Tomorrow night (July 20) I'm going to go outside and, given the proper atmospheric conditions, take a look up in the sky at that white orb that's about 240,000 miles away. And then think back to the Sunday night of July 20, 1969, when — with much of the rest of the world, an estimated 600 million— we watched on a small television set, in black and white, as a man walked on the moon.
I realize that that for those many years younger than me, it might not be that big a deal. It's slipped from No. 1 in a poll to No. 21 in a recent Nielsen's survey of the most unforgettable moments on TV. And it is, after all, something that happened 50 years ago.
I guess you have to be in your 70s to remember that in October 1957 the Soviets launched Sputnik I, a small (184 pounds) satellite that orbited the Earth in 98 minutes and then stayed up there for three weeks. I remember watching a telecast the next day, a Saturday afternoon, that told us about the event. We were in the throes of the Cold War and it was an affront to America. Later on President John Kennedy said space was a challenge "we intend to win." Kennedy told the world that the U.S. was going to put a man on the moon, although later in 1967, 60 percent of Americans polled said it wasn't important to beat the Russians. Even former President Dwight Eisenhower considered it a waste of money.
But that night, sitting in a house in Princeton with a bunch of teammates from the Princeton baseball team, we weren't thinking about money. It was an unbelievable happening, so unbelievable that there were those among us who thought we were being snookered. One guy voiced the thought that it was probably taking place at a desert in New Mexico, just to impress the rest of the world.
But it was real, and there were few words as we watched what had before been fantasy but was now the real thing. Those who watched that night may have a different perspective now but that night we were impressed. We had beaten the Russians. The recent words of Walter Mondale, later a candidate for president but in his first term as a U.S. senator from Minnesota then, reflect how a lot of us felt that night. "The moon landing reflects confidence in American excellence," Mondale said. "Here was bravery, here was science, here was us conquering the unknown. In this day and age when so many things disappoint us, it's nice to look back at America at its best."
What follows is a column written for the July 20, 1989, edition of the Union-Eagle, 20 years after the event:
Memory of first moon walk will endure forever
In an era that has spawned the "moon walk" as a dance step that will live forever in pop music culture, and is the signature of Michael Jackson, many of those who have seen that step weren't around to watch the first moon walk 20 years ago today.
But those of us who can remember that day — July 20, 1969 — will never, never forget the sight of Neil Armstrong bounding off the last rung of the Eagle into the powdery dust of the moon.
The time was 9:56 p.m. and the image of that first moon walk is indelibly imprinted on the minds of those of us who were lucky enough to be watching television that night.
It was a Sunday night that followed a typically warm July afternoon and a bunch of us had gathered at the house in Princeton of Margaret Thiel, mother of Dale Thiel, one of the members of the Princeton baseball team that had played that afternoon. We'd had a good afternoon and evening of grilling hamburgers and telling the fantasies that are usually associated with a gathering of baseball players that lasts more than 15 minutes.
But little did we realize as we sat there that night that the course of history, more than we knew, had been altered that day. Yes, there was Armstrong"s walk on the moon. And he was later joined by Buzz Aldrin as Michael Collins stayed aboard the Eagle, probably hoping he could join his friends as they frolicked through the moon dust, but also hoping for their safe return to the spaceship.
What we didn't know that night as we sat quietly watching in the darkness on a small black-and-white TV set was that the remaining Kennedy who had a chance at the presidency had sealed his doom that day. For it was that day that Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge at Chappaquidick with a woman passenger in the car who drowned, with Kennedy waiting hours and hours before telling anyone about the incident. The resulting coverup — and surely there was one — took away any chance Kennedy had of following in the footsteps of brothers John and Bobby.
So, as a decade that was as crazy as any this nation ever had was slowing churning to an end, a day came when a man walked on the moon and another man lost an almost certain ascension to the presidency. While it was one family's horror, it was a boost for the U.S. space program because "we" had beaten the Russians to the moon.
It was a good time for that first walk on the moon because it temporarily diverted out attention from the disaster in Vietnam, a disaster still in the hearts and minds of many today despite the years that have passed.
Twenty years later, though, has that landing on the Sea of Tranquility and the resultant traipsing around the moon for a couple hours by Armstrong and Aldriln made a significant difference in our lives? Your answer to that question will probably tell a great deal about how you feel about American's space program, a program that seems to be back on track after some rough times.
