Punch rewind. Let it roll back 15 years to October, 1987. The Minnesota Twins taking the field in the then-wondrous Metrodome look an awful lot like the Twins taking the field in the now-obsolete Metrodome.
Big, genial lefthand-hitting first baseman. Centerfielder who provides the heart of the offense and clubhouse. Hard-nosed third baseman with power. A motley pitching staff that's better than anyone thought. An easy camaraderie among the players, many of whom came up together through the system. And that guy playing second base looks an awful lot like current third base coach Al Newman -- oh, it is Al Newman.
If the 2002 Twins make it to the World Series, they'll defy contraction, the laws of physics (what goes up must come down) and the conventional notion that only teams with high payrolls can win. But they'll also affirm the very things that made the 1987 Twins (and the '91 team as well) so appealing to Minnesota and baseball fans in general. The Homer Hankies we could do without. On the other hand, the sense that we're watching a sum-greater-than-the-parts underdog have its day ... priceless.
The names and faces have changed, but the song remains the same. Beat the bushes. Nurture. Teach. Trade for more prospects. Save money. Repeat. Doug Mientkiewicz, Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, A.J. Pierzynski, Luis Rivas, Jacque Jones, Bobby Kielty, Dustan Mohr, Eddie Guardado, Brad Radke and J.C. Romero all came up through the system -- like Kent Hrbek, Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti, Tim Laudner, Steve Lombardozzi, Greg Gagne and Frank Viola before them.
You want to know how they found Kent Hrbek? Smokey Teawalt, the No. 3 man in concessions, saw him play first and pitch for Kennedy High in Bloomington, Minn., told his boss, Jimmy Roberston, who told his brother, Calvin Griffith, who happened to own the Twins. You want to know how they found Dustan Mohr? They got him on his cellphone as he was driving home to Mississippi after the Indians released him in Class A ball. The Twins' farm director told him to keep driving till he got to their Class A team in Fort Myers.
Through all the talk of contraction, despite having an owner who doesn't seem overly committed to the team, the Twins lost just one front-office employee -- and that was because her husband was transferred. Baseball may have been ready to abandon Minnesota, but GM Terry Ryan wasn't. After all, the Twins drafted him as a high school pitcher in the 35th round in 1972.
Just like the 1987 Twins, the '02 team owes a lot to Tom Kelly. The manager now is Ron Gardenhire, and much has been made of how relaxed the team is, but it's Kelly's foundation they're standing on, his insistence on sound, fundamental baseball. After both the '87 Game 7 win over the Cardinals and the '91 Game 7 win over the Braves, Kelly stayed in the dugout, leaving the stage to the players. Yeah, he could be hard, stinging, curmudgeonly. But it was never about him; it was about the game. And he, too, is still around as an instructor.
Punch rewind again, this time back to June, 1982. All these young kids are standing around the cage in the brand-new Metrodome, laughing and joking and taking their cuts. Hrbek, Gaetti, Laudner, Dave Engle, Lenny Faedo. They're talking about the previous night, when manager Billy (Slick) Gardner went out to the mound in the first inning and asked the starting pitcher if he was tired. "No, why?" asked the pitcher. "Because the outfielders sure are," said Gardner.
These '82 Twins (some of whom played under Tom Kelly at Double-A Orlando) are thrilled at the idea that they're in the majors and not all that bothered by their place in the standings, which is last. And by a lot.
They're loose. They're tight.
They're about to make history.
With glove and bat, Torii ...
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