Story and photo by Gordy Jones, September 30, 2011
I was trying to make it to the end of the season without losing what’s left of my mind. It seems as if I’ve spent an eternity watching guys get hurt and sick, while their team falls apart. The Twins had an off- night and I thought I’d relax and try to forget when suddenly I remembered: I had promised Denard Span that I’d photograph his very first solo charity event. Last year Span co-hosted this same event, Twins and Pins, with Orlando Hudson. I made the mistake of calling this year’s event, “Denard’s second annual Twins and Pins,” and he immediately called me on it. “I want to be honest with you; I consider this my first annual Twins and Pins event. Last year it was more of Orlando Hudson’s…I tagged along to just get a feel for doing an event. Last year it benefitted mostly his charities. He handed me the torch, and I will carry it, and always thank him for allowing me to tag along. This year it is my charity, the Jeremiah Program, that this is linked to, and it’s a good feeling to be here.” I asked him what the Jeremiah Program was all about. “It’s for single mothers. It helps single moms who are trying to go back to school, make a good living for their kids, and trying to make things positive. It’s a good cause! A good friend told me about this program a couple of years back. But at that time I wasn’t quite ready to throw an event, but I knew it was something I wanted to do. My mother raised my brother and me (alone) – so I wanted to do something that was near and dear to my heart.”
As I drove to the event, I was hoping that for Denard’s sake, this wouldn’t be a flop. Denard is a great guy, and I knew how much this evening meant to him. But I also knew how tired, beat up, and frustrated the team was, and how a restful night in another environment might appeal to them. And I was thinking how frustrated fans were, and thinking they might feel the same way. But as I pulled into the bowling alley parking lot, I was happy to see it nearly full – and I was early. As I walked into the building, I was even happier to see Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Kevin Slowey, Luke Hughes, Drew Butera, general manager Bill Smith, and many others, as well as hundreds of fans. It was a great evening, and I believe that by the end of the night, it helped many of us to end a rotten season with a positive spin.
A couple personal highlights I experienced that night were separate conversations I had with Joe Nathan and Michael Cuddyer. I’ve spent nearly the last decade at an endless number of events with these guys, and this may have been the last one with them as Twins. They are truly great individuals, and whatever team they end up on next year, that community will be fortunate. I hope it’s ours.
I was hanging with Denard for a while, and I asked him if anyone from the Twins’ current roster looked out for him and had been a positive influence on him in his young career. I knew that in the past Orlando and Torii had done so, and they still check in with him. Denard smiled and said, “Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan…and all of the veterans on the team have been a great help. But I want to say, the best advice I ever got was from Michael Cuddyer. It was in my rookie year, 2008, and there were a couple of events that I didn’t show up to. He pulled me to the side and said: ‘Do you know what, Denard? I know that one of these days you’re going to have your own event, and you’re going to want your teammates to show up and support your cause, your charity, whatever it might be.’ I never looked at it in those terms. I thought about it and knew I’d want the support of my teammates. Ever since then, I’ve been to every charity event.” He had a lump in his throat as he continued, “And to come here today, and see about 15 of my teammates here, is just a good feeling.”
I couldn’t let Denard get away without asking him one baseball question: Can we be competitive next year? He replied, “Yes! No question, no question. Everyone is going home after this season with a sour and bitter taste in their mouths, including the players, coaches, and front office. Everyone’s going to use this off-season to try and find a way to turn it around.”
Maybe if we tell the team that each game is some type of benefit, we might win — because in the world of charities, the Twins are world champs.
Baseball Guy in New Ulm for Oktoberfest:
I will be signing copies of my children’s book, Baseball Guy, October 7th and 8th during the festivities at the Holiday Inn. Stop by and say hello.