Mudcat has fond memories of F-M
BOB LIND Neighbors d He was the young: 18. He didn't look like most other people in the Fargo-Moorhead area: He was black. Most everyone else didn't do what he did: Go to one church this week, another the next. And most of them couldn't do what h...
He was the young: 18. He didn't look like most other people in the Fargo-Moorhead area: He was black. Most everyone else didn't do what he did: Go to one church this week, another the next. And most of them couldn't do what he did: play baseball, and play it well.
His name was Jim Grant. But he gained fame under another name he picked up when he was starting out in professional baseball.
His teammates said he was as ugly as a Mississippi mudcat, so they called him Mr. Mississippi Mudcat. That soon was shortened to Mudcat.
So it was as Mudcat Grant that he went on to pitch for seven major league teams, win 145 games and win two games for the Minnesota Twins in the 1965 World Series and hit a three-run homer to boot.
But before he made the majors, he played in the minor leagues, including the old Northern League in 1954, when he was with the Fargo-Moorhead Twins.
He had his struggles. But walking him through them, sometimes getting on his case for his own good, was a woman named Viola. She was his mom.
Many stories have been written about Mudcat Grant. One of the best was by Glenn Miller of the Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press. It was spotted by Forum reporter Jon Knutson.
Fort Myers is the spring training site of the Twins, where they are playing exhibition games now in preparation for the season opener April 5.
It was there that Miller interviewed Mudcat while he was coaching in a Twins fantasy camp.
Mudcat told Miller of how he got his nickname; of growing up in Lacoochee, a town of 500 people in Florida; of attending a Baptist church; of being one of nine children whose father died when Mudcat was a toddler; of how his mother worked in a lumber mill and as a domestic and still managed to do a good job of raising her kids.
As he was growing up, she told him of the trials he'd face being black in a predominately white world. But she also told him to never forget "the wisdom of the past."
It was clear the kid could play baseball. The Cleveland Indians signed him when he was 18 and sent him way up north to Fargo to play for their farm team, the F-M Twins.
Forum articles written in later years tell of Mudcat knowing only one other black family in Fargo at the time. He and other black teammates stayed at the YMCA. He was paid $250 a month that rookie season, plus some tokens redeemable for a Coke and a hot dog at a downtown recreation center.
He and his black teammates were the targets of some name-calling. But he learned to handle it. Besides, he knew most young people around Fargo had never seen a black person before; they'd come up to him and feel his skin and hair. That was OK with him; it helped them get over whatever unreasoning prejudice they had.
It didn't bother his game, either. He pitched five consecutive shutouts which, along with other fine performances, led to his being named the Northern League's rookie of the year.
Viola had an order for her son: Yes, he was raised a Baptist, but she told him to attend other churches, too.
So, obedient to his mother, Mudcat made the rounds of Fargo churches.
"I was the laughingstock of Fargo," he says. "They said, 'Did that ballplayer come by your church yet?' "
He later told Viola about the other churches.
"Do you know why I sent you to do that?" she asked. No idea, Mudcat said.
Because, his mom told him, "When you die and go to heaven, if you think that the only people you're going to see is Baptist, God is going to slap you upside the head."
Mudcat now is 68. He has five children, 19 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren.
He still makes public appearances. He was in Fargo with a Twins promotional caravan a few years ago, where he autographed pictures for his fans, and where he checked out the site of the old Barnett Field, now the site of North High School, where he played.
He has fond memories of Fargo's Roger Maris, too. They had played together with the Cleveland Indians. He has a less pleasant memory of Roger, also. In 1961, when Roger was a New York Yankee, he hit one of his record 61 homers off him.
When Mudcat returned to Fargo in 1989 to play in the Maris golf tournament, he reminisced with Dennis Doeden, then The Forum's sports editor.
"I got chills when my plane landed at the Fargo airport," he told Dennis. "This is the place I'll always remember. This is where I got my start in pro ball.
"Yeah, there were some problems. But I have much more to thank Fargo for than to be disappointed about."
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