-Star Game, you had to face some nasty pitching.”
But Bob Gibson struck out Joe Pepitone to end the game, leaving Oliva stranded at second.
The National League won.
But the real winner was the Twin Cities, which showed the nation that Minnesota had arrived as a big league baseball market.
“Today,” Oliva said, “it’s nice to be able to remember and talk about.”