Playing With the Players 15 Jun 12

Justin and Krista Morneau at last week’s casino night.

Last week Justin and Krista Morneau hosted their fourth annual casino night, benefitting research of childhood arthritis. I have found this to be one of the most enjoyable events of the year, and each year it seems to get better. Krista is the “maestro” of the entire evening, and she has it down to a science. But she will be first to share the credit; she has many helpers who are very capable at their jobs. There has to be a few behind-the-scene obstacles in the preparation of an event of this magnitude, but if there are, you would never know it; the Morneaus make it look so easy and smooth.

The Morneaus looked fabulous as they took the stage in the opening ceremony; Justin in a stylish dark tux, and Krista in a beautiful royal blue dress. Except for her glow, one would not guess she is expecting another baby next month. It was humorous as Justin gave thanks to all of their supporters, he acknowledged his wife first. He said he learned his lesson one other time when he forgot thank her.

The casino games played only a minor role in the event, as they are played for fun with play money. However, they add a lot of fun to the party, because that is where fans attending the event can belly up to the card table and converse with Justin, Drew Butera, Nick Blackburn, P.J. Walters, Brian Duensing, Jamey Carroll, Ben Revere, Denard Span, and other Twins in attendance – and their wives and girlfriends, too. There was a group of Justin’s NHL buddies there as well, lead by former Wild player Mark Parrish.

Joe Mauer and fiancee Maddie Bisanz at Justin’s casino party.

If you were at the event and you saw a slow moving crowd of fans speckled by flash photography shooting off like fireworks in the sky on the Fourth of July, you probably knew that Joe Mauer and his lovely fiancée, Maddie Bisanz, were in the center of that crowd. They looked sharp together, and you could sense their happiness as they graciously greeted fans and posed for photos with them. Her parents were along, too: Her dad, St. Paul businessman John Bisanz, and his wife Virginia (Ginny). Since the Mauers and Bisanz’s are friends of mine, I spent most of the night wandering around the party with them.

Although Joe doesn’t like to be in the spot light, he makes every person he talks to feel special. Joe looks them right in the eye, and he listens to every word that they say. He smiles as he responds to each of their comments, and you can tell the fans feel like they are his best friend, because for that moment, they are. Maddie is the same way. Many of the women she visited with walked away feeling like they had known her for years.together, and you could sense their happiness as they graciously greeted fans and posed for photos with them. Her parents were along, too: Her dad, St. Paul businessman John Bisanz, and his wife Virginia (Ginny). Since the Mauers and Bisanz’s are friends of mine, I spent most of the night wandering around the party with them.

Maddie and Joe greet their friend and host of the evening, Justin Morneau.

As we ate appetizers and mingled, I saw a young woman with a walker attempting to make her way through the crowd, but she was having a difficult time. I went to talk to her, and she immediately told me that her name was Amy, and that she had a brain injury, but went on to say that she felt much better every day. She told me how much she admires Joe, but with her walker she couldn’t squeeze through the crowd to get near enough to meet him. I told her that I’d help her through the crowd. Joe saw us coming and excused himself from a conversation with a friend. As we approached Joe, I introduced him to Amy. The two of them hit it off and had a wonderful talk. For the rest of the night, Amy was the happiest girl in the world.

But this is nothing new; Joe Mauer frequently makes time for others, especially those who have extra challenges in life. Last week he even had a pizza party with some kids who were ill in the hospital. He has an athletic gift, but he also has a gift in which he makes others feel special.

Justin at the gaming table.

Many of the Minnesota Twins do things like this, but especially Justin and Joe. They do things unannounced and when you’re least expected. Sometimes players want privacy when they do this, but it gives me great pleasure to occasionally write about such wonderful acts. I believe many things that would typically go unnoticed can be quite noteworthy.

Soon, the gaming tables closed, the silent auction closed, and a live auction began. The party was nearly over. Ben Revere still wore his trade mark ear-to-ear smile when the closing remarks were about to begin, and it was great to see friend and host Justin Morneau looking so happy and vibrant the entire evening. The night closed with thousands of dollars being raised for children’s arthritis. Everyone went home with a good feeling knowing they had fun while helping to relieve the pain experienced by a child with arthritis.

Enthusiasm is a Gift! 08 Jun 12

Enthusiasm is a Gift!

Photos and story by Gordy Jones

Mike Redmond played with enthusiasm.
Every now and then, a ballplayer comes along who has an extra amount of enthusiasm, making his brand of baseball a little more fun to watch. One of the most famous of these players – historically, and to the extreme — was Pete Rose. His enthusiasm and hustle made an average Major League player into a superstar.

Another is A.J. Pierzynski . When he catches, he is so into the game, he talks to the ball, talks to the batter, talks to anyone else within the sound of his voice. He can be so intense, sometimes he doesn’t even realize what he’s saying, but the opposing players and fans sure do. He drives them nuts — especially the fans here in Minnesota. That’s mostly because he used to be a Twin. But I’ve been in social situations with A.J., or as Tom Kelly calls him: Anthony, and he is really a nice guy. I remember when he was at the Dome in 2009 for the last time as a White Sox, he was getting choked up as he reminisced about the good times he had there. And that was after he received a bad case of boos from Twins fans. He even defended Twins fans, saying they should root for their team and boo the opponents, it’s only natural. And then he went on to remind me that he never chose to leave Minnesota. With Mauer coming up, he was traded to the Giants for Joe Nathan, Boof Bonzer, and Francisco Liriano. I remember he was sad when he said, “I have friends and family in Minnesota. I didn’t want to leave.”

