Softball and baseball’s favorite newspaper since 1987


Sweet home Chicago and Minnesota

  

By Gordy Jones

 

The Twins have visited Chicago more than a hundred times over the years to play the White Sox on the South Side at Comiskey Parks old and new. What made their most recent visit so unusual was the fact that they didn’t play the Sox. No! The Twins were on the North Side of town at historic Wrigley Field, playing the Cubs. That is why so many Twins fans were drawn to the Windy City for this series. The Twins had been to Wrigley only three times before this, and had a record of two wins and seven losses in the nine games they had played there.

For Twins bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, a trip to Chicago is always a trip home. That’s where he lives in the offseason. For Joe Mauer, it was like a temporary home away from home. He had more than 200 family members, friends, classmates, former coaches and former teammates on hand to cheer him on. He even had a nephew in the dugout filling in as Twins bat boy. Although it didn’t show in his play, Joe was fighting off a flu bug. He was sweating as he told me how horrible he felt. Ten minutes later, he hit a home run.

With Joe trying to get as much rest as he could, and keeping up with a hectic team schedule, he really didn’t have any down time to hang out with his clan. But occasionally he would look up toward their section of seats, smile and wave to them. They would respond as the 10,000 other visiting Twins fans joined in – with deafening cheers that easily drowned out Cubs fans.

One person who relished in sweet memories during this trip to Wrigley Field was Ron Coomer. Ron played for the Cubs, as well as the Twins, Yankees and Dodgers, and is now a Fox Sports North reporter who covers the Twins. Over the course of the weekend, you could sense the nostalgia he felt. He arranged to have his teenaged nephew assist him and sit with him in the press area; he reminisced with his mom and sister; he ribbed his old pals and former teammates; he was even interviewed by a Chicago TV crew.

When he was finished with the interview, I asked him, “You’re from Chicago originally, aren’t you, Ron?”

“Sure, I grew up on the South Side of Chicago by Midway Airport, right where I now fly into. Yes, I grew up in this town. I played my high school baseball here, too.”

I commented that a kid from the South Side should be down watching the Sox.

“This is my home ballpark. I used to come here as a kid. Some of the things I did to get here I probably don’t want to tell to the youth of America,” he said tongue in cheek. “We used to take the bus here from the South Side of the city. If my mom knew, she’d have a heart attack. My dad and grandpa were big Sox fans. They didn’t want to go to Wrigley. But I was always a Cubs fan, and as a kid I’d get my way. My dad began taking me here to watch the Cubs.”

Ron went on to make his major league debut as a Twin and spent five years playing in Minnesota, the majority of his big league career.

“The day I left Minnesota [as a player], I was a free agent and the Cubs sent me a contract. I opened it up and called my dad. All he wanted to know is if I had signed it. He knew that is what I always wanted to do: to be a Cub. When I told him yes, he was so happy for me. My mom still lives here. My dad has passed away, but he was here to watch me, along with my mom and my sister. They were part of Wrigley Field. Playing in front of my family here was awesome.”

I remembered how, as a Twins player, he had many funny nicknames. I asked him if he had liked any of them. He laughed and said, “Coom Dawg wasn’t so bad.”

I told him that I enjoyed the funny names that his former teammate, the late, great Kirby Puckett, used to come up with. I especially liked Fred Flintstone. He pretended to be upset and snapped, “That one, I’m trying to forget.”

There was a short pause as the Twins players filed into the dugout. He looked over at the Twins’ bench. He stared at Gardy and the boys as he said with conviction, “I’m still a Twin! I’m here. I played for them, and now I broadcast, I do shows, and I do many special things for them. They are a great organization with great people. I make Minnesota my home now. I married a girl from Minnesota. Minnesota…now that’s home! “

 

Booth Great Guys!

If you ever watch baseball games televised in other cities, you already know that many broadcast teams are not much fun to listen to. And many of them are not so knowledgeable – especially about the opposing team.

That surely is not the case with Twins announcers Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven.

Bert is a wealth of knowledge, especially about pitching. He learned on the job; he had a fabulous 22-year career as a big-league pitcher, and eight of those years were with the Twins, including their 1987 World Championship year.

The Bert you hear on TV is very humorous, always full of pranks and mischief, just as he was in his playing days. He recently put his mischief to work for charity by eating nightcrawlers on a dare to raise thousands of dollars for Parkinson’s Disease research.

He has a great voice and a nice delivery. He also started a phenomenon more than a decade ago with his “Circle Me Bert” routine. Many times while I’m on the road, opposing-team fans will ask me why all of the Twins fans are holding signs that read “Circle Me Bert.” I simply reply, “So that Bert will circle them!”

His partner, Dick Bremer, is a broadcast professional with a smooth, rich voice. Dick can play a good straight man for Bert’s jokes, but he is also a serious student of the game. Like Bert, Dick reads scouting reports, watches both teams during batting practice and is an expert on the Twins. He can sometimes tell you Gardy’s next move before it happens.

Dick was born in St. Paul, but raised in the small western Minnesota town of Dumont. He was always a Twins fan. He would memorize his Twins pocket schedule.

“If the Twins were on TV, I’d be in front of it watching them,” he says.

He played ball through high school, but after being cut by his college team at St. Cloud State, he decided to take up broadcasting to keep himself near the game. In 1983 he began doing North Stars games — and then the Twins’ games.

“I worked with some of the best,” he said. “I worked with Harmon, Jim Kaat and now working with Bert keeps things fresh,” he said with a chuckle.

Dick is a family man and says, “The worst part of this job, and it’s a wonderful job, is that you do spend a lot of time away from your family. I’m always trying to find ways to spend time with the family when I’m with the ball club on the road.”

So on this trip he took his wife, Heidi, 14-year-old son Eric, and 12-year-old daughter Hannah by car to Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City and finally back to Minnesota on his 10-day working vacation.

While I was in Milwaukee, it was nice to see former Twin and Brewer Larry Hisle. I asked him to reflect on those days he spent with the Twins. He told me, “I have the fondest memories I think any athlete could ever muster up. Five years of joy and delight with some of the greatest players that have ever played this game. As long as I live, I will have memories that make me realize how fortunate I was.

“My passion now is mentoring youth in the city of Milwaukee, and I do public relations for the Brewers. I am lucky I can combine the two.”

Larry and Bert Blyleven were teammates for five years in Minnesota. Larry had this to say about Bert, “I am really privileged to know him. Every time I bring a young man out to meet him like I did today, he’ll give a pitching clinic to these kids, and it’s more thorough than anything else that they would ever receive. Oh, I am just privileged. And oh my…the humor! To this day he still plays jokes on everyone, myself included.”

 

Check out Gordy’s book at http://www.baseballguy.org. Gordy can be reached at gejones1@aol.com.