12:02 a.m. (Central), June 29, 2006
SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Is Celine Dion related to Michael Buble?
That's the kind of stuff I was thinking about on the 370th mile of the 376 trip from Custer State Park in South Dakota to Sioux City, which meant I should pull over and get some rest. I planned to hit Iowa much earlier, but fell behind doing some great interviews in South Dakota.
I also got out of my Pontiac to stretch my legs and have a beer at a country bar/museum/casino across the street from the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. It was around 7:30 p.m. and two women next to me were eating gizzards and getting liquored up to prepare for Wednesday night Karaoke — that began at 10 p.m. This wasn't going to be pretty. I caught the Bulls draft choices on TV [I wanted Brandon Roy] and left town.
The deal was to catch a minor league baseball game in Sioux City. Over the weekend my new friends at Sioux Falls told me that Ed Nottle was the manager at Sioux City. Ed is a baseball gypsy. He has majored in minor league managing. He's like the Hank Snow song in that he's been everywhere. Ed provided me with one my all time favorite road stories, one that is worth repeating on this trip of middle America's small towns.
Several years ago I went to Duluth, Minn., to do a story on Bob Dylan's years there as well as a piece on the historic baseball stadium in town. Ed was the manager of the now-defunct Duluth Superior Dukes. I had read about Ed in the past. Ed is an excellent lounge singer and his passion for crooning in piano bars and hotel lounges often ruffled the feathers of stuffy major league executives. "We can't have our manager singing in a bar!," they would say at the same time their own players were popping greenies and taking steroids.
I knew I would like "Singin' Ed Nottle," as he is called. We talked at great length before the game. I seem to recall he spent off-seasons in Evansville, Ind. He talked about retiring because his wife had cancer. Then he told me he was going to sing before that evening's game. A Duluth season ticket holder of some 40 years had just lost her husband. Ed was going to dedicate a song to her.
Around game time the clouds turned snowglobe blue, so classic of Northern Minnesota in mid-June. The elderly woman sat in her box seat wearing a Dukes warm up jacket. The seat next to her was empty. Ed walked to the pitcher's mound and his entire team followed. The players and coaches took off their caps. They all faced the long-time fan. Ed then delivered an immaculate version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It was a touching moment
The game began and the Dukes got off to a quick lead [I have my scorecard somewhere at home, I'm sure]. But the deep blue sky began to darken. It soon began to rain. The downfall became heavier and the game was delayed. I waited for about 45 minutes, but I had to drive back to Chicago, just as I have to do later today.
I pulled out of the parking lot feeling good about Ed and the extra effort he made for the fan. I was no more than 10 miles away from the stadium when I looked back at the old rickety ballpark.
A rainbow was shining over left field.
Now I'm not real religious or mystical. But I do believe in the biggest hearts of small towns. Tonight I wanted to see Ed Nottle and thank him for that. I missed Ed, but I know he's somewhere around here singing to someone.