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Jim Johnson: How Hawking Hot Dogs in the MLB Changed My Life

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
January 18, 2023 3:02 am

Jim Johnson: How Hawking Hot Dogs in the MLB Changed My Life

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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January 18, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Jim Johnson wowed our listeners back in December with his story, “Everett's Last Christmas Carol.” We asked if had another story to share.

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Learn more about the science behind the weight loss at This is Our American Stories, and our next story is brought to us by a listener. Kim Johnson was a longtime pastor who lives in Rogers, Minnesota. Pastor Jim wowed our listeners back in December with his story, Everett's Last Christmas Carol. We asked if he had another story to share with our listeners, and here he is again.

Here's Pastor Jim. Somewhere around row 22, section three in the left field bleachers in Bloomington, Minnesota, at the now leveled Metropolitan Stadium, the old Met, as we called it, where the Twins used to play between 1961 and 1981. There it was that I learned a harsh, cruel lesson about life. I learned a lot of lessons about life, but that day culminated them all together.

It's been 41 years since then, August of 1979. Back then, I was involved in professional organized baseball. I even made it to the major leagues.

It was big money for me, surrounded by fans, people trying to get my attention. The Twins owner signed my checks, and it was more cash than I could fathom. But it was, however, not as a left fielder that I made my name for the Minnesota Twins. I did play baseball, but not for the Twins.

I was only a high school player for the Kennedy Eagles. My place in the majors was as a seller of hot dogs at the game. I started with soda and popcorn, then worked my way up to frosty malts and snow cones, but my highest levels were reached as a hot dog vendor. That was big time for me, selling Schweigert Tenderbite hot dogs, those sumptuous tubes I sold for a dollar, served up by a kid who would one day become Sports Illustrated writer Steve Rushin. He was then just a 14-year-old kid who forked boiled wieners and put them on buns for me, stuffed them in a wax paper package. And once in a while, the gifted SI journalist to be would fling one hot dog to me, seeing how hungry and sweaty I was. Every time I scrambled down the steps to Rushin's post in the commissary in center field behind the fence next to the scoreboard, Steve Rushin would fling a hot dog to keep me going.

I will never forget him for that gift. Baseball is good because of people like Steve Rushin, and because it's slow and dramatic and there's time to learn how to live life well. Baseball is played in a crowd in an artificially made city park, with people sitting on top of each other crowding into you, elbows and kneecaps a little too tight.

You see, baseball in a stadium with 20,000 or 30,000 or 45,000 people puts you in a different world. The smells, the sounds, the echoing crack of a Louisville slugger, the force of a Bob Casey announcer saying, now batting for the twins, number 29, the second baseman, Rod Carew. Or how he used to say in that buzzsaw voice, no smoking in the Metrodome, no smoking. And there you would see Ken Herbeck at first base while Casey crooned that anti-nicotine song. There was my Kennedy High School mate, our varsity eagle first baseman pitcher, pretending to smoke while Mr. Casey yelled, no smoking.

And Herbeck would wave his arms saying, no, you can't do that. And we loved it. That's what happens when you put 20-somethings in a stadium tucked inside a place with 2,500 fans or 25,000 fans and the noises and hot dogs and vendors, the players all blending together with the PA man, a symphony of sports and people and life. Something better happens when you give a 17-year-old a cooler of hot dogs and you point to the crowd and say, go sell these. You learn about the world selling hot dogs at a ball game. So now when I'm living with the rest of you during this global pandemic, I pine for the crowds and those days at the old Met.

I think about August 1st, 1979, when I learned about crowds and humility and revenge and hot dogs. The old Met was a hodgepodge patchwork of a sports venue, almost modular. The infield was made of black soil like it was from the Red River Valley of the north. It was a small stadium that could hold up to 45,000 people, even more for the Vikings games. But it was, well, a little backward.

But we loved it because it was ours. It was not New York. It was not L.A. It was not Chicago. It was not Wrigley. It was not St. Louis. Just old Met stadium built in Bloomington, Minnesota on an onion field next to the Minnesota River. Now it's the Mall of America, but then it was just a training ground for life. That day I muttered, hot dogs.

I was mad. Hot dogs. It was a hot day, so I would sell about 36, maybe 72 hot dogs.