Nick Punto played very intensely for the Twins and still does for the Red Sox.
Many times, these types of players are known as “good clubhouse” guys — because in some cases their talent is fading with age, but their high enthusiasm acts as a sparkplug for the rest of the team. One player of that nature was another Twins catcher, Mike Redmond. He backed up Joe Mauer when Joe was an almost-everyday catcher. Yet Mike’s enthusiasm, even while on the bench, fired the boys up. You might’ve run into Redmond at a restaurant several hours after a game, and he would still be talking about the game.

There was another such Twin at the same time, who was younger than Mike, but whose enthusiasm made him play at a higher level. That man is Nick Punto. Nick told me that when he was a kid, his dad took him aside and said (paraphrasing), “You’re smaller than the other kids. If you want to make it in this game you’ll need to take advantage of every opportunity you can.” With that thought, his dad taught him to be a switch-hitter. Nick did the rest himself: diving, hustling, lifting – his wrists are as strong as Popeye’s. After the second inning, you’d rarely see Nick wearing a clean uniform, and on the bench he was another one of the team’s sparkplugs. And like Redmond, you’d hear Punto still talking baseball two hours after the game — sometimes with Mike. When Ozzie Guillen nicknamed the Twins infield “the piranhas,” Nick was the poison he had foremost in mind.

Drew Butera (left) and Joe Pohlad at Twins Fest
A current enthusiastic Twin is Drew Butera. Drew’s father, Sal, was also a Twins catcher, and was on the 1987 World Champion team. This, in its own right, makes Drew unique; he is the only son of a former Twin to be a Twin himself. And to play the same position as his father must give them both a special, proud feeling.

Drew grew up in Florida, and out of high school he was drafted by the Blue Jays. He declined and elected to attend college and play ball at the University of Central Florida, where he was one of the top players in the conference. In the 2005 baseball draft, the Mets picked Drew in the fifth round. In 2007 the Twins picked him up as part of a deal for infielder Luis Casilla. After getting some experience in the minors, he was on the opening-day roster in 2010. He’s made a few trips back to Rochester since, but his defensive work behind the plate is outstanding. He sometimes struggles at the plate, but of late has done some nice clutch hitting and raised his average to the upper .200’s.

Drew Butera is shown bartending at Woody’s in Woodbury to raise money for military families.
Drew is a lot of fun to be around, and attends nearly every Twin charity event. Redmond, A.J., and Punto were all generous with their time, too, but Drew will take thee stage, answer questions from fans or media, and seems to love facing a crowd. He is very entertaining, confident but not cocky, and is quite kind to the fans. He takes charity appearances very seriously, just like his game of baseball. In fact, after a recent event where he and Brian Dozier raised money for military families at Woody’s in Woodbury, I asked if I could have a couple minutes of his time, and he cheerfully obliged. I asked him if he had changed his swing at all, because he’s been hitting so well. He looked…not angry, but awfully disappointed. “Are we not doing questions about this event, or baseball?” I’m a multi-tasker in my questioning. If I get a few moments to interview a player, I will cover the event, baseball, and anything else I can think of. I like to seize the moment and make the most of it. He said,” Ok, ok, that’s fine. No, I haven’t changed a thing. I have a better approach. I know myself a lot better. We worked on some things in the off-season. I’m going to try and keep it going.” Then I mentioned his pitching debut, when the Twins were being blown out by Milwaukee, and Drew was called in to pitch a scoreless inning and struck out Carlos Gomez. I asked him if he had practiced pitching. “No, no, it was a complete surprise,” he said. “I did not expect that at all.” He went on: “But tonight…this was really a great event. I’m glad so many people came out for this. It was a lot of fun! The money raised tonight goes to a great cause: military families.”

Drew Butera twirls a bottle opener on his finger as he interacts with fans.
Drew is a perfect fit for the Twins. He loves and plays great baseball, and he is a great guy

WE’RE GONNA WIN, TWINS…EVENTUALLY 01 JUN 12

We’re Gonna Win, Twins…Eventually

Story and Photos by Gordy Jones

 

Matt Capps is on a mission; he’s trying to make it up to the fans that he felt he let down last season.

Being a “glass-half-full type of guy,” I keep looking for bright spots in what others have called a lost Twins season. I agree: Many things have been disappointing, but that’s part of the game. Lately, we’ve had the luxury of the Twins dominating their division and making frequent appearances in post-season play. Our recent past has been great! Yes, I’ve been extremely frustrated by this year and last. But what really bugs me are the fair-weather fans who constantly criticize individual players when they don’t know what they are talking about, and others who are only fans during winning times. The Twins had some terrible years in the 80’s and 90’s, but they were also world champions in both of those decades. They’ll be back. We have some great fans here, but also some with short memories. Last year Joe Mauer was sick and plagued with injuries, and fans booed him, even though he was league MVP a couple of years earlier. This year he is batting around .300, and still gets a few boos carried over from 2011.

 

Matt Capps, like Joe, is a great guy who does a lot for the community, yet he was booed after his first blown save this year. The following night he was booed as he entered the game in the ninth, and then received a standing ovation after completing the save. Matt knows he didn’t fare well last year and that he disappointed fans. He said that is why he wanted to come back this season to pitch for the Twins: He wanted to make up for last year. After re-signing with the Twins in the off-season, Matt took the initiative to learn a new pitch. He came up with a nice split-finger fastball that drops right over the plate, and it has made a difference in his end results.

 

Joe and Justin always prepare for the game together. They run, stretch, and play catch with each other.

