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Batter up, kids

  

By Gordy Jones

 

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a Sunday-night charity event with many of the Twins players and staff. Most of the guys had arrived at Target Field earlier than 9 a.m., practiced, got their workouts in, and then played a ballgame. Now they were devoting their evening to support a teammate’s charity event.

It was now after 9 p.m., and the following day was to be their first day off in a spell. Michael Cuddyer spotted a group of his colleagues and approached them with a question, “You guys are ‘in’ for tomorrow, right?” Most of them replied with a “yes” as he divulged a meeting place.

Pitcher Brian Duensing looked a bit frustrated as Micheal spoke; then he looked at me and said, “I wanted to be part of ‘this,’ but we have relatives in town, and my wife wants a family day.”

What could “this” be that had hard-working, adult ballplayers giving up their day off … and others bugged by the fact that they weren’t able to attend? If you’re assuming that it was golf, fishing or the track, you’re wrong. Besides, the track is closed on Mondays.

Here’s what our “boys of summer” did on their day off: They simply did what they do every other day ... they played ball! But that Monday they weren’t playing the White Sox or the Indians; they were playing with children!

They showed up at North Commons Recreation Center in North Minneapolis and played a wiffleball game with a group of kids from the area Boys and Girls Club.

Right there on a sandy lot, they picked captains and chose sides. It was just like kids did in the days when most of the baseball they played was not on an organized team, but with teams thrown together on the spot, with whoever was hanging around. You might not have known your teammate before the game, but afterwards you might never have forgotten him.

That’s how it was on this day; pros and kids were shaking hands and introducing themselves to each other, and for the next hour they would be teammates.

The kids were brutally honest, as kids will be. If they didn’t recognize a player, they’d ask, “Who are you and what do you do?” And if they liked a certain Twin, they’d let him know as well.

Most of the kids played hard, and the Twins players didn’t let up, either. Jason Kubel hit the ball as hard as he could, only to fly out once to a child, and once to Cuddyer. As Michael Cuddyer pitched a couple of innings, he put some mustard on the ball as he fired it in. Drew Butera hit the ball hard and ran full speed.

Twins alumni Juan Berenguer and Al Newman were there for support and a few laughs. TC the Bear was doing a little of everything: batting, umpiring and clowning around. Some of these kids might have had problems at home, but right now the only thing that mattered was who’s up next.

The children who assembled there had one thing in common: they were all playing ball with the Twins – and that was the only thing that was on their minds. Oh yeah! Another thing they had in common: They all wore smiles.

By the time the game ended, many kids had bonded with individual players. Twins players signed the youngsters’ shirts and caps as the staff passed out Subway sandwiches for lunch. There were hugs, handshakes and goodbyes.

One boy retrieved his basketball, shook hands with his buddy Ben Revere, and said, “Baseball’s not my favorite game, but I really like you!”

Someone in the crowd asked him why. He answered, “He’s a good guy, and he’s very, very quick. I think he’ll do well.” Then the kid looked at me, and he nodded with authority.

As the Twins players walked to their rides, they giggled and recollected events from the game – just as the kids finishing their lunches were doing simultaneously. It goes to show, whether 7 or 27 years old, all ballplayers are kids at heart.

 

Just My Style!

After the wiffleball game, I was talking to Rene Rivera. I asked him how he liked Minnesota, and he smiled and said, “I love it here. I don’t want to go back to Triple A again.”

I asked him what he likes most, and he said, “Everything. I love the fans, the nice hotels, good food, nice ballpark, great teammates – everything!”

A young fan looked up and said, “I’m sure he likes the Twins’ style of baseball, too.”

Rivera looked surprised by the young man’s intelligent comment. He grinned and replied, “Of course … that, too!”

 

Winning!

After a long day at the ballpark, I found myself sitting with outfielder Jason Repko at yet another event. I complained that I was exhausted, and he said, “Yeah, me too!”

Repko, who’s been struggling at the plate as of late, went on to say, “But you know, sometimes I might be tired or sore, and if I didn’t get a hit, I might be thinking about my swing. But if the Twins win the game like we did today, it’s not quite as bad. I don’t feel quite as tired or sore. Even if I didn’t get a hit, it’s not as bad. I’d rather not get a hit and win, than to get a hit and have my team lose.”

 

Fans! If you have any Twins related questions, email Gordy at gejones1@aol.com

 

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