But no matter your answer, if you were watching television 20 years ago tonight, your thoughts probably drift back to that night and the feelings you had as the Buck Rogers-like images of our childhoods were played out in real life. And you may do what I'll probably do tonight when I take a walk outside and look at the moon 240,000 miles away and remember those never-to-be-forgotten words of Armstrong: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
Daily diary for the 2019 Twins
Saturday, July 13 — The Twins rallied from a 3-1 deficit after six innings and got their 19th come-from-behind win of the season, beating Cleveland 5-3, a three-run seventh keyed by a replay reversal on a play at first that was followed by a two-run double by Jorge Polanco for a 4-3 lead. That ball could have been caught. It was an important win over the Indians who had crept to 5 1/2 games behind Minnesota after being 11 1/2 games behind the Twins earlier in the season. The bullpen came through with 5 1/3 innings of shutout relief. Team-leading RBI man Eddie Rosario didn't return from the injured list, as expected, and ended up not playing in the series at all.
Sunday, July 14 — We saw something never done before in the major leagues as Max Kepler hit two homers off Cleveland's Trevor Bauer in the Twins' 6-2 win Saturday, giving Kepler five home runs in five at-bats against Bauer this season. Unbelievably, at least for me, two other players in MLB history had hit five homers off the same pitcher in five a-bats but those came over the course of two seasons. Kepler hit three off Bauer earlier this season and homered in his first two at-bats Saturday. I was astounded that he led off the game with a homer off Bauer, a very, very good pitcher. But when he hit another, it was beyond astounding. Jake Odorizzi got his 11th win of the season and the win stretched the team's lead to 7 1/2 games over the Indians.
Monday, July 15 — It would have been nice to sweep the Indians but Cleveland pitching struck out 15 Minnesota hitters for the second game in a row and escaped with a 4-3 win after the Twins rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game with three runs in the seventh . The Twins left the bases loaded in that inning, after tiring the game with one out, and missed out on other chances. Ace Jose Berrios gave up three runs in five innings and has not won a game since June 6 (38 days). Minnesota is 5-4 against Cleveland this season and the teams play 10 more times out of the 70 remaining for the Twins.
Tuesday, July 16 — Two out of three against the Indians was nice, and important, but the season is far from over. A three-game sweep would have been way better. After two games with the Mets the Oakland Athletics (53-41) and Yankees (59-33) come to town. Those will be difficult games. And while the Twins are playing those kinds of teams, the Indians have a schedule that looks a lot easier than Minnesota's the rest of this month.
Wednesday, July 17 — So much for the 2-1 series win over second-place Cleveland that left the Twins 6 1/2 games ahead of the Indians. The Twins (58-35) lost 3-2 to the Mets (41-51) yesterday as the Indians were steamrolling Detroit 8-0, and on this Wednesday morning the Indians are now only 5 games back, the closest they have been in six weeks. There were two more unearned runs, a couple gaffes on the bases, and 10 runners left on base, including three in the ninth inning. It wasn't a good night for the locals. It's never been more important to continue the streak of not losing three games in a row this season than it will be today vs. the Mets.
Thursday, July 18 — Errors, wild pitches, passed balls, bad baserunning, scoring chances missed — there you have a summary of the Twins' series with the Mets, including a 14-4 loss yesterday afternoon in a game the Twins led 3-2 going into the seventh inning.Too bad the team's in-house weatherman, who delayed the start of the game for a half hour even though no rain came, couldn't make it rain. It was a bad game for the Twins who now have only a 4-game lead. Gone are their streaks of not losing three games in a row, the only team in the majors with that status until last night, as well as not being swept in a series. Meanwhile, Cleveland again plays Detroit tonight, a team that is 4-23 in its last 27 games. The Twins don't play Detroit until five weeks from now and then have 10 of their next 33 games with the Tigers. A last thought: Is it possible the boys were overconfident after taking the Cleveland series?
Friday, July 19 — It looked like another disaster — errors in each of the first two innings, two huge baserunning mistakes, a wild pitch that should have been scored a passed ball — until Eddie Rosario came off the bench and hit a three-run pinch-hit homer in the seventh that gave the Twins a 4-3 lead over hot Oakland (six wins in a row), and eventually a 6-3 win as Mitch Garver and C. J. Cron hit solo homers in the eighth. And Taylor Rogers nailed it down with another two-inning save, his eighth save of more than three outs. The win kept the Twins' lead at four games over Cleveland, winner of 11 of its last 13 games. Some say the Minnesota win, coming the way it did, will help the team regain the momentum it had until a few weeks ago. We'll see about that in the three games remaining with Oakland, and the three with the Yankees after that.