In fact, Matt’s new pitch and most of his performances are bright spots. Joe Mauer flirting with .300, and his pal Justin Morneau cracking out home runs and regaining his swing, are a couple more accomplishments so far in 2012. Joe and Justin used to live together and hung out together away from the ball park. Because they both have families now, they don’t get that opportunity too often anymore. But at the ball park, you will find them sitting, running, stretching, lifting, and playing catch with each other. I’ve even seen them applying eye black to each other. It’s only fitting, and a bit ironic they would have physical problems together, and then rebound to good health at the same time.

 

It’s been fun watching Scott Diamond and P.J. Walters pitch in the majors. I told my pal and former colleague, columnist Charley Walters, who pitched for the Twins in 1969: If this pitching thing doesn’t work out for this Walters kid, he might have a future as a columnist at the Pioneer Press. Charley laughed and said, “Ha Ha, I might tell him that.”

 

Justin Morneau is applying eye black under Joe Mauer’s eyes. It is a black grease, and on a bright day, it reduces the glare when catching a ball, especially a pop-up.

Twin Cole De Vries has had a dream come true already this season: pitching five scoreless innings at his hometown ball park with the team he watched as a child, and playing in front of friends and family. He is a bit rough around the edges, but I think he will smooth out with time and experience.

 

Another call-up from Rochester who has talent, but is still rough around the edges, is infielder Brian Dozier. I’ve seen him make some great plays in Fort Myers and now at Target Field. That’s where I caught up with the laid-back country boy last week, and I asked him where he lives. “Fulton, Mississippi. I was born and raised there: The home of Elvis.” I asked him what his hobbies are. “I do a little fishing, but I’m big into hunting. I do a lot of deer hunting in the off-season, and duck hunting, too. Those are probably the two things I love to do most,” he said with a happy, Southern twang in his voice. I asked him how he liked Minnesota. “It’s nice! Minneapolis is a beautiful city. Of course I arrived after the cold was gone. But I was here for Twins Fest, and went all around Minnesota on the Caravan with TK (former manager Tom Kelly), and that was a good experience.”

Brian went on to tell me how much he loves playing shortstop, but has played second, third, and will play anywhere the Twins need him. He lives and eats healthfully, but his weakness is a juicy steak and some cheesecake for dessert.

 

Josh Willingham escorts his Josh Junior of the night around the field. He is shown calling his teammates over to meet the youngster.

Another positive: As I predicted; Josh Willingham is hammering the ball, as his nickname “The Hammer” suggests. He even got the second walk-off home run at Target Field. In his short time here, he has dived into community events. One project he’s involved in is called Josh’s Junior. Before a home game he’ll host a youngster on the field, introducing him or her to the rest of the team, actually taking the child to the outfield, into the dugout, and allowing him or her to collect autographs and souvenirs as they go.

 

We’re lucky; we’ve got some great guys here, and besides, some teams haven’t been to the playoffs in decades. Let’s just take the rest of the season, try to have some fun, and watch a bunch of hopeful kids, and a few seasoned vets, try to improve a bad situation. And let’s celebrate the fact that we have a Major League team with a colorful and successful past; many cities don’t!

IN THE LAND OF BEER AND CHEESE 24 MAY 12

In the Land of Beer and Cheese

 

Mentor Larry Hisle and Bert Blyleven chat with a young Milwaukee man.

Last week, I made my annual trek to Milwaukee. It was time to watch the Twins play the Brewers in interleague play… and to do a little tailgating, and maybe even take a tour of the Miller Brewery. It’s always a fun trip — making new friends, and seeing many old, familiar faces.

 

It was great seeing former Twins outfielder (and a fan favorite) Carlos Gomez, as he was taken off the Milwaukee disabled list while the Twins were in town. Carlos had fun visiting with his old Minnesota pals and teammates. He also struck out facing Twins catcher Drew Butera, who had an opportunity to pitch a shutout inning.

It was also good to see former outfielder Larry Hisle, who played for the Twins from 1973-77, then played several years with the Brewers before retiring in Milwaukee in 1982. Larry is now employed by the Brewers working in the Milwaukee community with the title Manager of Youth Outreach. He is also the president of a program called Major League Mentoring. He can often be seen on the field before a Brewers game escorting young people around the field, introducing some of them to their baseball heroes, and other kids to baseball itself.

 

Jonathon Lucroy visits with his pal, Twins announcer Cory Provus. Maybe he’s telling Cory how hot his bat has been lately. Lucroy had 7 RBI’s in one game against the Twins.

When I encountered Larry on this trip, he was walking onto the field with a youngster by his side. I thought I’d intercept him for a moment before he connected with his friend and former teammate Bert Blyleven, where I know he was heading. As I stopped him, he was telling the young man about the Brewers’ recent woes, and told him, “They might need you. Right now they’re not having fun, so maybe if you smile, you’ll hit three home runs. My goodness, you’re laughing; I better get you into the game. Whose position would you like to take?”

 

Larry played baseball before the parents of the children he works with were born, so most don’t know of him until they meet him. In fact, some of his protégés don’t even know baseball. But Larry is so kind to them, you can tell they really care about him, and they enjoy their time together. They always have a good time at the ball park. We chatted for a minute, and then they strolled toward Bert. I heard Larry tell the boy as they walked away, “To this day, I’m still thrilled every time I step onto a baseball field.”

 

Trevor Plouffe before his haircut.

For Twins radio announcer Cory Provus, this was old-home week. He was the number two announcer in Milwaukee for the last three years, working under the legendary Bob Uecker. When John Gordon retired after 2011, Cory accepted the position, making him the lead voice on the Twins Radio Network. Not knowing him real well, it told me something about the man the way people embraced him on his first return to the area. On Friday, when he made his visit to the field before the game, players, local media, and staff rushed to him, shook hands, hugged, and laughed.

