The weather that day was eerily similar to what Minnesotans have experienced over the last two weeks. Temperatures had plummeted below zero, and the blizzard of the season raged when roughly 75 people gathered for the ceremony at Hitchcock Methodist Church. Unable to have his Cuban family there, Tony had invited a few Twins teammates, but the extreme weather kept them away.
Perhaps the wedding day conditions were a fitting tribute to a relationship that overcame great odds. They could barely communicate when they first met in spring 1964. Playing for the Twins, Tony lived in the Hotel Maryland in Minneapolis. Gordette still lived in Hitchcock, and their long-distance relationship via the telephone began awkwardly and grew slowly with neither understanding more than a dozen words of the other’s native language.
They soon realized, however, that they had much in common. Both bride and groom had grown up on family farms with a large contingent of brothers and sisters. Gordette had seven siblings, including her twin Gordon; Tony had nine brothers and sisters. Both had daily chores on the farm, a labor-intensive operation that required a contribution from everyone in the family. At the same time, they enjoyed the simple pleasures of farm life.
Looking back through the decades, chance moments can take our lives to places we could never anticipate—and that was certainly true for Tony and Gordette.
The couple met when Gordette stayed at the Hotel Maryland as part of her senior class trip. Her graduating class of 26 toured the local Ford plant, visited the Foshay Tower—then the tallest building in the Twin Cities—and took in a Twins game. Several Twins lived in the hotel, and the out-of-town visitors collected autographs in the lobby. Tony gave her and a few of her classmates a tour of downtown Minneapolis in his new car, and there was a final meeting before Gordette and Gordon returned to Hitchcock.
“When we were going to split, he asked me for my telephone number,” Gordette recalled. “I looked at my brother and I said, ‘I’m not sure, but I think he’s asking me for my telephone number.’ And Gordon said, ‘What’s the difference? He’s probably not going to call you anyway.’ So I gave it to him. And lo and behold, he called.”
“We laugh about it now,” Gordette said, adding that they still joke about the what-ifs all these years later. What if he hadn’t asked for her phone number? What if she hadn’t given it to him? What if he had never called?
He did, she did, and he did. And 50 years on, I wish Tony and Gordette all the best. Happy Anniversary!
These stories and more appear in “Tony Oliva: The Life and Times of a Minnesota Twins Legend.”