The Greatest Gifts of All
Story and photos by Gordy Jones
Today’s Minnesota Twins players, and players on their minor league affiliates, are trained in the spring by the best of them: Rod Carew, Paul Molitor, Tony Oliva, Tom Brunansky, Tom Kelly, Terry Steinbach, and up until last year, the late Harmon Killebrew.
One of the team’s newest resources is Tom Brunansky, who was a starting outfielder for the Twins’ 1987 World Championship team. Tom was very popular with both the fans and the players. Besides helping out during spring training, Tom now uses his talent of communicating well with the players in his role as hitting coach for the Rochester Red Wings, and he will someday, most likely, be coaching in the majors.The Twins do a great job of honoring and remembering their greatest, too. They have had reunions of championship teams, they have erected statues, and they have retired numbers. Just last Saturday they inducted pitching great Camilo Pascual to the Twins Hall of Fame, and in September they plan to retire manager Tom Kelly’s number 10 jersey.
Kent Hrbek has a statue at Target Field, but knowing Kent, it’s probably more of an honor having a bar and restaurant at gate 14 (his retired number) named after him; he really enjoys good food, fun people, and cold beverages.
I don’t know if Tony Oliva is more proud of his statue or his Cuban sandwich at the park, and they even have a food stand named after their beloved but wacky radio announcer of the 60’s, Halsey Hall, at Halsey’s Sausages.When the Twins honor their alumni, it is a great opportunity for the fans to share the tradition and history at the public ceremonies, and to enjoy the statues at their leisure. I hope fifty years from now, fans will still be eating a Tony Oliva Cuban sandwich, 100 years after Tony played.
The Twins are so dedicated to preserving the tradition and history of the organization that a couple of years ago, they even hired curator and historian Clyde Doepner, to keep things in order.
There is another “gift” the Twins share with the public, but this one is directed to our future stars. The Twins offer many instructional youth clinics throughout the year, but four of them, held in June and July, are conducted by Hall of Famer Rod Carew. All of them are held by well qualified coaches who are great teachers, but to be instructed by one of the greatest hitters of all time is surreal. I attended one of the clinics at the invitation of Rod himself. He allowed me to sell my book, “Baseball Guy,” at the event. But I was too much in awe of his baseball brilliance to even push my book. I watched andlistened as he taught the proper way to throw, and the art of hitting and bunting. He spoke loud and clear; in a voice that had a combination of friendliness and firmness. He told the kids: “I am not here to baby you. I will show you the right way to do things. If you don’t get it right, I will show you again. But if you do it correctly, I will pat you on the back.”
The participants and co-instructors broke up into four stations and worked on different skills at each station. Rod spent most of his time at the hitting station held in the batting cages. He tried to give every kid at the clinic some one-on-one attention during the 100 degree afternoon. There was plenty of water and no heat-related problems, but at the age of 66, Rod appeared to hold up in the heat better than everyone else.At the last session, the participants sat on the infield grass while Rod stood at home. He gave the entire group bunting lessons, answered questions, and gave the kids some general advice. His swing and his bunting stance were as smooth as they were 40-some years ago. As he bade farewell and offered to sign autographs, I hoped that the young people could grasp who had addressed them and shared his vast knowledge of baseball with them. As I watched the proud smiling Daddies take photos of their children as they posed with Mr. Carew, I knew that the Dads and Moms understood what a rare opportunity their sons had experienced. Someday, if not already, the kids might realize it, too.