See more of the story

Opinion editor's note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day. To contribute, click here.


1965. The baseball summer of all baseball summers.

That year, our Babe Ruth team, the "Suburban Pavers," was good and all the better because of Coach Petrie and Coach McKay.

In the team photo, Coach Petrie is in the back row, smiling his cocky all-American smile, hands tucked inside his back pockets. To us kids (he was just 27 at the time) he was the quintessential baseball guy: sleeves pushed above the elbows, a navy pullover windbreaker collar turned upward, always shouldering a bat and always chewing his wad of Spearmint. He was all baseball.

So was Coach McKay. He couldn't walk. He slouched in his wheelchair. His arms and legs spasmed. It was hard to decipher his speech. At our first practice that year, when Coach Petrie drove up to the first base line and carried Coach McKay from the front seat to his wheelchair, I froze. The unexpected juxtaposition of the baseball diamond (my safe haven, my home away from home) with a man leaning crookedly in a wheelchair unnerved me.

To me, Coach McKay had invaded my heaven-on-earth. I suppose that's because back then we rarely saw and for sure never spoke with anyone with a disability. At my school, "special ed" kids were tucked away in a room at the end of the hall next to the locker rooms; they ate their lunches separated from us.

Coach Petrie gathered us and said, "Fellas, meet Coach McKay. Listen to him. He knows more about baseball than anyone I know."

He was right. Not only was Coach McKay a baseball encyclopedia, he corrected my herky-jerky pitching motion and insisted we behave and play with class. During games Coach Petrie let McKay position our defense with his odd yelps and flaying arms. Over time we came to like how the umpires and our opponents were patient with the additional time that took and how at the end of each game one of us would push Coach McKay's wheelchair through the "good game" line and the other team's players high-fived with him.

That same summer Minnesota hosted the major league All-Star Game. A few of my teammates' dads got tickets, and for a while that's all we talked about — ad nauseam. Until Coach McKay got angry and reminded us about the other guys whose dads didn't or couldn't get them tickets.

I don't remember much about the game, but I know I choked up when Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and the other all-stars lined up along the first and third base lines in their own iconic team uniforms, set against the backdrop of the fans' summer whites and Met Stadium's gorgeously green grass.

Dad bought two souvenir programs. One was for me; the other he saved for Coach McKay.

And then the World Series. Twins vs. Dodgers. Game One was to be played Oct. 6. But in 1965 that was was also Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

I'm sitting with my buddies in the synagogue sanctuary. But this time, there's no fooling around among us. Not today. We have to fast to atone for our sins, and no radio or television, all day. We don't dare sneak snacks into this interminably long service or smuggle transistor radios in our suit pockets, even for Game One.

Not today.

But while our congregation is standing during "silent devotion," I feel an urgent tap on my shoulder. It's Dad. I'm thinking the worst. Something must have happened to Grandma Ida or Grandpa Mike or Gramp Charlie or Grammie Minnie. Dad directs me to follow him with his index finger. I remember my friend's quizzical looks. They aren't sure if they should think the worst or envy me, since there's still another excruciating hour until the service ends.

In the foyer, Dad whispers, "C'mon." I say, "What's wrong?" He says, "C'mon. Hurry up."

When we're in our car, he reaches inside his suit and takes out the two tickets: World Series. Game One. 1:00 PM. $6.00.

"Where'd you get these?"

"Never mind. It's a long story."

"Are we gonna get in trouble? It's Yom Kippur." I'm scared.

We're sitting in the left field bleachers in our High Holiday suits. The sky is beautifully blue, the temperature in the 70s. But I'm guilt-ridden. All the more because Dodger phenom Sandy Koufax, a Jew, has refused to pitch today. When the Dodgers won the National League pennant a few days earlier, he announced to the world, "A man is entitled to his belief and I believe I should not work on Yom Kippur." Rabbis everywhere, including ours, praised Koufax, some in their sermons that day.

Dad senses I'm a mess and puts his arm around my shoulders, which he's never done before. "It's OK. It's the World Series."

He buys two hot dogs and hands me one.

"Don't tell your mother."

Dick Schwartz lives in Minneapolis.