Photos and Story by Gordy Jones
The Twins’ spring training in Florida is a great platform to build your vacation on; there’s a lot to do in Southwest Florida. Although it has been unusually chilly this year, it is still much warmer here, and there is no one shoveling snow. The only folks shoveling are the brave Minnesotans at the beach, who aren’t going to let a 60 degree day keep them from building a sand castle with the kids.
But the real action is at Hammond Field in Fort Myers, where every March, thousands of Northern families make a pilgrimage to get an up-close and personal look at the Minnesota Twins as they prepare for the coming season. As I strolled around saying hello to old friends during my first day at the Twins’ complex, I saw yet another family having a baseball day of fun. They were shuffled in with the other typical families, and having just as good of a time, if not better. It was easy to see that they were drawn together by the Twins, and that baseball is something special that they share. Mom and Dad were watching some young prospects at batting practice while the kids played catch and watched Joe Mauer with wide eyes.
The only thing different about this typical family: they own the Twins. It was the family of Bill Pohlad, son of the late Carl Pohlad, who shares ownership of the team with his brothers, Jim and Bob. I stood next to Bill as batting practice continued. Bill is a very nice man, quite laid back and unpretentious. I asked him to share some early memories of watching the Twins with his Dad. “We grew up like any other kids going to the game. We didn’t go to Met Stadium that much; we went like anybody else, 10 or so times a year. It was always that family-type of thing, where you have those memories you associate with your parents, or in this case my father taking us there; it was really special. Obviously, later when we got involved in the team, I was much older; there’s a huge number of great memories of those early days of our owning the team.” I wondered if he ever dreamed he’d be in such a position, with his family having such a great impact on baseball in Minnesota. “No, no, not at all. You just don’t think of those things. We just grew up like anybody else. Just going to the stadium was a special occasion. My dad was a fan, but he wasn’t there every day. We were into it on a normal level.”
Some of his favorite times at Met Stadium: “Night games. They had a sense of nostalgia and magic to them. I was a big Harmon Killebrew fan. I used to love watching him play. And obviously I enjoyed the Vikings games as well. Going out when it was super-cold and doing the tailgating thing, the cardboard you had to stand on to keep your feet from freezing, because the cold would radiate right into you. Yes, the super-cold days I remember.”
Bill stood next to his lovely wife, Michelle, who is as cool as Bill. One would never guess Bill owned the team, or that he is one of the top movie producers in the country. His company is called River Road Entertainment, and he has offices in Los Angeles and Minneapolis. His company has produced several notable movies, including “Brokeback Mountain,” “A Prairie Home Companion,” and “Into the Wild,” and is currently working on a story about Beach Boy genius Brian Wilson. I asked him how he got into movies. “I always loved going to movies. Quite often on Sunday mornings my dad would take us to movies after church. I just love that type of experience; the kinds of emotion movies can instill in you. I grew up with them, and in fifth grade I said that is something I want to be in the business of, and it worked out.”
I asked Bill how active he is in the Twins’ front office. He said, “My brother Jim runs the team on a day-to-day basis. But the three brothers, we kind of separate things out a little. We each have our own area of business specialty. Jim’s is the Twins, but we talk about them all of the time. We office together and go to lunch quite often together. We talk about the bigger issues with the team or trades we’re thinking about doing. But I let him handle it on a day-to-day basis as does my brother Bob.”
We went back to talking about the great family experience just as his son caught a ball, then said hello to Joe Mauer all in one moment. Bill smiled and said, “My son Oliver is 8 now, and he is into it! My brothers, their kids are older. One works in the organization, and the others are fans; it’s great to see it’s such a big part of our family and how it intertwines with the family experience.”
Then he went on to say that he’s looking forward to the season. “You’ve got to be optimistic! As you stand here and look around at the enthusiasm and smiling faces, you have to feel good about it!”
I have to agree…but then again, I’m always optimistic and feeling good at the Twins’ spring training camp.
Photos and Story by Gordy Jones