The eternal boy of summer

Bob Lundegaard at Target Field: “I’ve kind of fallen in love with the place.” Photo by Jim Walsh
Bob Lundegaard at Target Field: “I’ve kind of fallen in love with the place.” Photo by Jim Walsh

There are 40 tour guides at Target Field, but if you’re lucky, you’ll get Bob Lundegaard, an 86-year-old lifelong Twins historian who fell in love with baseball and baseball stadiums as a kid growing up in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.

“I’m a diehard baseball fan,” says Lundegaard, who lives in Eden Prairie and raised his family in South Minneapolis. “The A’s and the Phillies played in the same park in Philadelphia, Shibe Park. Virtually every Sunday I went to Shibe Park and saw the best players in both leagues. It was a wonderful era. I saw [Joe] DiMaggio, [Ted] Williams, [Stan] Musial, Warren Spahn.

“In 1947, I went to a Sunday doubleheader against the [Brooklyn] Dodgers, and it was Jackie Robinson’s first appearance in Philadelphia. The ballpark, which seated 34,000, had 41,000 that day, and I would gather that excess were blacks. It was unbelievable.”

Call Lundegaard the eternal boy of summer. Several days a month he can be found at Target Field, leading $17-a-head public tours that fly under the radar of most Twins fans but come highly recommended to baseball buffs with a sense of history.

Ballparks have a romance all their own, and no matter how bad the Twins are playing, Target Field remains a gorgeous shrine to baseball. Lundegaard’s tour comes with both his smarts and stand-up comedy act (“The ticket says the tours are an hour and a half, but I usually warn people at the beginning that sometimes mine last a little longer, depending on how long it takes for the laughter to subside,” he says), along with the sheer joy of being in the physical presence of scads of cool Twins memorabilia; the delicious anticipation of the end-of-tour walk behind home plate and sitting in the dug-outs and a rare chance to go to baseball church, away from the numbers.

“Being in an empty stadium is kind of eerie, but beautiful in it’s own way,” says Lundegaard, as we watch two Twins ballplayers play catch on the pristine and otherwise vacant field. This morning, the Lundegaard-led tour is one of a couple in progress, including a few school groups. Kids in Twins T-shirts and jerseys, many of whom are around the same age Lundegaard was when he first discovered the game, shuffle around the stadium concourse with wide eyes.

“Having fun yet?” Lundegaard chirps to one boy racing past us, who responds with an affirmative whoop. “’Atta boy,” says the tour guide, like a first base coach rooting on one of his runners. His enthusiasm has undoubtedly been infectious to the thousands of Twins fans he’s preached the gospel of baseball to since he first started leading tours in 2010, the year Target Field opened, after a fellow senior softball player and tour guide put out a recruiting call.

“He said, ‘You need to like baseball and you need to be a good bull (bleeper),’ and I raised both hands,” cracks Lundegaard, a font of baseball knowledge on philosophy, stadiums, trivia and players’ histories. “About a half-dozen of us took him up on it and became sort of the core of the guide system. We showed so much enthusiasm for it that another half-dozen joined the next year. In my biased opinion, they are among the best tour guides because being elderly and in love with baseball, they bring a lot of perspective.”

Lundegaard’s father was a soccer-loving immigrant from Denmark who took his son to his first baseball game at 10 years old. The love of the game stuck and followed Bob to Minneapolis, where he wrote general interest stories, film reviews and covered the University of Minnesota for the Minneapolis Tribune.

“I moved to Minneapolis in 1959, the year before the Twins and the Guthrie [Theater] got here,” he says. “I regarded it as a minor-league town and thought I’d work at the Tribune and go back East. But I fell in love with the area so much, and I just thought, ‘This is a wonderful place to raise a family.’ So I stayed.”

Today the baseball-loving Lundegaard family includes Bob’s daughter Karen, a writer and editor at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and Erik, a writer and editor for Thompson Reuters and Super Lawyers in Seattle.

“It’s funny, because I’d come home from work swearing, but obviously it didn’t make an impression,” cracks Bob. “Talk about the apple not falling far from the tree, it’s ridiculous. And they’re both very talented.

“I almost never went to the Metrodome, but we liked Met Stadium and we enjoyed many afternoons at the park. The thing that really galls me about Erik is that he adopted a lot of the interests that I had as a career, but he’s better at them than I am. He’s a better writer, and he knows a lot more about movies than I do, and I hate to say it, but I think he knows almost as much about baseball as I do. We have a lot of very interesting conversations about the game.”

To be sure, as his kids will tell you, Bob Lundegaard is a character — in real life and on the big screen.

“My main claim to fame was that I was a movie critic, and a character in the movie ‘Fargo’ [William H. Macy as Jerry Lundegaard] was named for me,” he says, standing in front of a massive Tony Oliva mural. “The movie actually came out after I had retired, but I was invited to the local screening, and I went up to one of the [Cohen] brothers after the screening and I said, ‘My lawyers will see you in the morning.’ He shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Very common name.’ Which is hilarious. In the regular phone book then, I was the only Lundegaard spelled that way in the Twin Cities — double ‘a’; the second ‘a’ makes it Danish. Like Kierkegaard.”

That’s the kind of yarn you get when you’re on tour with “Bob L.” (as his nametag has it), along with stories about Willie Mays and Ted Williams playing for the Minneapolis Millers; Babe Ruth playing “in a barnstorm in St. Paul”; the story of the Minneapolis Millerettes, the professional women’s baseball team that played for one season and served as inspiration for the movie “A League of Their Own”; the history of the Minnie and Paul sign in centerfield; and the meaning behind the plaques, trophies, bases, relics and other holy objects from Met Stadium and the Metrodome, where the Twins won world championships in 1987 and 1991.

“Almost every team likes to glory in its history,” says Lundegaard, but the truth is that it requires fans, history buffs and stalwart keepers of tradition like him to fan the flame. “Baseball fans are more knowledgeable about their teams and their history, more than any other sport by far,” he says. “I mean, who remembers what the Vikings did five years ago?”

Lundegaard remembers so much baseball history it’s hard to believe he’s not an app — which suggests that a lifetime of reading, poring over stats and going to games keeps the mind sharp. “I think it’s inherited,” he says. “My mother was very sharp. She remembered a lot of things.”

Throughout the tour, Lundegaard’s reverence for Twins players of the past is evident, most notably Oliva, Kirby Puckett, Cesar Tovar, Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew. We pause for a moment of silence in front of a giant Puckett woodcutting, linger at Kirby’s Hall of Fame replica plaque, stop in the Herb Carneal press box, gawk at the case holding memorabilia from Paul McCartney’s unforgettable 2014 Target Field concert and end up in the visitor’s locker room, where the smell of ballplayers’ sweat melds with the aroma of hot dogs, ketchup, mustard, beer and freshly-cut grass.

The tour concludes down on the empty diamond, where Lundegaard surveys a barrel of infield grass clippings. He looks out at the downtown Minneapolis horizon from home plate, puts his hands on his hips and checks the cloudy blue sky for chances of rain. Somewhere an umpire is yelling, “Play ball!” But for the moment Target Field is quiet, and gloriously so.

“They’ve done a wonderful job of creating a ballpark that’s very, very attractive,” he says. “I’ve kind of fallen in love with the place.”

 

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at jimwalsh086@gmail.com.

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