With Dec. 25 on the horizon, a certain sports writer can bank on two things: He hasn't started Christmas shopping and another Ross Bernstein coffee table sports book is hot off the press.
Bernstein, a Fairmont native and former Goldy Gopher mascot for the University of Minnesota men's hockey team, has written previous books about Gophers hockey, Minnesota sports and Minnesota hockey, football and basketball.
His latest venture is "Batter-Up! Celebrating a Century of Minnesota Baseball." The 160-page edition is packed with history, biographies, anecdotes and photos. It covers everything from the Twins to the Gophers to the Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints. It also features a history of high school, college and town-team baseball and women's baseball.
The foreword is written by hall of famer Harmon Killebrew and the afterword is written by future hall of famer Paul Molitor.
"Batter-Up! has a few Brainerd area connections, the most notable being pitcher Charles "Chief" Bender, who was born in Crow Wing County in 1883 and went on to become the state's first member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Bender, who won 212 major league games, remains the only pitcher to throw nine complete games in the World Series.
The publication lists other area men who played in the majors, including "Bullet" Joe Bush and Todd Revenig, both of Brainerd; Mike Poepping of Pierz; and Loren Bain of Staples.
Bernstein's research revealed that Brainerd had a team in the old Northern League nicknamed the Muskies. It played briefly, in 1934 with Little Falls and in 1935 by itself. His research also indicated that Brainerd and St. Cloud briefly combined to have a Northern League franchise and nicknamed it the "St. Brains."
"That ranks with the Duluth Freezers as my favorite all-time baseball nickname," Bernstein said from his home in Eagan.
Among the photo subjects are Josh Smith of Brainerd and Scott Geiger of Pierz, both of whom won North Central Conference triple crowns at Minnesota State University, Mankato; and state championship high school teams of 1957 and 1979 from Little Falls, 1983 from Staples and 1995 and 2000 from Brainerd.
Bernstein, who spends about a year researching each book, said the response to the baseball edition has been encouraging. It already is an area bestseller and its second printing is under way.
"This one continues to get more popular as the baseball season is just heating up," Bernstein said. "If the Twins do what they did last year, they probably will draw 2 million fans this year. Come Fathers Day, interest should be high."
Bernstein said the year leading up to publication of "Batter-Up!" was stressful. After Sept. 11, 2001, he was uncertain the book would be published, with the economy going south, the Twins possibly being contracted and the threat of a strike hanging over the game.
"I thought people would still want to remember the Twins," Bernstein said. "But if there was a strike, I thought there would be such a revolt against baseball.
"Frankly, I don't see kids who love to play baseball anymore. Kids today are into fast-paced stuff. Football and basketball market themselves well and soccer has grown as a participatory sport, but I don't see kids playing sandlot baseball among themselves the way we used to. They're baseball's future fan base and (baseball is) losing it. What carries baseball on is our dads and grandpas watch it, but it's a super slow game."
Bernstein's next project, a history of Minnesota coaches, is already under way.
"It will cover everything from the obvious ones, like John Gagliardi, Herb Brooks and Bud Grant, to Bun Fortier of Bemidji, Bob McDonald of Chisholm and everyone in between," Bernstein said.
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