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It's Our Turn: Baseball season meaningful for many fans

Peg Ruliffson, a resident at Bethany on the Lake in Alexandria, is a first-rate Twins fan. She owns all sorts of team memorabilia and even a life-size cutout of ex-Twin Brian Dozier. (Ross Evavold / Echo Press)

More than any other sport, the baseball season parallels the calendar year. Hope springs eternal in the spring every Opening Day, the season heats up during the long days of June and July, and by the dog days of August teams with losing records begin playing out the string. Then it all winds down as summer yields the floor officially to fall.

For many baseball fans, this Sunday represents the end of the line. For that's the last day of the regular season, Game 162 spread across a half-dozen months, and the daily ritual comes to an end for two-thirds of major league teams, sending us scurrying for our sweaters and winter coats.

Perhaps no demographic will miss the dependability of the baseball schedule more than those who are retired and find themselves with a few extra hours every day. The sport that used to be regarded as the National Pastime still fulfills that function for a lot of senior citizens, who look forward to the reliability of a ballgame being played nearly every day. They may have been lifelong fans who find the game takes on added importance, or have recently come under its charms and fall for the daily melodrama that plays out at its own pace.

Peg Ruliffson is no Johnny-come-lately. The youngest of four children and a self-described tomboy, she was predisposed to follow sports even before she met her husband, Dave, at the University of Minnesota, where he played basketball for the Golden Gophers. He also coached basketball and golf at Minneapolis Washburn.

"There was an empty lot at the end of our street, and I climbed a tree" to get a better view, she said this week. Girls didn't play sports in those days. "But I watched and I learned."

She was born in 1925, and as a 93-year-old resident at Bethany On the Lake in Alexandria, Ruliffson plans her days around the Minnesota Twins schedule. When a game conflicts with meal time, she has managed to convince staff to serve her meals in her room so she doesn't miss a minute.

Her daughter, Joan Rivers — that's no joke — has been tasked for years with the responsibility of penciling out the days and times of the games on a weekly basis in a notebook that Ruliffson keeps close at hand. "She still gets the Star (Minneapolis Star Tribune), and usually the first thing she goes to is the sports section and the schedule," Rivers said.

Ruliffson has been on the Twins' bandwagon since they settled in the Twin Cities in 1961.

"Mom has always been known as the No. 1 Twins fan," Rivers said.

When her husband died in 1984, it left a big hole in Ruliffson's life. The Twins have no doubt taken on an even bigger role for her over the past 34 years.

"It helped to balance her life at that time," her daughter said. "There's a lot of purpose in it. It gives her something to look forward to. It's huge in her life."

Practically every game is televised now, but during the first decades that wasn't the case. If you were going to follow the Twins' games, it was done for many Minnesotans via radios permanently tuned to WCCO.

"We had radios throughout the house, individual radios with the game on. You could go from one room to another and hear the games," Rivers said, noting her mother still has a transistor radio in her room.

"If I can't watch it, I listen and just visualize what's happening. It's what I like to do," Ruliffson said. "I'll have it on, and if gets too one-sided, I'll turn the volume down. But I won't turn it off. I won't do that."

Rivers said her mother's love for baseball has been carried down to other family members. "It's become like family," she said. "It's an extension of family. It unifies us."

Over the years, the players have virtually become members of the family, too. "Every one of them finds ways that they can contribute," Ruliffson says diplomatically.

For years she studied the players' biographies in team yearbooks and in newspaper stories. She claims not to have a favorite player, but later is confronted with having named her Shih Tzu Kirby after a certain Twins Hall of Famer. "I had many favorites," is how she amends her previous statement.

It's hard for her not to like Joe Mauer, though.

"Oh sure, he's a St. Paul boy. He was easy to favor."

The Twins haven't lived up to their billing this year, which has mostly been the case since they moved into Target Field. However, Peg isn't a fair-weather fan, and when Sunday rolls around, she will join others in waving goodbye to the ballclub until next April.

"I'll miss it, yeah, but I know we have it to look forward to again."

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"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.