When Max met Cooperstown

When Lisa Broek met her husband Alan Uetz, it was on a baseball field. The two northern Iowa natives and University of Iowa students were members of competing intramural softball teams. His was one of the best in the league, hers one of the worst. They were also Twins fans who found each other living amid the Cubs and Cardinals fans who have historically sprouted in and around Iowa City.

When they got married and moved to South Minneapolis, Lisa and Alan had two sons, Max and Austin, who were straightaway introduced to the joys of baseball via spring training, and to tossing the ball around the yard while navigating the MTC and other traffic of busy Bryant Avenue. Max started swinging a plastic bat in the front yard when he was 2 years old, and watching the Twins on the tube with his folks.

When Alan died in 2000 from a heart attack while playing handball, two neighbors dug up a spot in the family’s front yard and installed a permanent home plate. Over the past decade, one of the most common sights on Bryant — these days a thoroughfare, thanks to all the construction in and around Lyndale Avenue — has been that of Max swinging a bat or playing catch with his mother, brother or the pitch-back net.

When the Minneapolis entry into the Minnesota Youth Baseball Association went looking for a team moniker a few years ago, it settled on Millers, in honor of the pioneering Mill City nine of yesteryear. Max started playing MYBA ball three years ago, and this year the Millers worked hard to raise funds for a trip to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall Of Fame and a chance to play in a 12-and-under tournament at the Cooperstown Dreamspark.

When the Millers got on the plane July 24 in Minneapolis, they were bright and perky and loaded for baseball bear. The plane landed in Detroit, where they were to get their connecting flight to New York. Four planes, several maintenance issues and eight hours later, the Millers were in the sky, headed for Syracuse and a two-hour bus ride to Cooperstown.

When the team arrived at its hotel it was 3 in the morning.

When Max, age 12, threw up on first base, it was the third inning of the Millers first tournament game.

When Max went to the infirmary, the nurse told him he barfed from “exhaustion.”

When the Millers played ball over the course of the four-day tournament, they won two games and lost five against teams from Ohio, Florida, California, Pennsylvania and New York. The players lived in the barracks of “baseball village,” sequestered away from their parents, some of whom (the team from Pennsylvania) were a little “excited,” according to Lisa: “The moms were doing back-flips, cartwheels, and cheers and making the Minneapolis moms look bad. We said we were going to do a pyramid to try and top them, but instead we just watched the games.”

When Goose Gossage got elected to the Hall of Fame on his eighth try, he became only the fifth reliever in Cooperstown’s bullpen. “It was very emotional, I’ll tell you — off the charts. I can’t describe the feeling,” he told reporters after learning the news. “I can’t lie. There’s been some frustration and some disappointment.”

When Gossage stepped up to the podium on July 27 to accept baseball’s highest honor, members of the Millers and the pioneering female squad the Rockford Peaches were in the crowd. In his induction speech, Gossage wished his late mother could have been there, and choked up when invoking the names of former coaches and teammates, including the late Thurman Munson, and called his induction “overwhelming and over-the-top.”

When Lisa and some of the other Millers parents ran into Gossage later that night it was at the only place open, Cooley’s Irish Pub. “He was so gracious, and so tanked,” says Lisa. “There were maybe 20 people there. He was talking about where he grew up, Colorado Springs, and how his brother used to beat him up, and his brother telling him he was a really bad baseball player and how they were very poor and didn’t have enough money to ski. He signed for everyone, and he had this old school-marm penmanship. Beautiful. “Goose Gossage, HOF 2008.”

Goose Gossage and Millers moms.
Photos by Lisa Broek
Goose Gossage and Millers moms.

When Francisco Liriano got the call-up last week to make his first start for the Twins since undergoing Tommy John surgery two years ago, he left his Triple A Rochester team in New York and got on a plane bound for Minneapolis.

When he got off, he was surrounded at the baggage claim by a Minneapolis little league team returning from an already memorable trip to Cooperstown. He signed autographs on the bills of many of the players’ caps, took pictures with the team, then went out the next night and notched his first return victory with a near-wicked slider and a fastball that put the Twins in first place and gave hope to a pennant-fevered state.

When asked to sum up his first trip to Cooperstown, Max replied, “I liked it a lot. It was a lot of fun. It was definitely a learning experience, from a baseball perspective.”

The Minneapolis Millers with Francisco Liriano (center) and Randy Ruiz (left). Max Uetz is second from Liriano's right, in the back row.
Photos by Lisa Broek
The Minneapolis Millers with Francisco Liriano (center) and Randy Ruiz (left). Max Uetz is second from Liriano’s right, in the back row.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Steve Tynan on 02/20/2010 - 09:57 pm.

    Dear Jim Walsh,

    Thank you for a great story. I konw Al Uetz would be very proud of Max.

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