 

Cory later said, “When I came to Milwaukee I made a lot of friends, but now I see they are more like family.”

Plouffe

 

Trevor Plouffe after donating his hair to Locks of Love.

Several times this season, I have commented (with envy) and made light of Trevor Plouffe’s long hair. I even mentioned that, during spring training, his hair had given him special powers, as he blasted many long balls. But soon the real season began, and Trevor batted a buck something with zero homers. Then I ran into him early Friday in Milwaukee and, quite truthfully, barely recognized him; he had buzzed his hair. I asked him what possessed him to do that, and he replied, “I donated my hair to charity.” I wanted more information, but he said, “I have to do something now, sorry. I’ll tell you more about it tomorrow.” The next day we didn’t cross paths, but a couple of days later, through the Twins media guy, Dustin Morse, I got an email with the scoop. Apparently, Trevor had this idea in the back of his mind all along. He grew his hair with the intention of donating it to “Locks of Love,” an organization that makes wigs and raises money for needy children who have lost their hair due to disease, usually cancer. With Anthony Swarzak setting up a barber shop in the Twins’ clubhouse, Trevor’s hair was soon cut and on its way to Locks of Love. Then suddenly, on the next road trip, Trevor Plouffe found his swing. He hit several homers, drove in some runs, and hopefully made a kid happy on his return to good health. Win or lose on the field (hopefully win), Trevor is a great example of the type of people who come through the Twins organization. Way to go, Trevor!

HE “DAZZLED” HIS DAUGHTER 17 MAY 12

He “Dazzled” his Daughter

Before every Twins game, Dan Gladden watches batting practice, then schmoozes with the players, collecting information to use in his broadcast. He is shown here with Carl Pavano.

Twins radio announcer and former outfielder Dan Gladden has a personality that resembles the way he played baseball. He is enthusiastic, but won’t tolerate nonsense. He’s a fierce competitor, but also a very nice guy. He loves to have fun, loves touring on his Harley, and loves to play golf. You can find him at most Twins-related fundraising golf tournaments. I remember a few years back, after his daughter, Whitney, tied his score at a golf event, he was very uneasy, and so was she. She’s competitive, too. They began talking smack (in a fun way) to each other. The banquet and award ceremony were about to start, and they were both still standing on the 18th green deciding who was better, having a putt-off. Finally they decided that wasn’t enough. They figured there was enough daylight to go another nine holes, and the winner would be the victor of the family crown. I went inside at that point, and the ceremony began. During the awards program, they called Danny’s name and asked him to step up to the podium, receive a plaque, and say a few words…but no one came forward. I then told the MC that Dan and his daughter were back out on the course. Everyone got a big chuckle out of that; everyone knew of their competitiveness.

When I heard Dan did something funny after Whitney’s graduation from Augsburg College last week, I had to see what happened. I knew it would be good. I asked Danny about his funny graduation story. He smiled and said, “I don’t have any funny stories. Oh yeah…that. My daughter had an old Jeep Cherokee with about 125,000 miles on it. It made noises and didn’t run well. So I purchased a car out at Feldman’s — a little Mercedes. Then I parked it at J.D Hoyt’s restaurant.”

Denard Span always plays hard!

The Gladden family and friends were to have a little celebration at the restaurant in honor of Whitney’s graduation. Everyone had the valet park their cars, including Whitney with her broken-down Jeep. After the party, the group stood outside, waiting for the valet to retrieve their vehicles. As the cars pulled up, Whitney looked and waited for her Jeep. Dan told me, “As she waited, the new car pulled up and someone said, ‘Whose Benz?’ The valet said that car belongs to a Ms. Whitney Gladden. Then she began to cry.”

Whitney graduated with a communications and foreign business degree, and promised her dad she would get a good job soon.

Keeping the Faith

 

Jamey Carroll moves around the infield like he’s a kid.

Speaking of being competitive, all pro athletes are that way, and that’s how they made it to the pros. So I was wondering how the Twins can remain sane in a season that has started out so horribly. I thought I’d ask one of the hardest workers, and the proudest of the proud: Mr. Denard Span. He looked very serious and said, “You just have to stay positive. Baseball is a lot like life: you have a lot of ups and downs, but it’s how you deal with it that counts. It’s how you bounce back when you’re down. Everybody can be in a good mood and be happy when things are going good. A man — or any person — is measured on how they respond when things are not good. Right now things are not going the best. But we are coming to the field, working, and trying to have fun.”

 

Great Moves!

Jamey Carroll, who can play anywhere in the infield, is one of the few elements of the Twins who amaze me this year. It’s because he is 38 years old, makes great plays, and can move better than most 18-year-olds. He and Brian Dozier give the Twins one of the best middle infields around, one of the few things they’re best at this year. Brian is a kid, and said he has already learned a lot from his elder, Mr. Carroll.

 

Brian Dozier’s promotion to the Majors has helped give the Twins a tight middle infield.

I asked Jamey if there is a special diet or workout routine he might be on…specialized for “mature” players. “I do everything, and eat the same as I always have,” he replied. “But this year my workout was a little more intense. I try to stay as agile, loose, and quick as I possibly can, so that I can play the infield. It’s a matter of staying on top of it at all times.” I asked him which position he feels more comfortable at. “I like playing all of them’” he said. “They all have their different challenges. I’m comfortable because I’ve played nearly everywhere for the past 10 years. Third base: I like the excitement of it. At short you’re in the middle of it all and leader of the infield. And at second; there’s nothing better than turning a double play from second base! They all have their benefits, and they all have their challenges.” He went on to say that is a good lesson for kids. They should try every position when they are young, get experience at everything, and see what they are best at. “Each and every position, and each and every sport, teaches you something different about your body. When you’re playing everything, you’ll grow into something.”