That was it. While my friends during that hot knothole afternoon game would be making 20% commission on snow cones or malt cups by the hundred. I asked our commissary manager, Mr. Dillon, the cigar smoking vendor boss if maybe, just maybe, just for a Wednesday day game with 83 degree heat. For a Twins game against the Oakland A's if I could sell 75 cent malt cups or snow cones instead of hot hot hot dogs. Dillon, to my incredulity, said, no, sell hot dogs.

What, I said, come on. I'm a hot dog vendor. I'm an upper class sales rep. It was not quite beer vendor level, but way above the soda hawkers and the lads selling popcorn. Hot dog vendors had status.

We could cry out with our throats wide open. The veteran first team major league Schweigert vendors, hot dogs, get your hot dogs here. It was the rookies who had no choices. Peanuts, yes, they had clout, but hot dog vendors were supposed to get their way, so I asked Dillon if I could sell snow cones.

But he said, no, we're not going to do that. On an out-hole Wednesday at 3 p.m. with only 5,711 fans in the park that day, selling for a team that would draw the fewest fans of any team in the American League that year, an average of 9,900 fans per game. Those poorly middling twins were letting go of all their stars because Mr. Griffith was too tight to pay them and the fans stayed away in droves. We in turn were destined to watch players like Rick Sofield and Willie Norwood instead of Larry Heisel and Greg Nettles and Lyman Bostock and Rod Carew. The crowds were so thin, so we figured if we showed up on a sweltering 83 day to sell hot dogs, we could at least sell something cold.

But Dillon said, no chance. And that ticked me off. So my coworking underlings, players 1 through 299, were selling cold items and making big fat coin. And I would be selling steaming hot dogs to little children who did not want to eat something hot and maybe make $14 for the day.

That was wrong. Hot dogs, I growled. To top it off, section 3 was filled with little children, tiny humans with small coins and no desire to eat hot Schweiger tender bites. They crowded the aisles in such a way that I couldn't get to my spot. At the old Met, the high school vendors all staked their claim. This guy in the third base seats, that guy in the second deck behind home, but I and my gentle giant friend Gunner, that six foot four first base backup to Kent Herbeck at Kennedy High School.

Gunner and I would claim the first deck of left field. We owned it. It was ours.

It was our unquestioned capitalist domestic domain. But those knothole kids got in for free with an adult who paid three dollars for a ticket. And any old guy who paid that little for a ticket was not going to spend a dollar for the junior knothole kids he crowded into his Ford Galaxy for a free knothole game on an 83 degree day in Minnesota.

So that was my mindset going into row 32 that August first day. During the middle of the first inning, then and there I decided I was going to have my way. I decided to break vendors code rules.

Yes, I was mad so I could do it. Rule number one for vendors was always never walk on the bleacher seat backs. And you're listening to Jim Johnson. When we return, Jim Johnson's story continues here on our American stories. The NFL playoff action continues. We're one step closer to Super Bowl 57. And for the NFL divisional round, check out DraftKings Sportsbook and official sports betting partner of the NFL. New customers can bet just $5 and get $200 in free bets instantly. Download the DraftKings Sportsbook app and use code timer. New customers can bet $5 on the NFL divisional round and get $200 in free bets instantly. That's promo code timer only at DraftKings Sportsbook 21 and over in most eligible states but age varies by jurisdiction eligibility restrictions apply.

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And with Jim Johnson, let's pick up where he last left off. During the middle of the first inning, then and there, I decided I was going to have my way. I decided to break vendor's code rules.

Yes, I was mad so I could do it. Rule number one for vendors was always, never walk on the bleacher seat backs. Unthinkable.

You have to walk down the aisle. But no, I said, like Herbie Brooks, the passionate, Minnesota-born St. Paul side coach of the Gophers and Team USA hockey. Not today. Not tonight. I was sick and tired of kids and crowds and sick and tired of hearing how people had to follow the rules. So I was cruising down those bleacher back steps. Row 22, row 21. And I was carrying my 36 hot dogs in a candy apple plastic tub. My vendor number 311 button flapping on my hat.

My crisp linen vendor shirt. My coin apron clanking and clinking down the aisle with me. And I was feeling good. I was feeling right.

All the way down row 25, 24, 23. I was going great. My athletic poise carrying the day.

Not a worry. But then came row 22 and there my ankle turned on the top of that bleacher. My Nike high top twisted and my left knee wrenched itself between seats 14 and 15. My chest heaved into row 21 and my hot dog cooler popped and bounced onto rows 19 and 20.

