Playing With the Players 15 Jun 12

Story and Photos by Gordy Jones

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.