It was a record 90 degrees at Metropolitan Stadium when the Minnesota Twins opened their home baseball season April 22, 1980.
The math should have been simple: 36,000 fans + 90 degrees = extra beer vendors.
Also in the equation: Every college kid in the Twin Cities would skip class. The drinking age was 19.
The Met was a frowzy joint in 1980, a year from its final season. The team opened that Tuesday in Bloomington, Minn., against an imposing California Angels’ right-hander named David Frost, who had pitched better than teammate Nolan Ryan the year before.
A man named Frost throwing on a 90-degree April day in Minnesota amused the easily amused among more than 36,000 fans. The amusement was short lived.
By the seventh inning, the chant, “We Want Beer! We Want Beer!” drowned out “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at one of the more memorable season openers anyone was ever taken out to.
A mediocre ball club
The Twins had spent the 1970s playing .500 baseball, so it was no surprise when Twins’ starting pitcher Geoff Zahn gave up a first-inning run.
Zahn got his job with the Twins through worship. Coming off elbow surgery, unemployed and living in California in the winter of 1976, he ran into Twins’ infielder Jerry Terrell at church and said he needed a job.
Zahn was a curly-haired, soft-tossing left-hander who had added a changeup to a sinking fastball. By 1980, he had nearly 40 wins in three seasons with the Twins at age 34.
A less determined man of his age might have contemplated a career in the hospitality industry, and that’s where help was needed on this day.
The Twins took a 2-1 lead on a long home run to right by Roy Smalley in the bottom of the first. Frost, a 6-foot-6 right-hander had grown up pitching to his father, a polio victim who caught his son from a wheelchair. The 27-year-old made it through five innings.
Our friend Denny made it through one. A tall, preternaturally observant man who would have advised Custer to turn around, Denny rose from his seat. He had, wordlessly, recognized the vendors faced a demanding performance.
Man with a vision
We chased after Denny as he split the crowd and threaded through most of the left field stands before reaching a vendor and his empty tray.
The vendor vanished. He had disappeared into a clot of fans who stood eight deep in a semicircle around a workers-only stairwell that he had descended to get more beer.
We halted behind Denny and looked at that crowd. It was like being late arrivals to the lifeboat queue on the Titanic.
Vendors were the only source of refreshment in the isolated left field stands at the dated, gerrymandered Met, which averaged 10,000 fans a game. There were no concession stands.
The overwhelmed vendors in left field never got beyond the stairs after the first inning. They knelt near the top and set their 30-pound trays of beer bottles on the landing.
It was not elegant
Bottle caps scattered on the concrete as vendors popped and poured beers two at a time. A couple of ounces streamed down the sides of each cup, leaving 2 inches of foam at the rim. Dozens of fists with curled bills were thrust at them.
If there’s an art to pouring a beer it was not on display, yet no one complained about depleted carbonation. Fragrant notes of yeast swirled in the hot air.
The second deck shielded our crowd from the sun. We could see a pie-shaped slice of the field. The Angels were pounding Geoff Zahn’s pitches into the ground as he retired 13 in a row. Every now and then the crowd roared.
Who knew? There were no TVs every 50 feet. There were none at all.
No one made good on someone’s suggestion to lick the beer-soaked steps.
Spanning a snappy 2½ hours the Twins played errorless ball, no small feat behind a ground-ball pitcher on the lumpiest ballpark infield in the game. Minnesota won 8-1 on 13 hits. Geoff Zahn faced five men over the minimum.
If you weren’t there, you saw as much of the game as we did.
The Minnesota Twins open the 2021 season on the road Thursday in Milwaukee. Their home opener is a week later, on April 8.