My wax paper baggies spilled out schweigert tinder bites and they slinkied and wobbled between seats 12 and 13 and 15. Coins from my apron sprinkled and chinkled and rolled and little knothole children, those thieves pounced on my quarters four dollars worth of them and liberated them from my care. One wiener splunged underneath my foot and a teenage kid, some gear head with orange hair pointed and stared and said, ha, look at that.

Look at that kid. His friends laughed hard and they pointed at me with their fingers at my vulnerable position and laughed like mockers and scoffers. Some hot dogs escaped while I picked up my coins. My red face with anger looking back at them and watching those preadolescent pirates scooping up my change and it was all gone. It was there I realized, yes, you have to pay for your misdeeds.

Some people get away for their disorder, but not me. It was there that I realized there is no true justice in this world, in this dark, dark planet. Unlike what I learned in elementary school in Bloomington, Minnesota, in the lower class suburbs or in Sunday school at the Lutheran Church, I learned that we are not all family. We are not all brothers and sisters, are we? We are not like Neil Diamond sang, hands touching hands, reaching out, touching me, touching you. That's not true, is it, sweet Caroline?

No, my friends, we are cheaters and thieves and out to get the goods and no, we are not going to all wear masks and stay home and ride the coronavirus out. We are going to take what is ours and point and laugh at the man with the hot dogs stumbling over row 22 and 21 at the Met Stadium. You know, such cold hard truths you can only learn personally and I learned them at the old Met Stadium. Now I'm a Lutheran pastor, the father of nine children, the grandfather of seven. I've pastored souls in Northern Minnesota and I have cared for parishioners in Southern California too. Now I'm a coach and advisor to 20 pastors of new churches all across America and I'm a friend and father to seven adult children and two teenagers.

And what I really want to tell them is summarized in five words. Guard your hot dogs, bub. A Scandinavian American Anglo guy can have heroes and they were people of all races and all creeds, every class. We respected Muhammad Ali from Kentucky, but he really was from the whole world. We wished we were Tony Oliva, the Cuban and Ken Landrieu, the Angelino from LA. We adored Kirby Puckett and we loved Ozzie Smith from Watts and Rod Carew was from New York, but they were all ours. They were Minnesota Twins. They were baseball players and they belong to us. We imitated them. We swung like them and that's good because it's baseball in a crowd, in an artificially made city park with people sitting on top of each other. During the COVID season you think about times like that and you wish we could learn to get along better. We could learn to get along and follow the rules and put on a mask or watch from home and don't sing in front of a big crowd of people and spread your germs for Pete's sake. Don't smoke, not in the Metrodome or anywhere else.

But now I'm living with the rest of you during this global pandemic and I pine for those simpler days and the crowds and everything I learned from what I'm missing today. I remember one day selling hot dogs on the other side of the stadium when the Yankees were playing the Twins in a night game at the old Met. I wandered away from left field and was selling on the second deck side, infield, by first base. Everybody stopped selling and the fans stood up when Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson stepped into the box. When the Yankees came to the Met it was always a sellout or nearly so. The usually empty seats would fill with over 40,000 fans. They came to see mostly Reggie Jackson or to jeer him.

Doug Corbett was the reliever. 20,000 voices yelled hoping Doug Corbett would strike Reggie Jackson out. Jackson was controversial and lovable and hateable all at once because he enjoyed himself and loved to hit that little round ball as far and hard as he could. Like Muhammad Ali he was the straw that stirred the drink or like I would tell my little grandchildren, the popsicle stick that stirs the hot chocolate. Once Jackson said, I don't come to New York to become a star.

I brought my star with me. We loved him for saying that and we knew it was true. He also famously said after Jackie Robinson referring to the first black player to break into the major leagues. After Jackie Robinson the most important black player in baseball is Reggie Jackson and he added I really mean that. But my favorite quote of all time from Mr. October is how he described dealing with defeat. I was reminded Jackson said, when I lose or strike out a billion people in China don't care.

I think that's about the way it is. That day at the old Met I put down my hot dog cooler and just watched Jackson with two men on base and the Yankees down by two facing Corbett and the 40,000 Minnesotans in the eighth inning. He turned and twisted on the first pitch missing wildly and we all laughed as the umpire called strike one. He swung with as much gusto as that red headed bozo who laughed at me when I tripped on row 22. Yes we yelled strike him out get him. The second pitch was a curve ball and Jackson flailed again spinning on his heels falling on his ripe hip sprawling into the dirt. Oh how we jeered.