 

I asked Jamey how he likes living in Minnesota. “It’s a beautiful place. I’ve come in here as a visitor before. I actually got to enjoy it more as a visitor when we stayed downtown. But we’re in a great community just south of the city. Our neighbors and the city are great. I’m looking forward to the warm summer.”

HELP! 11 MAY 12

HELP!

Liriano has the talent, but he can’t keep his composure.

I never dreamed that the Twins would have such a dismal start to the 2012 season. I really believed that the squad which headed north after training camp had the capability to play above-.500 ball. I knew that Francisco Liriano was a head case, and many times I have written that he needs a sports psychologist. He has the raw talent to get tough batters out, but as soon as he gives up a hit or a fielder makes an error, he beats up on himself until he can’t throw a strike. He loses confidence in his good pitches, and then throws either wild or a meatball right down the middle of the plate — offering even a slumping batter a chance for a long ball. That’s if he doesn’t get beaned. His slider might bounce 20 feet in front of the plate. He seems to sail through an inning or two, and then he freaks out. Rick Anderson is a great coach, but not a psychologist. They spend enough dough on doctors — why not a team shrink?

 

Many people want Rick’s head, but I don’t know anyone who could’ve made our situation any better. No matter who would have been coaching, Scott Baker would still be out for Tommy John surgery, and “Frankie” would still be retiring about the first six batters he faces, then have his meltdown. Rick’s close friend and boss, Ron Gardenhire, would quit if “Andy” were to be fired. Some fans want Gardy’s job, too. That would not solve any problems. What the Twins need is for Blackburn and Pavano to get back on course, they need some livelier bats, and they need a healthy Morneau. They could also use another pitcher or two. There is a rumor circulating, generated from radio talk shows, that Denard Span could be trade bait for pitching once the market opens up. Struggling big leaguers should fear being demoted, too. It happened to Danny Valencia when he couldn’t get a hit, he was sent to Rochester, and for a second time Liriano was sent to the pen. There will be more wake-up calls soon.

You would never guess that Jamey Carroll is a 38-years-old by the way he moves on the field.

On the bright side: Joe Mauer has been healthy and continues to play hard after being plagued by illness and injuries in the 2011 season. Defense has been sharp this year, too. Jamey Carroll has been a welcome addition to the middle infield. Early at training camp, I remember hearing young players talking amongst themselves, questioning why the Twins would sign such an “old guy”. Now they know. Ryan Doumit adds depth to the Twins’ catching, outfield, first base, and strength to the offense. Willingham started strong, cooled off, but will be a steady contributor to the team. And now we get to see some future hopeful stars as they are called up from the minors, such as Brian Dozier and Scott Diamond. I watched them both at training camp, and they both seem very capable at their jobs. I saw Dozier make some dandy plays in the infield and Diamond have some good innings pitching. I also saw Diamond throw a few rough innings, but he is young, that will happen, and it can’t be much worse than what we’ve seen.

 

Jason Marquis

Another bright spot: Jason Marquis’s daughter is making a good comeback from being in serious condition after being struck by a car on her bicycle. Something like that is bigger than baseball. I asked Jason how his daughter was doing, and he said, “She is good! The recovery process has been better than expected.” He anticipated she’d be back in school by the time you read this. Her recovery led to a special night for him. Jason grew up in New York as a Yankee fan, and he got to open his season there, getting a victory with his recovering little girl in the stands, watching. “That was huge,” he said.”My family and friends were there. It’s always nice going home and pitching in front of those who have supported you. I had fifty or sixty people there, they had my back; they’ve had my back for years. It wasn’t really about beating the Yankees; it was about pitching in that stadium, where I went as a kid for so long.”

 

Helping!

Nita Killebrew is third from the right.

The late Harmon Killebrew’s wife, Nita Killebrew, was in town recently to present a check for $350,000 to the Masonic Cancer Center at the U of M before a Twins game. The money was raised through events put on by the Killebrew Foundation, especially the Killebrew-Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament. She wanted me to remind everyone that this year’s events will be a dinner on June 27, and golf on June 28. She then looked at me with a bittersweet smile and said, “We’re having the golf outing the day before Harmon’s birthday.”

TOTAL FRUSTRATION! 04 MAY 12

Stories and Photos by Gordy Jones

Total Frustration!

 

Gardy often tries to relax and blow off some steam by taking infield practice with the boys.

It’s a lot more fun being around a team that is winning than one on a losing streak, and when they are losing, you need to watch what you say. In the Twins’ recent skid, I could notice the frustration in several usually very friendly voices. One night as Gardy greeted me before a game, I casually asked him, “How are you doing?” I meant this generically as a greeting. He looked at me sadly, and said slowly, “Doing the best that we can.”

 

Shortly after seeing Gardy, I saw GM Terry Ryan, and out of habit used the same greeting. He looked at me and said quickly: “Not good! We’re losing.”

I moved along, trying to not to offend anyone else. I saw hitting coach Joe Vavra and he said hello to me. I thought I’d offer something positive this time. I said, “Have a good game, put plenty of hits into the guy’s bats.” He stopped and pointed to a bat he was carrying. “Gordy, there’s been plenty of hits in our bats. If we didn’t give up so many runs we’d have a better chance.” This was a few days before the Angel no-hitter against the Twins. Joe walked away obviously frustrated.

Joe was right at that point, but bad pitching on a team leads to frustration by the offense, which can foster hitting slumps – especially when you’re facing good pitching. That seems to have been the Twin’s next crossroad.

From now on, if the Twins keep losing, I’ll keep my mouth shut at the park, and only nod.

