The Minnesota Twins, along with the University of Minnesota and the Twin Cities Chapter of the Baseball Writers of America, put on the event for the ninth year. It is a benefit for the University of Minnesota’s research and patient care focused on diseases such as ALS, Ataxia, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, and Parkinson’s Disease.
Target Field opened at 5:30, and there was a social hour (or hour and a half, I guess) during which time there was a silent auction with some terrific items donated by the local teams and some restaurants and more. At 7, the dinner and program began. It was a nice dinner, but of course, the big event was the awards ceremony.
The first award of the night went to Andrew Albers, who was the recipient of the Jim Rantz Award, given to the Twins minor league pitcher of the year. Terry Ryan introduced him and spoke highly of the lefty. He acknowledged concerns about signing him originally, not because of his stuff, but because of his injury history and the Tommy John surgery. He also mentioned that a team from Korea was trying to sign Albers, but that the Twins would help facilitate it.
Albers came up and spoke. He comedically told his remarkable story of how he came to the Twins. He spoke so highly of the Twins and mentioned several times just how grateful he was to the organization for the opportunities they presented him.
Next, Terry Ryan introduced the winner of the Sherry Robertson Awards for the Twins minor league player of the year. The award went to Byron Buxton. Now, Terry Ryan is not one to launch superlatives real readily, but he spoke glowingly on Buxton. He talked about his tools, but he also talked about the person that he is. He mentioned that he has a “Fire in his belly” and is the type of person and player that teams really want to have in their organization.
Buxton is very quiet and very humble. He did talk about having been in track, so “I’m pretty fast.” That would be an understatement.
Next, Joe Mauer came up to the stage. Over the speakers, we heard, “Coming up to present the Carl R. Pohlad Award for Outstanding Community Service, Twins first baseman, Joe Mauer.”
Mauer said, “That sounds a little funny!”
Perkins came up to accept the community service award, and was very appreciative. Despite also winning his second Pitcher of the Year award, he said that being given the community service award meant so much more to him. He said that it is instilled on players to be great in the community, that it’s not just what you do on the field but also off the field. Perkins has certainly done that and was very deserving of the award.
Ron Gardenhire came up and introduced former Twins player, coach and manager Frank Quilici as the Kirby Puckett Alumni Community Service Award recipient.
Quilici talked about how he grew up in Chicago and was a White Sox fan. However, “The White Sox didn’t draft me. The Twins did.” He has been a great ambassador for Twins baseball since his managerial days. He is active in fantasy camps and is at Twins Fest every year.
He talked about his father remaining a White Sox fan even when Frank played for the Twins. His mother used to get upset at his father because he wasn’t a Twins fan, he was a White Sox fan. Frank’s father would say, “What? I hope that Frank gets two hits… and the White Sox win!”
Though his name may not be as well-known as his brother Dave, Steve Winfield has contributed to baseball in the Twin Cities for almost a half-century. He has played, been an official in the Minnesota State High School League and he continues to be a coach in the RBI League. He was awarded the Play Ball! Minnesota Terry Ryan award as a “Friend of the Game.”
During the social hour, I was talking to Darren Wolfson and Steve Winfield came over to talk to him. He also shook my hand as we were introduced. Now, we so often hear or read about the handshake of Adrian Peterson. If it’s any stronger than Steve Winfield’s handshake, I’m surprised there haven’t been stories of broken bones.
Caleb Thielbar was introduced to the audience as the Boll Boni Award recipient as the Twins Outstanding Rookie. The Randolph, MN, native is very quiet, very humble. He did a nice job of speaking. At one point, he said, “It’s hard to imagine when I was over in St. Paul (playing for the Saints), that I’d be in this league much less on this stage.”
Rhett Bollinger of twinsbaseball.com went to the stage and introduced Brian Dozier as a double award winner. Dozier was named the Charles O. Johnson Award winner as the Twins most improved player and the Mike Augustin Media Good Guy Award recipient.
Dozier does a great job as a speaker He credited the Twins and specifically Gardy and Joe Vavra for helping him through the transition to second base. However, the highlight of his segment came when Dick Bremer asked him about any adjustments he hopes to make in 2014.
Dozier said that he’s already had to make a big adjustment. He got married two weeks ago to his girlfriend of six years. He joked that he’s learned more in the last two weeks than he did in the previous six years. He also said, “I didn’t know that putting a dirty dish in the dishwasher could go so far!”
Though he is no longer with the Twins, Justin Morneau was given the Bob Allison Award for leadership. He was out of town and unable to attend, but he did leave a video thanking the Twins and the fans for the award.
Bremer asked Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire to come to the stage to talk about the offseason. The first questions to the two were about the decision for Gardy to come back.
Ryan said that there are a lot of traits that you look for in a manager, and the Gardenhire has those traits. Ryan acknowledged, “I put him through a lot.” It was an indication of Ryan putting the blame for last season on himself.