Victory was so sweet we thought. Two strikes on Reggie Jackson and then came three wasted pitches and Jackson watched them all and waited for the three to pitch and you're listening to Jim Johnson in Minneapolis. He's also a pastor as he mentioned and by the way to hear his story that he lasted with us Everett's last Christmas Carol go to our American stories dot com and in the search bar just put in his name. But my goodness I love that term pre adolescent pirates because you could see those kids just scurrying around stealing every last quarter nickel and dime.

Yes you do pay for your misdeeds. He learned when we come back more of this terrific storyteller and my goodness we have so many across our country so many of you the listeners are actually our very best storytellers right up there with the best authors and the most famous storytellers in this great country. Jim Johnson's story continues here on our American stories. The NFL playoff action continues. We're one step closer to Super Bowl fifty seven and for the NFL divisional round. Check out DraftKings Sportsbook an official sports betting partner of the NFL. New customers can bet just five dollars and get two hundred dollars in free bets instantly. Download the DraftKings Sportsbook app and use code timer. New customers can bet five dollars on the NFL divisional round and get two hundred dollars in free bets instantly. That's promo code timer only at DraftKings Sportsbook.

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Once again, that's 855-933-5252. And we continue with our American stories and Jim Johnson's story. Let's pick up where we last left off. When it came, Jackson spun and the bat cracked and the ball sailed into the ether.

It became as small in the sky as a tiny aspirin. It soared into the right field bleachers and strangely we all cheered for him. Even the Twins fans. To watch a man love adversity, stand up there and swing at all his enemies, devil may care, he sends a baseball into obscurity and he trots around the bases with a half smile and a victor's jog. Oh how we loved him. Jackson once said he prays before a homer and he tells the Lord, he says, please God let me hit one.

I'll tell everyone you did it. That suits me just about fine. Back in lower middle class Bloomington, I learned at the Met that there is no utopia.

Everything comes for free. There was no room for everybody to worry about not getting treated right. People on the bottom can rise up and learn. There's room for the tall and the proud to fall and there's room for the lower bottom feeders to rise up. Those are the low down truths. If they say to sell hot dogs, sell hot dogs and smile.

If you spill some mustard, rub it on your pants and wash your hands and keep going. My favorite vendor was an aging black man named Pabst. He sold beer, which I did not do or drink to this day, but I admired how Pabst sold it. He was at least 75 years old and he smoked a pipe while he sold. He weighed about 250 pounds and he sweat and smiled and carried his 40 pound boxes of Schlitz or grain belt or Pabst blue ribbon and when he sold he did not yell. He confidently smiled a half smile like Reggie Jackson and often sat down with the fans, took a break. He wore this rainbow colored umbrella type hat and he talked and he spoke really soft saying, hey, cold beer, he said, so refreshing. Pabst was living life and enjoying it and everybody loved him. He was a laid back man of confidence and love and oh, how I wish I had those gifts.

Fans loved to buy from Pabst. Also at the Met, there was a score book vendor named Donnie. He had Down's Syndrome as I recall. His glasses were usually crooked and his shirt usually rode up too high up his back.

His pants were loose so you saw the top of his sweaty behind above the band of his underwear. We didn't look too close over there, but I learned to look really close at his face. Donnie was into it and he loved his job.

Twin scorecard here, get your scorecard. He drooled a little, but that was okay. We learned to accept it. There is dignity in work and showing up to sell programs was Donnie's work. Hi, Donnie, I learned to say to him. I learned to treat him with honor. I learned everybody counts.

I learned God loves them all and he loves you too. I also learned as a vendor about competition. One day during a Vikings game, Tom Vandervoort, vendor number 322 got too close to Doug Janzig, vendor 346. At halftime, we learned to order a double or a triple load of 72 hot dogs or 108 cramming them into our cooler and then we would stand at the back of the line where the fans waited at the concession stand, maybe eight or nine people deep. We opened up the cooler, let the smell just waft out and then we looked at the people waiting in the back and we would coo to them, hot dogs here, get your hot dogs. And on a cold day, you could sell about 90 hot dogs in about five minutes, but you had to stake your claim and take your spot at the back of that concession stand. On one fateful Saturday night, vendor 322 placed his cooler adjacent to Janzig, vendor 346. A turf war ensued.