PRINCETON SPORTS MEMORIES
July 23, 1959 - The White Athletics and the Odegard Braves were to play a three-out-of-five Little World Series to decide the local peewee baseball championship. And the Bill Mix Yankees and Ben Franklin Giants were to play a similar series in the afternoons of the same days for the Little League championship.
July 23, 1964 - The Legion baseball team lost 10-2 to Sauk Rapids, its first loss of the season after 12 straight wins . . . Arnold Dahle shot a 34 in golf league play, the best score of the weekend, two under par.
July 23, 1969 - The Legion baseball team rallied to beat Pine City in 10 innings, 7-5, as Ron Deglmann got the win in relief. Steve Davis and Jerry Bergeron drove in runs in the 10th . . . Princeton beat league-leading Elk River in the final game of the town team season, 13-0, as Luther Dorr struck out 13 and pitched a two-hitter. Princeton missed the league playoffs.
July 24, 1974 - A decision was forthcoming about whether or not Princeton would leave the Rum River Conference to join the Skyline conference. Princeton decided to stay but Elk River and Cambridge left . . . Dan Kne beat league-leading Pine City for the town team, 10-5, and Mike Arnold struck out 13 in a win over Mora.
July 26, 1979 - Scott Knoll and Mark Tadych pitched a doubleheader victory over Mora that gave Princeton the North End Legion baseball title. Les Nelson homered in each game and Steve Kapsner had five hits . . . The town team swept Forest Lake ini a doubleheader to finish second in the regular season, Tom Wolcyn pitching a 14-0 five-inning no-hitter in the first game. Dave Mingo drove in eight runs in the two games.
July 26, 1984 - Eight runs in the bottom of the seventh inning gave Princeton an 8-7 playoff win over St. Francis in Legion baseball, Dan Miller driving in the final run. Earlier in the summer the high school team had beaten St. Francis in a playoff game by scoring five times in the bottom of the seventh.
July 27, 1989 - Princeton lost 5-3 to Cambridge in playoff Legion baseball, ending a string of 27 straight wins in North End playoffs that began July 27, 1979 . . . Pat Arens, previously the coach at Blake/Breck, was hired as the PHS wrestling coach . . .Simon Thielen beat the Forest Lake Lakers for the Princeton Panthers, 9-3, and drove in four runs.
July 28, 1994 - Paul Anderson, Sheless Davis and Nicole Koskey qualified for the state junior golf tournament . . .Paul Neubauer of Devils Lake, N.D., was named head boys basketball coach at PHS . . . Tom Henke's RBI single gave Big A a comeback win over Ziegler Construction for the city Class C softball title.
July 22, 1999 - The Legion baseball team (15-8) won the regular season title in the North End League, Joe Nelson pitching the seventh inning in relief to get a 2-1 win over St. Francis. Nelson got an 8-2 win over North Branch the next night, striking out 11 in six innings, and Brad Anderson drove in two runs . . . Curt Wilson (grand slam) and Brian Dorr each drove in four runs but the Panthers (20-5, 14-5 in league play), after holding a 9-3 lead, lost 16-14 in 11 innings to Hinckley as Chad Campbell and Dan Patnode also homered. The Panthers also lost 8-7 to the Forest Lake Lakers as Patnode (No. 4), Jason Miller (No. 6) and Dorr (No.14) homered. That gave the team 52 home runs for the season.
July 29, 2004 - The Princeton Panthers (22-5, 18-4 in league play, and with 18 wins in the last 19 games) beat Hinckley 3-2 behind Jason Mlller, and then beat Pine City 15-4 as Jesse Zimmer got the win and Chad Carling extended his hitting streak to 23 games with four hits. Tony Stay hit his third homer in four games. In a non-league game the Panthers beat Becker 12-9 as Zimmer hit a grand slam and Stay and Brian Dorr also homered. Dorr and winning pitcher Travis Stay each had four hits.
July 30, 2009 - A walk-off homer in the 11th inning by Jesse Zimmer gave the Princeton Panthers a 5-4 win over Chisago Lakes to assure the top seed in West Division league playoffs. Zach Neubauer got the win in relief and Jake Maros homered.
July 24, 2014 - The Legion baseball team won its own tournament as Nick Zeroth scored on a suicide squeeze to beat Rogers, with Luke Hallbeck getting the win. Princeton beat Cloquet 8-4 behind Sam Archer to win the first game of the tournament, and Dalton Mattson got the second-round 8-2 win over Marshall as Archer drove in two runs.
Dorr is the former editor of the Princeton Eagle (2 years) and Princeton Union-Eagle (31 years), and has covered sports in the Princeton area for 52 years.