 

Nice Threads!

 

Tom Kelly and Dick Bremer make an interesting baseball announcing duo.

I recently heard on a sports talk show that Danny Valencia was coming out with a line of clothing, so I thought I’d ask Danny if it’s true. He replied, “No, but someone has talked to me about the possibility of starting one, and I do like nice clothes.” He is very stylish in his dress, and I remember last year hearing him and Joe Pohlad, who is a Twins executive and the Grandson of late owner Carl Pohlad — and a fine dresser in his own right — discussing what brands they were wearing and talking clothing stores.

 

I reminded him of how he was dressed during Twins Fest. I saw him bundled up for warmth, but not style. He laughed and said, “I’m a warm-climate Florida guy. If I do this, maybe I’ll only have summer clothes in my line.”

 

TK Live

 

We are more accustomed to seeing Tom Kelly in his baseball attire than in a sport coat. He is shown here with his successor and protege, Ron Gardenhire, who has had many reasons to be upset and stressed this season.

Tom Kelly has been occasionally filling in for Bert Blyleven in the FSN coverage of the Twins games. I asked partner Dick Bremer what it was like to work with Tom. “I enjoy it. He has an interesting perspective of the game and unique way of explaining it.”

 

One of the unusual aspects of Tom Kelly doing the TV broadcast is seeing him on the field pre-game in a sport coat. I asked him if he enjoys filling in for Bert. “It’s all right once in a while. I sneak in there and do a game or two and try to help out — give a little back to the Upper Midwest. The people here mean a lot to me. But that’s about my limit. A couple days every month or so – I’ll do a game or two and give a little back.”

I asked him if he ever misses managing. “No!” he said adamantly. But he softly added, “We miss the competition of the game and the camaraderie of the game, but that’s about it.”

Trevor Plouffe, with his long hair hidden under his helmet.

More Hair Talk

Trevor Plouffe was talking with me about my recent column where I suggested because of his long, thick hair, he endorse a shampoo and do commercials with his mom like Joe Mauer does. Trevor laughed and said, “I always pull off my hat in front of Joe and say, ‘Hey Joe, where’s my Head and Shoulders?’ But now I’m going to say: ‘Hey Joe! Where’s my Head and Shoulders commercial deal?’ That would be great…and yes. I could get my mom involved.”

He then walked away with an ear-to-ear smile and his big hair bouncing.

NOW SPEAKING: DAVE WINFIELD 27 APR 12

Now Speaking: Dave Winfield! All photos and stories by Gordy Jones.

In 2005, Dave Winfield came home to dedicate a newly, refurbished Dunning Field that he grew up on. Shown with him is former Twins radio voice interviewing Kirby Puckett’s protege, Torii Hunter.

Dave Winfield, who is a St. Paul native and member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, called the other day to tell me he will be visiting the Twin Cities on May 11 to conduct a business seminar. I asked Dave for a few details, and he said, “You’ll see me in a new capacity. I am doing a business, public seminar with a friend of mine who is a Hall of Famer in his own right; writing books, doing seminars, speaking, and writing for magazines. His name is Jeffrey Gitomer.”

 

David went on to say that he met Jeffrey when Gitomer spoke to a group that Winfield was part of. It turns out it was an exclusive round-table business meeting in New York City put on by Minnesota entrepreneur Harvey Mackay. After the meeting, Jeffrey was so impressed with David’s sports life, business life, and communication skills that he suggested they team up to do the seminars together. They decided to begin by doing them in the six cities where Winfield played. The program debuts here, his home state of Minnesota. Public speaking is nothing new to Dave Winfield. I’ve heard him speak since I helped him start the Winfield Foundation in 1977, and he’s very dynamic.

Dave went on to comment: “Yes, public speaking has always been part of my life — during and after baseball. I have been a professional speaker for quite a while, but I want to integrate it more into what I currently do. I really enjoy all that I do.” Dave is currently a VP for the San Diego Padres, a successful business entrepreneur, and a family man.

Tony credits his great health to hanging around young people and baseball

The event sounds pretty cool, and I know that Dave is very proud of his portion of the seminar. It also has add-on options, including a VIP lunch and watching a Twins game with David in a suite at Target Field.

Dave got his 3000th hit as a Twin; years before that he met a young Kirby Puckett and became his mentor. That started a chain reaction, as Kirby followed his footsteps and mentored Torii Hunter, Torii mentored Denard Span, and Denard befriended Ben Revere and helps him with on-and off-field situations. Dave told me, “Kirby was one of my best friends. I loved that guy. But that’s the way it was when I was coming up. There was a guy on my team who was a mentor…his name is Willie McCovey. That will be a point covered in my seminar: find a mentor, someone you respect, who has been there and done that. That’s one component that can help make your career and life successful.”

Dave lives in Bel Air, California with his wife, Tonya, and three children. His youngest children are twins. David II and Arielle were born here when he played for the Twins, and are now 17. His son is already 6-foot-9, plays basketball, and has several colleges scouting him. Both kids excel in academics. Dave said, “No matter where I go, I tell everyone that my kids are true Minnesota Twins. That was my team growing up.” He also has a daughter named Shanel.

The fee for the seminar ranges from $149 to $449, depending on the options you choose. To register go to www.gitomer.com.

A Few Words With a Legend.

I couldn’t help but notice how young Tony Oliva continues to look, so I asked him his secret. “I exercise every day and try to eat right. Every morning I go to the club and exercise. I walk a lot; I do everything; I give myself a little tune-up. But I don’t kill myself, just enough to keep myself in shape.” I asked Tony if I could ask his age, and he said: “No! You wouldn’t ask a woman her age.” Then he laughed and said, “I’m 73 and three-quarters — almost 74. Yes!”

