Photo’s and Stories by Gordy Jones
It’s no accident that many Minnesotans who have made it to professional baseball opt to play in front of their hometown fans. Joe Mauer is one; he grew up in St. Paul and has never played for another major league team. A few other players have grown up here, then played in other states, and, more than midway into their careers, have come home to play for the Twins. Three of them grew up less than two miles from each other, and also played for the Toronto Blue Jays. They are Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, and Jack Morris. Dave and Paul even got their 3,000th hits as Twins, playing in the Dome.
Another Minnesota ballplayer who came home to play for the Twins in the midst of an all-star career is Terry Steinbach, who has again returned to the Twins, this time as their bench coach.
Then there are guys from other places who have fallen in love with the area and have come to call it home. Justin Morneau is from Canada and has a winter home in Arizona, but no matter where his career leads him, he plans to always have a home here.
The late great Kirby Puckett was from Illinois and died at his winter home in Arizona, but he considered himself a true Minnesotan.
Next, we have guys from all over the world who were at one time Twins, who have returned later in life to work in the organization. This wasn’t always the case. It was a rookie team president more than a decade ago who realized how talented and knowledgeable many members of the Twins’ alumni are, and wondered why, at the time, the Twins had no relationship with them. That’s when Dave St. Peter began inviting players back for reunions, and tapping into their heads at spring training. The Twins have had the most experienced and decorated spring training staff in the majors. The late Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Paul Molitor, Tony Oliva, Tom Kelly, and Terry Steinbach have all been on staff. New this year are Doug Mientkiewicz and Tom Brunansky. Doug is the new manager of the Fort Myers Miracle, and Tom is now the Twins’ hitting coach.
It’s smart baseball to tap into such great resources as these fellows, who, besides being quite knowledgeable about baseball and the Twins’ style of play, are also great guys. But it also says something for the Twins organization as a whole that these men, who are highly respected throughout the game, want to return.
I caught up with Tom Brunansky to talk about his return, and he said: “It’s like a kid who has gone off to school, coming back home and feeling so welcome.” I asked Tom what were his fondest memories as a ballplayer,
and I thought for sure he’d just say the World Series, but he said, “Just learning to be a ballplayer while wearing a Twins uniform — of course the World Series — but there were a lot of things that went on before that. A lot of tough defeats, a lot of learning, a lot of growing pains; and to be able come here to share those experiences with these guys. I still feel I’m part of Minnesota, and to come and work with these guys, and share what I’ve learned, I feel we can build off of that.”
There is something about the Twins that lures these guys back. Tom said that he was the one who contacted the Twins about a job. “Yeah, after coaching high school for a few years, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I called Jim Rantz, and fortunately something opened up.” Then he thought for a moment and said, “This game’s tough, and I know it can be hard to hit — especially at this level, where everything is magnified. There is a lot of failure in baseball. I learned because I’ve walked that fine line where I’ve nearly fallen off the bridge quite a few times. So I try to be as positive and as helpful as I can. I’m going to take care of my hitters; I’m going to do my
homework on the opposing pitchers, just as if I were going to face that pitcher. I’m going to be careful with information I hand out to certain players; some can handle it, and some cannot. The veterans are locked up, they know how to prepare — but some of the young guys, I can help with their approach for that night. I’ll try to make it fun.”
Tom is serious about winning, but about fun as well. Just as when he was a player, you see the guys around him laughing and smiling. Welcome home, Bruno!