Gardy accepts responsibility for the losses. As much as he didn’t have the players, he never said that. He wants to win, and he’s done it before. He wants to be part of doing it again and sees the team as being very close to getting there again.
Ryan talked about the need to go get pitching, and that they have addressed that. He believes that if the team gets better starting pitching, it will help the other aspects of the game.
When asked about the decision to move Joe Mauer to first base, Gardy’s humor came out. “We are going to have the best looking first baseman and the best looking second baseman in the league. We’ll have all the chicks at the ballpark!”
Brian Kraft is the chairman of the 2014 Diamond Awards. He has ataxia. He came to the stage, with his father whose ataxia is advanced. He spoke well about the advancements that have been made. He provided the illustration that his doctor gave him. It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but we don’t know where the haystack is. 20 years ago, they found the haystack, and more recently, they think they may have found the needle. However, so much more work and research and testing needs to be done.
The Jim Kaat Award was first presented a year ago (to Ben Revere). This year, shortstop Pedro Florimon was given the award. He came to the stage and talked about how, growing up in the Dominican, all he wanted to do was play baseball. He also talked about how it was about 90 degrees right now in the Dominican Republic, and he definitely likes warmth.
Jordan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals is from the very small town of Auburndale, Wisconsin. After going 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA in over 213 innings in 2013, he was named the winner of the Dick Siebert Award for Upper Midwest Player of the Year. He was unable to attend.
Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes came to the stage. They both talked about the opportunity that they feel they have with the Twins, to help bring things back to where they need to be. They’re both excited about the opportunity.
When asked what pitches they throw, Ricky Nolasco talked about throwing the kitchen sink at the hitters. Fastball, slider, he tries to sink the ball. He wants to pick up on what the hitter is doing.
Hughes said that he is a fastball pitcher. He said that he wants to work quickly and throw a lot of strikes. He said, “Sometimes you miss bats… and sometimes it gets hit a long ways!”
Hughes deprecating humor played very well with the audience. In chatting with Bonnes and the Star-Tribune’s Phil Miller later, we wondered how that form of a humor might work in New York. The writers there might go after that. For me, I enjoy self-deprecation.
Glen Perkins received his second award (Pitcher of the Year), and then Joe Mauer was given his third Calvin Griffith Award as the Most Valuable Twin.
The highlight of the evening was saved for last. Rod Carew came to the podium to present Tony Oliva with the Herb Carneal Lifetime Achievement Award. A video showed all that Oliva has done on the ball field with the Twins, and all that he has done in the community. The list was long, and most likely, was not complete.
Carew spoke of the Twins work in the community and all Oliva and others do, but he spoke passionately about his friend Tony Oliva. The two were roommates for ten years. Carew said that he used to lay awake at night, listening to Oliva cry because of the pain that he had in his knees. He talked about listening to Oliva struggle to walk, slowly, down the hall to get ice. He marveled at how Oliva would show up at the ballpark each day and hit line drives all over the field.
He said, “We don’t call each other by our names, Rod and Tony, so come up to the stage, “Roomie.”
And then Oliva put on a show for the crowd. The man is an incredible story teller. He talked about how he continues to go on the Twins Winter Caravan. However, he sees some of the young guys who are on the caravan, and he thinks that they need to do what he did. He said, “When I was young, 1964, 1965, I would go to Jamestown, North Dakota, and it would be 81 degrees below zero, wind chill.”
He later confided, “This is a true story. When you’re Spanish, sometimes you lie a little bit.”
Telling a story about when Carew was once batting against Nolan Ryan (then with the Angels), and “Nolan Ryan threw like 100 to 120 miles per hour.”
He went on to act out how Carew’s stance against Ryan was different than normal so that he could get out of the way. In one case, Ryan threw a ball behind Carew’s back. At that point, Carew looked over at Oliva in the on-deck box and said, “Hey Roomie, I think that ball went right through me.”
As the crowd at Target Field laughed, Oliva went on to say that Nolan Ryan was laughing out loud as well.
In summary, it was a great night at Target Field. It was great to be rubbing elbows and shaking hands with many in and around the Twins organization. It was a nice dinner, and a very special program. Over the years, the Bob Allison Ataxia Research Center and the University of Minnesota have raised more than $8 million in their 20 years.
If you are interested in contributing and learning more about this program, click here.
Next up, Twins Fest! It will be held for the first time at Target Field starting tonight. One of the big talkers at the Diamond Awards was how it would go at Target Field. The logistics will make it quite interesting! However, it is a great event that supports the Twins Community Fund which has done so much in Twins territory to help youth baseball and support other worthy programs. As I understand, there are still tickets available for both Friday and Sunday.
And, maybe we will see many of you at the Twins Daily Winter Meltdown on Saturday night. It will be a fun night!