Harmon Killebrew and Tony Olivia played together, were very close friends and continued to instruct Twins players together at spring training until Harmon’s passing last year. Tony still works with the team all year.

“I am often around young people, and they help to keep you young. I keep active, too. It’s good to be active. Oh, and being around baseball! That’s been great for me and my family. God and my job in baseball is everything. I don’t care how I’m feeling. I come here (to the ballpark), and see the white baselines, and forget everything. Here we speak the right language. We speak about baseball. We don’t talk about business or politics. We only talk about the happy stuff.”

 

I asked him what his life would have been like if he hadn’t played baseball. “It’s hard to say because you know I’m from Cuba. We used to have a farm…I love to farm. I used to tell my wife that someday we’d retire and move back to Cuba to the farm. We’d have a house on the farm, and go fishing whenever we want to. But I’m very happy Minnesota found me. They took me to see your country, I signed with them, and 51 years later I’m still here. I feel very happy that this happened. Otherwise who knows what would have happened to me and my family.”

I asked Tony if he really eats his Cuban sandwich they sell at Target Field. His usual smile grew bigger. “Absolutely! It is the best. Everything at this stadium is great, but those Cuban sandwiches are very, very good. I helped our chef design it, but we’ve got a great chef, best in the world. I made suggestions, and he made it. I’m glad because it makes many people happy. I get many nice comments.”

As we were parting, he continued to talk: “Wait. I want to say, I love Minnesota and the people here. I’m from Cuba, but Minnesota is my home.”

JUSTIN’S CASINO NIGHT SHOULD BE A FULL HOUSE! 20 APR 12

Justin’s Casino Night Should Be a Full House!

Like the other statues at Target Field, the pose on this new statue looks good, but the face doesn’t look much like the honoree, in this case Kent Hrbek. It stands in front of Gate 14 which was Hrbek’s number. You can also see Kent’s name on the list behind the statue which lists home grown Twins.

June 10th, after the Twins play host to the Cubs in an interleague Sunday matinee, Justin and Krista Morneau will be hosting their fourth annual casino night — sure to sell out again. The event will be held at International Market Square in Minneapolis and will kick off at around 6 P.M. It is an extremely cool event, with the proceeds going to the Arthritis Foundation and earmarked for Juvenile Arthritis. For $150 you get to wander among appetizers, adult beverages, and casino games played for fun. But the kicker is: Twins players and other celebrities are doing the same. This is one event where the fan gets a real schmooze opportunity with the celebrities. To register, google: “Justin Morneau’s Casino Night.”

Other Acts of Good Will

Joe Mauer’s family and friends will be going to the ballpark en masse on June 26 to watch Joe play, and to raise money for several local institutions and causes. Among them are: The Catholic Athletic Association, St. Columba Church, Cretin-Derham Hall’s tuition assistance program, and Friends of St. Paul.

 

Trevor Plouffe and his big head of hair.

Paul Molitor will be joining forces with Friends of St. Paul in their annual fundraising golf event. He will be replacing Joe Mauer, who is stepping down as host. Joe’s plan was to go solo and start a golf event which would raise money and awareness for his own foundation, and then personally choose his causes. I think last year’s injuries and illnesses became Joe’s main concerns, and that’s probably why this was put on the back burner. Now that Joe has rebounded back to being a happy, healthy, and strong catcher, I’m predicting he’ll have a major event within a couple of years. And with Paul at the helm of The Friends of St. Paul’s event, it will surely have continued success.

 

Don’t Get Hair in the Ice Cream

A couple of years ago, Joe Mauer explained to me why he enjoyed doing the Kemps Ice Cream commercials: He really likes the ice cream, and on the days when they shoot the commercials, he gets to spend time with his mother. I’ve written many times: Joe is very close to his family and loves spending time with them. However, with his demanding schedule, that doesn’t happen as much as he would like. But if there is a commercial scheduled, it’s a commitment they’ve made, so they will both be there, and they have a lot of fun.

 

 

Joe Mauer, shown with Scott Baker, usually participate in Justin’s casino night.

Several weeks ago, Joe got to spend an afternoon off not only with his mother, but also with his fiancée and her mother, too. Joe is a spokesman for Head and Shoulders Shampoo, and together they were working on something for them.

 

That got me thinking. When I first saw Trevor Plouffe this year, he was wearing his Twins cap. He said hello, and nothing seemed different. Later that day, he ran into the dugout and removed his cap to cool off. As he pulled off his cap, I was stunned. A head of hair that seemed twice as long and thick as before popped out. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not one who usually looks at a guy’s hair — but as a receding (bald) man, I couldn’t help but to look with envy. I don’t know how it all fit into his cap. I also think his hair was giving him Samson-type strength. He was hitting the ball hard…and many balls were popping out of the park. That was at training camp, but I think this young man is going to ignite sometime in the regular season. He has the capability to hit 30-plus home runs and play a decent right field. He is a bit shaky in the infield, but that is not his forte.

I don’t think Trevor will get enough at-bats to hit 30 homers unless someone gets injured, and I hate to say this, but that’s been the way it’s been going for the Twins. However, if he does well, and gets a little more notoriety, his hair will make him the perfect candidate for a shampoo endorsement. I met his mom last year, and she is a proud, nice lady, just like Teresa Mauer. This spring I asked Trevor how his mom was doing. He told me that he and his mom were both so busy, they hadn’t had a chance to see much of each other. So this would be a perfect solution: Trevor hits a ton of homers, Twins win a lot more games, and he gets to hang out with Mom.

