Story and Photos by Gordy Jones
The Twins’ Way!!
When a baseball player signs a contract to play with the Minnesota Twins, he usually is also agreeing that he will make a visit to the frozen tundra in late January. Once here, he will typically get a physical, attend a meeting or two, and venture out onto the Minnesota Twins caravan. The caravan dates back to the 1960s, and is very well received as it reaches out to fans throughout the five-state area. It can travel to some very remote sites. The elderly, the sick, and folks who do not travel well really appreciate seeing the players close up. The players attend breakfasts, luncheons, and dinners, all in the same day. There is usually an MC along, such as Dick Bremer or Kris Atteberry, to get things rolling and conduct soft interviews in front of the group. There are often prizes, and always lots of fun. The Twins aren’t just lucky that they have a team full of guys who are very giving…they choose good people, and then groom them, with the veterans and former stars showing the road to giving back.
I am involved in an organization called the Old-Timers Hot Stove, which is a social club, dedicated to preserving baseball history and tradition, and to raising a little charitable money while having a good time. Our annual banquet is a stop on the caravan. It is held at the Prom Center in Oakdale, Minnesota, and is usually attended by 400 to 500 people. This year Bert Blyleven was the big hit. He is always funny, but this particular evening he was on fire. He had the crowd laughing and rolling on the floor. When Bert stood up to speak, he said that he was sore from sitting so long, and invited everyone to stand up with him and to stretch for a minute. He had everyone raise their hands above their heads, then reach out as far in front of them as they could, and then move their hands back and forth clapping as their hands met in the middle. He told them to repeat that ten times. Then he said to the audience, “Thank you, you just made me $200. I bet Glen Perkins I could walk up here and get a standing ovation within a minute.”
Another baseball banquet during the same week is Concordia St. Paul’s Baseball Fundraiser, held at Mancini’s Char House. This one is supported by former Twins manager Tom Kelly, and former first baseman Kent Hrbek, both of whom always attend. That is held on Wednesday; then, on Thursday of this busy week, is the Minnesota Twins Diamond Awards. The Diamond Awards honor current and former Minnesota Twins for their achievements both on and off of the field, while raising funds for lifesaving research and care for brain, nerve, and muscle disorders at the University of Minnesota. The fans and the players come to this event all dolled up, and ready to spend some dough on some cool items at the silent auction. During the evening, you hear from the research people at the University of Minnesota Foundation who benefit from this event. You also hear from the players talking about their hopes for this coming season, and watch as they receive awards for what they accomplished last year. This event is attended by the Twins’ owners, the Pohlad family, Twins president Dave St. Peter, front-office people, members of the media, doctors from the U of M, patients from the U of M, and baseball fans who just want to help a good cause.
Byung-ho Park, the Korean ballplayer who recently signed with the Twins, was in attendance at the Diamond Awards and TwinsFest. I got to meet him and talk to him through an interpreter. I asked him how he liked our weather and what he does for fun. He said, “It is a lot like Korean winter, gray and chilly. I enjoy watching movies this time of year. When I get to Florida, if I have any extra time, I might try fishing.”
He seemed surprised when I told him we have more than 10,000 lakes in Minnesota, and that he could fish in less than a 30 minute drive from the ballpark. Byung-ho smiled and said: “I look forward to it!” I was curious what he thought of his new team, and with an embarrassed look he said, “They never show the Twins in Korea, so I don’t know too much about them.” Then he smiled excitedly like a little kid and said, “I know Joe Mauer. Always heard of him, and I got to meet him last night.”
When asked if they did any charity events with the fans in Korea, he looked around at the ballroom in amazement and said, “Nothing of this magnitude.”
On Friday there is a media luncheon that the players attend in the afternoon, and then Friday night TwinsFest begins at Target Field. Target Field has become a perfect venue for this event, and TwinsFest has been quite successful in raising money for the Twins Community Fund. At TwinsFest there is baseball food, interactive games that the fans can play with the players themselves, question-and-answer sessions, photo opportunities, live TV and radio shows, a memorabilia trade show, autograph sessions, tours, and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, where you can find even more things to do. It is a die-hard Twins fan’s paradise. As the players maneuver to the different events they are involved in, they are escorted right through the crowd by a security officer. As they whiz through, they high-five and wish the fans well. Fans are sometimes surprised and do a double-take as a player glides by so closely. This event runs Friday through Sunday, and all proceeds go to the Twins Community Fund. When it is over the players are exhausted and ready…not to go home, but to warm, sunny Florida to begin spring training. Nearly every player that I talked to said that they would be in Florida a week early just to get ready, and because they were so eager for the new season to begin.
Last but not least, I always attend another banquet on Saturday night of this busy January baseball week. This one is something that was near and dear to the heart of Harmon Killebrew. Harmon was probably the greatest Twins player ever. Harmon is almost like the Major League Baseball icon. The MLB logo was always said to have been an image of Harmon Killebrew holding his bat. I recently read where MLB now denies that. However, in my heart, that logo will always be Harmon.
One thing that Harmon Killebrew was working on before his death was to help build a hospice for children called Crescent Cove. Harmon’s wife, Nita, carries on the tradition of Harmon’s dream as she hosts this gala event. It is an emotional banquet. The people are so giving and love to help this cause; you can feel the love in the air. It makes you very happy. But then there is a reality check…the sad stories which tug at your heart. In the course of this event, if you don’t laugh and cry in the same evening, you are not human.
Jack Morris, Paul Molitor, and Tony Oliva are usually on hand to co-host this gala for their late pal, but unfortunately Jack could not attend this year, because his mother passed away. To Jack Morris, we send our condolences.
Hall of Famer Rod Carew was miraculously in town after his near-death experience, and he is now determined to help save lives. He and the Twins are launching “The Heart of 29” (Rod’s number) campaign for the American Heart Association. I’ll tell you more about that another day.
Twins management and alumni set the examples, while the rookies watch the vets, and learn how to reach out to their fans, the Minnesota Twins’ way!