For the love of the game Cook twins chronicle favorite games, moments in umpiring careers

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Warren Cook stands in his room full of baseball memorabilia items at Ross Park Apartments in Sleepy Eye.

Anyone who has spent much time around amateur, high school and summer league baseball and softball fields over the past few decades recognizes Sleepy Eye natives Wayne and Warren Cook. The twin brothers have umpired thousands of games over the past few decades.

They often umpire together, but maybe not as much as they used to.

It would be tough to find more experienced umpires. They’ve worked close to 8,000 games since the 1970s.

The brothers umpired together for the first time in 1980. They worked regional amateur playoff games for teams that included the New Ulm Kaiserhoff team that went on to win a state title.

“That was a magical year, for us and the Kaiserhoff (team),” Wayne Cook said.

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Wayne Cook has his share of baseball items at his home in Redwood Falls.

Inside Warren’s Ross Park Apartments unit in Sleepy Eye, you’ll find “Warren’s Mini Museum & Sports Memories.” The walls are lined with dozens of photos, game stories, event tickets and related items on every wall.

Photographs include major and minor league, amateur and high school ballparks they’ve visited or umpired at. Warren often was with a good umpiring friend, Owen Rasmussen of Sanborn.

Perhaps the most amusing trip Cook and Rasmussen took was a drive to Mission, Texas to visit another umpire, Manuel Rodriguez, whom they often worked with on the field a few years ago.

“We were near Mission. Texas at a gas station when we left the car unlocked,” Warren Cook said. “Someone stole Owen’s suitcase that had his size 50 pants. I told him have no fears, I’ll buy you some clothes at Wal-Mart in the morning. I hope the person that stole them was big enough to fill Owen’s pants.”

Warren’s favorite major league ball park is where the Los Angeles Angels play in Anaheim. His favorite Minnesota ball parks are in Fairfax, Bird Island, and Chaska.

Warren Cook’s umpiring highlights include working Minnesota Twins Fun Night games at Memorial Park in Fairfax. He worked home plate for a game in which seventy-something Curt Sampson of Hector pitched to former professional players.

“Those three small town parks were special because besides umpiring, we had so much fun because people were so welcoming and hospitable,” Warren said.

Fairfax Twins Fun Night was in a category by itself, Cook said. It included two bands, concessionaires including Wally “The Beer Man,” former Twins players and area amateur greats plus other celebrities including big city media types. On top of that, the ballpark was packed.

“Nothing compares,” Warren said. “Thanks to Gary Hess (former Fairfax Cardinals amateur baseball player and manager) for asking my twin brother Wayne and our crew to work it. His leadership with countless volunteers made it run like clockwork.”

“We were fortunate to umpire it for eight years. I’ll never forget 1,700 one night and former Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins pitcher Dana Kiecker of Fairfax. What a competitor and a class guy,” Warren said. “I took one of his fast balls off my right shoulder. Yes, it hurt and put a real grass stain on my new shirt.”

Another rare moment at Fairfax Twins Fun Night for him was Curt Sampson, 70-plus yeas old, of Hector pitching a one-hitter for four and two-thirds innings against former major league and amateur all-star players, throwing lots of off-speed pitches.

“I’ll never forget his pitching and coming out to a standing ovation,” Warren said.

He recalled making an “safe” call at Fairfax Twins Fun Night when a baserunner beat former Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven to first base. Blyleven argued the call in fun, which riled up many of Blyleven’s fans.

Warren said Blyleven would visit with Twins Fun Night fans in the left field bleachers, give them cues on when to cheer and do the “wave.”

“I’m not sure fans gave him any of their beer, maybe. The crowd really loved him,” Warren said.

“Later between innings, Blyleven and (former Twins manager and player) Frank Quilici ran out to me and high-fived me after a bang-bang double play,” Warren said. “I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”

“Rubbing shoulders with all those Twins players made that game so special. Like Tony Oliva, Juan Berenguer, Corey Koskie and shaking hands with the late Harmon Killebrew and Yankee great, Johnny Blanchard who were team hosts and guests. Priceless memories,” Warren said.

Wayne said he was thankful for his brother Warren’s relationship with Hess for enabling him to umpire at Fairfax Twins Fun Night.

“It was really a treat,” Wayne said.

He remembered working a game with Warren who was hit high in the thigh by a hard-hit ball off an aluminum bat.

“I thought Warren would go down, but he didn’t,” Wayne said. “I think we’re all a lot better off with amateur players using wood bats.”

“It’s the great friendships and fun times that I’ll take away from umpiring,” Wayne said.