Story and Photos by Gordy Jones
Beginning in 1981, coach Rick Stelmaszek was a fixture in the Twins’ bullpen. He was a good-natured guy, but yet he could be a curmudgeon. The players loved him, but a few would have fun at Rick’s expense. Glen Perkins loved razzing him and would say things like: “He’s a great coach, until he has to wake up and answer the phone.”
Everyone was impressed by Stelly’s great organizational skills. At spring training he choreographed the timetable of specific drills and workouts for the major-leaguers, and the more than 100 hopefuls trying to make the club. Players would be running from one field to another, like students at a large high school running for their next class after the bell has rung. In the middle of a hundred uniformed bodies running from field to field, there would be Stelly, holding his clipboard under his arm and looking at his watch.
At spring training, never too far from Rick, would be another coach whom I didn’t really know, but I would notice how content and laid back this fellow always appeared to be. He seemed like a key factor in this production that Rick was directing.
Then, after the 2012 season, it was announced that Rick Stelmaszek’s contract would not be renewed. At first it seemed a shame, but as I thought about it, I concluded it was probably time for him to take it easy. He had some eye problems and other health issues the past few years, and the traveling was probably getting to him. He had been a professional player, manager, or coach since 1968. In the days when baseball people needed a second job to survive, he worked for Jim Beam Bourbon, and was away from home even more. His wife Kathie is a school teacher and he has a son, Michael, born the first year he played professionally, 1968.
The Twins needed a change, too.
When the Twins named Bobby Cuellar as the new bullpen coach, I had to look in my reference books to see exactly who he was. When I saw his photograph, I recognized him. He was the coach who helped Stelly in the spring.
I was watching batting practice the other day, and I found myself leaning against the dugout rail next to Bobby. I introduced myself and asked him how he liked his new gig. He looked at me strangely, as people often do, and asked, “New gig? It’s baseball. I told someone the other day, ‘You’ve gotta love watching major league baseball and major league players. I don’t care who you are, when you put on a major league uniform, you’re a major league player.’ But nine out of the last ten years I was a Triple A pitching coach; the other year I managed Double A. But baseball is baseball.”
I said that I had heard he is bilingual and how helpful that must be. He laughed and said, “I can speak Spanish when I need to, and I can talk like this all of the time.” He chuckled again and said, “I grew up in South Texas speaking Spanish. I spoke Spanish quite a bit, and then I went off to a place called college. While I was there, I didn’t speak much Spanish. I lost a little of my fluency. But if I need to speak it, I’ll get it done.”
I asked him if there was much pressure on him to fill Stelly’s shoes. He replied, “You may not know this, but Stelly and I played together in 1977. We worked together a long time at spring training, and we helped each other out. They want me to run the bullpen now. Well, I think it’s an honor and a privilege to follow him. I am just trying to hold somebody else’s shoes down, and do the best I can to help this team get as many wins as we can.”
I said that I understand there is a lot of work involved, but I know they have a lot of fun out in the pen. He said, “I kind of just sit there, and they do what they’ve got to do. But really, we’re just like anyone. We sit and watch baseball, sometimes have a conversation, and do what we need to do.”
He went on: “I’ll tell you what, though, I came to this organization in 2002, and went to big league camp – I knew a couple people there, but not many. Soon it felt I had been there all my life. The Minnesota Twins’ major league and minor league
staff is a big family. It’s an honor and privilege to be part of it.”