Hey, get your hot dogs here, vendor 346. A turf war ensued. Hey, get out of my spot, said Doug. Forget it, said Tom. Move out of here, said Doug. No, you move, said Tom.

Hard words grew into curses and curses became threats and then came the ultimate. The yellow mustard bottle was pointed. Get out of here, squirt, squirt. Tom responded, what are you doing?

Squirt, squirt, squirt. Before it was over, all 200 dogs were unsold and two vendors were covered with mustard. It was like a moment of eminent domain against free markets, competition against first come, first served. And in the end, two vendors battled it out and both lost.

Two competitors that day were done selling. You know, in this world, at the old Met and in this life, you got to learn to get along. Isn't that part of what we're learning today? During this crisis, we have the mask people and the non-maskers, the closer downs against the let it be and live your lifers. It's us against them. It's the haves versus the have nots.

It's the rioters against law and order. It's sometimes deadly and it's sometimes just fine. But somehow, some way, we have to learn to get along.

Like Reggie Jackson prayed it, please God, let me hit this one out. Let's get through this with love and patience and confidence and joy. We'll do our best and learn not to fight. We'll try to get along. We'll sell our hot dogs.

We'll learn to love the poor man selling scorecards and we'll try to keep the mustard bottles to ourselves. During this COVID crisis, this great lockdown, the sports shutdown, I listen to WCCO, The Good Neighbor to the Great Northwest. And I listen to the old games. I hear Corey Provis and Dan Gladden and I smile. Or I tune in and hear Tim Gordon or Herb Carniel from days before.

And I wish, man, I wish I was selling hot dogs again. They're starting up the baseball season again, but what's baseball without the crowds? Well, it's still baseball, I suppose. My mom would have been watching it.

She was a devoted fan. But twins games without hot dog sales? Yeah, I think we can do it, but I still smell it good and real when I think about it and wish for better days.

When the new season starts, I will watch it. It's baseball and it makes me feel good. It makes me remember Donnie the vendor and Steve Russian flipping me a hot dog from behind a commissary counter and it reminds me of Reggie Jackson. It reminds me of Kirby Puckett and those great rare athletes, black and white, Latino or Californians, unusual people who can show up for work every day who learn to slap a curveball to the opposite field and sling an inside cutter down the left field line or stroke a high fastball up the middle or drive a towering fly ball way back, way back over the left field fence. They do things so few athletes can do and I'll love them and admire them and I'll watch them hit it hard driving it like Kirby Puckett who always said, see the ball, hit the ball, or like Nelson Cruz gripping and ripping those bomba homers, all wrist, all out as the twins did last year.

307 home runs in one year, one more than the Yankees. How good did that feel? It felt like justice to me. So what did I learn on August 1, 1979 and what happened to those hot dogs?

Well, let's be real and let's be honest. That fall over row 22 to 19 was a beautiful day for learning humility and I did learn. You can't walk over the bleacher backs and you don't have to live your life worrying about selling snow cones or hot dogs. Just do what you're supposed to do. Life is what you make it and you don't have to whine. But what's the end of the story?

Well, I'll tell you if you don't tell anybody else. I did pick up every one of those hot dogs. I picked up myself and gathered my pride.

I walked out of left field and strode over to center field three sections away. And yes, I sold every last one of those hot dogs and I felt good about it too. Is it justice?

No, but at the time on that 83 degree night, it seemed like the right thing to do to make the best of it. And that's what I'm encouraging you to do. Let's all do it as Americans.

Let's face the crisis in the face and make the best of it without complaining. And don't squirt anybody with a mustard bottle, okay? And that was Jim Johnson. And again, he's a long time pastor who lives in Rogers, Minnesota. And my goodness, what storytelling here? We met paps. We met Donnie. We met an ecosystem and we all work with people who are different than us.

And you can crow and complain. And we know those people who do that all day long, or you can get on with it and make the best of everything and see that all of us can work together to do some pretty interesting things in our lives. And what did he learn? Most of all, that there's dignity in work and there is. And lessons are learned every day by work of every kind.

Jim Johnson's story, his baseball story, his love story with his sport and his town here on Our American Stories. A major regret could soon hit millions of Americans. It could hit without warning. It could devastate your net worth. It could wipe away years of hard work and savings in the blink of an eye.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-18 18:46:44 / 2023-01-18 19:00:50 / 14

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