 

 

Cinco De Mayo at Target Field

 

On May 5, the Gopher baseball team will be taking over Target Field to host the Penn State Nittany Lions. Tickets go on sale five hours before the 2 P.M. start, and are $5 for students and $10 for adults; cash transactions only. All seats are general admission.

If you haven’t seen Target Field yet, this would be a fun way to do it. Because it’s general admission, you can scope out the “high-end” seats that usually aren’t available to the public, although this year you can find pretty good seats for most Twins games.

But no matter what, if you still haven’t been there, you’ve got to check out Target Field. Win or lose, it’s an incredible place, and so is its neighborhood; there are a lot of places to have a lot of fun, before and after the game.

When you go, check out the new Kent Hrbek statue near gate 14.

REFLECTIONS 13 APR 12

Harmon would share his observations and give Twins players useful tips during camp.

The regular season is here, and I’ve been shivering at Target Field. That made me think of the perfect weather I experienced during spring training. Every day it was 87, sunny, with a light breeze and low humidity. That triggered a whole series of memories from March — some good, and some a little sad. Many things weren’t the same this year.

 

John Gordon wasn’t there. I loved watching him work as he interviewed players, gathering information to use during his broadcasts. I could tell he loved his work; that’s why I was shocked that he didn’t visit this year. Maybe he did and I missed it, or maybe he loved his job so much, visiting would be too tough on him.

My annual road trip to Sarasota was different, too. Sarasota is 90 miles north of Fort Myers, and is the spring home of the Baltimore Orioles. It’s a charming town with some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, and the nicest people south of Minnesota. It was also the home of Marty Springstead, Major League umpire through three decades, and supervisor of umpires through three more. We would always have dinner and drinks together while I was in Sarasota, but Marty passed away this year shortly before spring training. About 60 umpires made the trip to Sarasota to attend Marty’s funeral. I couldn’t, but I was there two weeks after the fact. I visited some of Marty’s haunts while I was in town, but they didn’t seem the same. He was always in the middle and ringleader of a cast of characters. Among them would be Minnesotan and wrestling announcer Mean Gene Okerland, also a retired CIA agent, a 7-foot former NBA player, a former NHL player, a Catholic Monsignor, Marty’s son who is a jumbo jet pilot and his colleagues, and many regular townsfolk — and of course me, when I was lucky enough to be along with them.

 

I love watching Rod Carew observing a game…he can be intense.

When Marty was out-and-about, people loved to listen to his wonderful stories. He was a living baseball history book. He could tell behind-the-scenes — nice but funny — stories about Mantle, Maris, Frank Howard, Met Stadium, and anyone or anything involved with baseball during the last 50 years. He was brilliant; he kept up on all sports and current events, and could easily cry after telling a touching or sad story. Marty was well known and revered in restaurants and bars all over the country. He would quite often slip into a kitchen and tip the kitchen staff for working so hard, because good food enhanced his wonderful times with his friends. He always took extra-good care of waitresses and bartenders, too. He was loved nearly everywhere he went…except for Baltimore. That was because of an old feud he had with former Orioles manager Earl Weaver — but the restaurant folks in the area still loved him. Many of Marty’s old “hangouts” have erected plaques or hung photos to honor him. He loved Manny’s, and that was his favorite spot in the Twin Cities, his favorite MLB metro area.

 

 

Joe’s brother Bill, the owner of Mauer Chev, and his mother Teresa, are shown here handing out free water during Minnesota Day in Fort Myers.

His favorite ballplayer of all time, and for that matter favorite human being, was Harmon Killebrew. He would often say: “Harmon is the nicest, classiest guy in the world.” Marty had met presidents, kings, and queens, so that was saying a lot. Yep, I really miss Marty.

 

Speaking of Harmon Killebrew, I miss him, too. I loved watching him smile at spring training as he shared his knowledge of hitting with young players — players whose parents may not have even been born when Harmon was a slugger. But the Killer’s legacy would spread among the young guys, and they would listen with respect, and sometimes in awe, as Harmon would kindly and gently explain the best way to smash a homer.

On the bright side, Tom Kelly, Paul Molitor, and Rod Carew were there mentoring rookie and veteran players alike. They are very visible and accessible to players, and sometimes, while on their breaks, accessible to the fans, as well.

TK is quite colorful, dry, and to the point. He will scold any player, rookie or veteran, if he is not prepared, or if it will teach him something. He is humorous, blunt, and usually hits the nail on the head.

I was lucky enough to sit and watch part of a game with Rod once again. I had that honor last year, too. It is incredible listening to the observations of Rod, and Paul and TK, too. They see things fans, writers, and announcers don’t even notice.

 

Fans begin tailgating at 8 A.M. on Minnesota Day!

As I sat with Rod, he told me about the clinics he’ll be doing for the Twins this year. I was honored when he told me he enjoys my book, “Baseball Guy,” and invited me to do a signing at one of his clinics. He even volunteered to sign some books for the kids. Even though it was 87 degrees out, I had chills running down my spine!

 

Another positive from this spring was Minnesota Day, which seems to grow larger every year. Fans begin assembling on the remote parking lot near the minor league facilities at 8 A.M. and begin tailgating. Many fans post signs of their Minnesota home town. Most grill and drink everything: beer, mimosas, Bloody Marys, Killebrew Root Beer…and everyone has fun. Mauer Chev now sponsors the event, and the entire Mauer family (excluding Joe) hands out free T-shirts and bottled water. Tony Oliva and other people from the Twins’ “family” usually stop out and visit with the fans, too.

Overall, it was a pretty great spring. Now, if we can add about 20 degrees to our temperature and win consistently, we can have some fun in the regular season, and create more pleasant memories.

Story and Photos by Gordy Jones