Friends attending 40th home opener together this month
Roger Faber, of St. Joseph, (left) and Steve Ellingboe at their 35th straight Twins’ home opener in 2009. When the two attend this year’s home opener, it will be their 40th. Contributed photo
When Steve Ellingboe’s son, Erik, was playing high school baseball for Willmar a few years ago, the youngster asked his coach if it would be possible to skip practice the next day. Without batting an eye, the coach granted Erik’s request.
“We all know that day is a national holiday in the Ellingboe home,” the coach reportedly told him.
While Christmas, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July are notable national holidays, April 7 will be this year’s “national holiday” for Steve Ellingboe, of Willmar, and Roger Faber, of St. Joseph.
That date marks the Minnesota Twins’ home opener against the Oakland Athletics. And it will also mark the 40th straight home opener that Ellingboe and Faber will attend together.
“We met at college in Willmar,” explained Ellingboe, who grew up in nearby Sunburg. “We were going to the Cities to meet some friends of Roger’s (girls, Ellingboe admitted) and we decided to take in the Twins’ home opener. That was in 1975 and we’ve been going ever since.”
Over the years, the group has grown as family members and other friends accompany Ellingboe and Faber, whose home-opener streak has been going on for so long that it recently continued into a third stadium. They attended their first of seven home openers at Met Stadium before it succumed to a wrecking ball, and the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was constructed. The Mall of America now sits where the old Met Stadium was located. The next 28 home openers were attended by Ellingboe and Faber’s group inside the confines of the Metrodome.
“I never liked the Dome that much,” Ellingboe stated. “The only thing good about it was you knew there wouldn’t be a rainout.” This year marks their fifth home opener at Target Field.
“I really like Target Field,” said Ellingboe. “I like outdoor baseball, but I really like the way Target Field was designed with the little sections of seating and how well you can see the game no matter where you are sitting.”
“I have always liked the old Met the best,” said Faber, who works for United Health Care in Plymouth. “I liked it better than the new park.”
Ellingboe’s streak nearly ended twice because of health issues. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood and bone, in November 2007 and was forced to retire after 29 years with the postal service, the last 23 as a carrier.
Although chemotherapy and radiation left him weakened and family members urged him to forego the 2008 home opener to concentrate on his health, Ellingboe stubbornly refused.
“I just didn’t want to miss it,” he said. “I thought it would be fine to go. My wife (Sheila) drove us to the Cities, and we met the others there. When I finally made it to my seat, I was so wiped out … absolutely physically exhausted. I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to be able to make it back to the car.”
Even though he knew of Ellingboe’s condition, Faber was confident his friend would not miss the game.
“I figured he would be there one way or another,” laughed Faber. “At least for part of the game.”
Again the next season, Ellingboe nearly missed the opener because he was scheduled for tests to see if he would be a candidate for a stem cell transplant. So Ellingboe talked to his doctor about the importance of postponing his treatment so he could attend the game.
“She was very understanding,” he said about Dr. Linda Burns. “She assured me that quality of life is important, too, and that I needed to go on living and doing the things I enjoy. I had the stem cell transplant in mid-June.”
And the streak continued.
In 2004, Ellingboe and Faber were recognized on the Metrodome’s scoreboard for attending their 30th straight opener while fans applauded their dedication to the team.
That year, Faber and his wife, Peg, decided to rent a limousine from a service in St. Cloud “for around six hundred dollars.” They let Sheila Ellingboe in on the secret, but Steve was unaware until they met the Fabers at a bar in Cold Spring. The two couples and their children then rode in style to the Metrodome for the home opener.
“We wanted to do something special for the 30th anniversary,” said Faber. “We told Steve we wanted to meet at the Side Bar in Cold Spring for a celebration drink. He didn’t know anything about the limo. After we were there for 10 or 15 minutes, the limo drove up, and he was pretty surprised.”
Ellingboe’s passion for the Twins began when he was 10 years old and attended his first game. That’s when he first met his hero, the late Harmon Killebrew.
“It was before the game and I was standing by the railing next to the field with my family, and Harmon came over,” said Ellingboe. “I asked him if he would hit a home run in the game that day, and Harmon said he would try. And the funny thing is that he did hit one that game.”
Like his idol, Ellingboe played first base for his high school team at Kerkhoven-Murdock and also for the Norway Lake-Sunburg town team.
“Every year for my birthday I get something that has to do with the Twins,” he said. “My wife gave me a new jacket that I picked out as an early birthday present this year.”
He also has a special-made Twins shirt for Faber and himself that commemorate the home-opener streak every five years with the number of the streak on the back and the years attended on the front.
The first home opener in 1975 was against Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan and the Caifornia Angels.
“It was 49 degrees that day,” Ellingboe recalls. “How would you like to bat against him in that cold of a day?”
Ryan beat the Twins 7-3 that day, walking nine and striking out seven. In the 39 previous home openers attended by the Dynamic Duo, the Twins have won 20 and lost 19. After watching the Twins lose their last two home openers at Target Field, Ellingboe and Faber are hoping their 40th straight appearance results in a win.
“The one thing that has changed the most over the years, besides the prices of tickets and concessions,” Ellingboe reflected, “is that you can’t tailgate anymore. We always looked forward to tailgating at the old Met. It was so fun to spend time with friends outside and grill and have a few beers before the game. I miss that.”
Only one time at the home opener has Ellingboe had a chance to catch a foul ball. But the official scorer would have given him an error on the attempt.
“I had my camera in one hand,” Ellingboe explained. “I tried to catch the ball with the other hand, and it bounced right off. I heard about that for a long time.”
Because of the enormity of Ellingboe and Faber’s group, which has grown to as many as 75-80 in some years (there will be 35 attending this year), they are relegated to “cheap seats” because there isn’t a large enough section of seats available for them all behind home plate or the dugouts.
“And besides,” Ellingboe laughed. “Those seats are a lot more expensive.”
Ellingboe is excited about the Twins attempting to put a better team on the field than in previous years, acquiring starting pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to bolster the beleaguered rotation. They also have two of the top-rated minor league players in all of baseball in third baseman Miguel Sano and outfielder Byron Buxton. But Sano recently injured his elbow in the Grapefruit League and is expected to have “Tommy John surgery” and will miss the entire season.
“I really was thinking both of those young kids would be brought up this year,” said Ellingboe. “I was looking forward to seeing what they could do. I guess it will just be one of them for now.”
Speaking of kids, the Ellingboes have three adult sons: Erik, Brian and John. Looking back now, it’s a good thing none of them were born on opening day or Sheila would have had to drive herself to the hospital.