My brother and I were new to the neighborhood, fresh off a move from San Diego, when we saw a group of kids who were our age playing Wiffle ball a few houses down.
A few rocks marked the bases. There was no fence to hit homers, but plenty of space to play across the multiple backyards.
That was my introduction to Minnesota at 7 years old.
A couple of decades later, baseball remains at the forefront of my life. After a decade away from the winters, and five-plus seasons covering the Reds for the Cincinnati Enquirer, I'm returning to Minnesota to cover the Twins for the Star Tribune and joining Phil Miller on the beat.
It was baseball that led me to some of my best friends over the years, including one who gladly let my brother and me join the neighborhood Wiffle ball game. My dad is a longtime baseball columnist for USA Today, so in some ways, baseball is the family business.
Through my dad, I always felt a close connection to the sport. I often heard him talking on the phone with Peter Gammons, someone I watched regularly on ESPN's "Baseball Tonight." Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds' infamous trainer, was actually the first person to show me how to lift weights. Almost all my spring breaks in college were trips to Arizona to visit my dad and watch spring training games for a week.
My first job in sports was an internship with a minor league baseball team in Peoria, Ill. Long hours, some late-night tarp pulls and a great introduction to professional baseball. The first time I walked into a bar was when Greg Maddux, then a Cubs consultant who visited their minor league teams, invited a few people to join him after a game one night (no ID is required when you walk in with a Hall of Famer).
Baseball has a funny way of bringing things full circle. When I was in the seventh grade, my mom entered me in a drawing to ask a question to a Twins player on the Fox Sports pregame show. I picked LaTroy Hawkins, who technically became the first pro athlete I ever interviewed. I asked him who he would invite to dinner if he could invite any three people (Fergie Jenkins was his first answer) and afterward he gave me my first tour of an MLB clubhouse.
When I flew to Arizona for spring training this year the day after the Super Bowl was held there, Hawkins was one of the first people I saw, celebrating Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs' title.
Another full circle moment: I went to the MLB All-Star Game in Pittsburgh in 2006 with an uncle and a cousin. We sat a few rows from the top in the PNC Park upper deck, and Jim Leyland was sitting in the row in front of us with his daughter. My first job out of college was an internship with MLB.com where I covered the Tigers in Leyland's last season as a manager.
The Star Tribune was the newspaper I grew up reading — my mom worked here for most of my childhood — and it was a daily race to grab it in the mornings, especially the sports sections. If my brother or sister beat me to it before school, I'd make a trip to the school's library to grab another copy.
There were times when my mom brought me to the Star Tribune's newsroom before I attended games at the Metrodome, the easiest way to bring me downtown without a separate commute. I remember always asking where the sports writers sat.
The newsroom is in a different building now, but once again, baseball found a way to give me another full-circle moment.