Twins Way to bring nostalgia to All-Star festivities
Minnesota's connection to past to be manifested in all aspects of Midsummer Classic
MINNEAPOLIS -- As fans make their way into Target Field, they enter through gates named after Twins legends.
There's left-field gate No. 6, named after Tony Oliva, center-field gate No. 3, honoring the late Harmon Killebrew, the Target Plaza gate No. 34, in tribute to the late Kirby Puckett, right-field gate No. 29 for Rod Carew and home-plate gate No. 14 for Kent Hrbek.
But Twins fans are almost as likely to see living legends at the park. Oliva is always around the team as a special instructor and ambassador, while Hrbek, a native Minnesotan, still lives in the area and attends many games. Even Carew, who makes his home in California, was in town recently and makes his way up to the Twin Cities for games at Target Field and baseball clinics several times a year.
It's all part of what can be described as the Twins Way, encompassing an organization known for its loyalty and stability, with several former Twins players remaining part of the franchise in various capacities.
"We've done a good job of keeping our history and our tradition intact," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "We pay close attention to our alumni here. There are a lot of guys who live here who played for us. And a lot of guys who played for us work for us."
Former Twins players are scattered throughout the organization in various roles, including the coaching staff, broadcast booth, Spring Training instructors and community ambassadors.
Of the current coaching staff under longtime manager Ron Gardenhire -- who has been with the organization since 1987 and took over as manager for Tom Kelly in 2002 -- four coaches played at least one season in Minnesota, including Paul Molitor, Terry Steinbach, Tom Brunansky and Scott Ullger.
Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven has been broadcasting Twins games since 1996, and Kelly, who managed the Twins from 1986-2001 and won two World Series titles along the way, often fills in for him when he's away. Twins fans also recognize several former players as part of FOX Sports North's coverage, including Jack Morris, Roy Smalley and Tim Laudner. Dan Gladden has also been calling Twins games on the radio since 2000.
And for those Twins fans who travel south to Fort Myers, Fla., for Spring Training, several familiar faces serve as special instructors, such as Eddie Guardado, Kelly, Carew, Oliva and Hrbek. Former Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz serves as manager for the Class A Advanced Fort Myers squad during the regular season.
"Their roles are all a little bit different," Twins president Dave St. Peter said. "Some are on the broadcasting side, some are at Spring Training with us as special instructors, and some visit our Minor League clubs. Others are more involved in the community and marketing aspects."
|"I think the history and the tradition is always something that's always been important to us. I think you try to accentuate that when you have opportunities such as Opening Day, the postseason or an All-Star Game. At the end of the day, it's a celebration of baseball, but also about the history of the players in that town."|
|-- Twins president Dave St. Peter|
With the All-Star Game coming up on July 15 at Target Field, several of those former Twins will take part in the many events that come with All-Star Week.
Carew, Molitor, Blyleven and Oliva are all serving as spokespeople for the T-Mobile All-Star FanFest, which will be held at the Minneapolis Convention Center from July 11-15. They're joining Twins first baseman Joe Mauer, a St. Paul native, who is serving as the ambassador for the All-Star Game.
"Anything they ask me leading up to the All-Star Game, I'm going to do it," Carew said. "And anything they need for the All-Star Game, I'll do it."
Blyleven is also set to manage the World Team in Sunday's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, while Kelly will manage the U.S. Team. Jim Thome and Morris are also set to represent the Twins in the Taco Bell All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game that Sunday.
Hrbek, Oliva, Kelly, Guardado and Laudner will all participate in various charity efforts throughout the region as well as Al Newman, Rick Aguilera, Brad Radke, Greg Gagne, Frank Viola and Scott Erickson.
Former Twins to appear at FanFest also include Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, Jim Kaat, Corey Koskie, Jeff Reardon, Gene Larkin, Guardado, Oliva, Carew, Molitor, Radke, Blyleven, Viola, Morris, Aguilera, Gagne, Hrbek and Newman.
"I think the history and the tradition is always something that's always been important to us," St. Peter said. "I think you try to accentuate that when you have opportunities such as Opening Day, the postseason or an All-Star Game. At the end of the day, it's a celebration of baseball, but also about the history of the players in that town, and you can't do that without the Olivas, or the Carews, or the Hrbeks or even the Radkes and Mientkiewiczs."
The return of the All-Star Game to the Twin Cities for the first time since 1985 is extra special for former Twins such as Molitor, Steinbach, Hrbek, Winfield and Morris, who are all Minnesota natives.
Molitor said he'll always remember the '85 game at the Metrodome, where he was joined by fellow St. Paul natives Winfield and Morris. It's part of the organization's rich history of having native Minnesotans on their roster, which now includes closer Glen Perkins and Mauer, who were both All-Stars last season.
"To have the Twin Cities, and particularly St. Paul, represented with Jack, Dave and myself made it special," said Molitor, who still keeps a picture of himself with Morris and Winfield from that game in his home office. "Dave was a guy who fueled my passion to be a big league player trying to follow his footsteps on the playground in St. Paul. To think about three kids who grew up in St. Paul together, and we were able to do that, I think it's a rarity."
Blyleven and Brunansky also played in that game, with Brunansky also taking part in the inaugural Home Run Derby. Brunansky said he marvels at how much bigger the Midsummer Classic has become since the last time it was in Minnesota, and he believes fans will be in for a treat.
"It's not just the game," Brunansky said. "It's a week's worth of events, and it's not just locally. It's all over the state. There's clinics, concerts, there's just so much more than the game now. It's a spectacle."
Steinbach, a native of New Ulm, Minn., and a three-time All-Star, agreed with Brunansky and said he's excited to see what's in store at Target Field, which opened in downtown Minneapolis in 2010.
"It's fantastic for the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, for the state of Minnesota and for the fans to have the opportunity to see all that talent together at one time," Steinbach said. "The festivities are 100-fold from what they were when I played."
So while the All-Star Game itself remains the jewel event, it's easy to see just how big All-Star Week has become, with the amount of former Twins who will be participating in various events throughout the region.
"We're in the business of baseball, and a lot of baseball is about emotional connections," St. Peter said. "There's clearly a connection between the organization and its players, and more importantly, the fans. So I think it serves us well, and the players well, to maintain their presence within the organization and, more importantly, with fans."