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Why We Love Randy Dobnak and the Top 5 Most Lovable Underdogs in Twins History


Randy Dobnak may only have a 4.99 Uber rating but there's no doubt that the state of Minnesota has given the Twins Pitcher a five star seal of approval. For a franchise that's legacy hasn't necessarily been cut out by big names and big dollars, Dobnak's unique journey to Major League Baseball is a perfect match for the Twins. Read why Twins Territory loves the legend of Dobnak and take a look at five of the most 'Lovable Underdogs" in franchise history.If you haven't heard of Randy Dobnak's improbable ride to the majors by now, you've got some catching up to do. To sum it up in short, there's nothing not to love about the guy. From his time pitching at tiny DII Alderson Broaddus University to the reality that only 36 players from the United Shore Professional Baseball League (where Dobnak pitched for the Utica Unicorns after college) have ever signed with an MLB franchise, it's tough not to cheer for the Twins' own David in a world of Goliaths.

 

If Dobnak's story of resilience and beating the odds isn't enough to win fans over, his resume is topped off with multiple years of Uber (and Lyft) driving experience, a story that has gone viral. Not to mention, the 6’1 righty has a Fu Manchu that arguably rivals the iconic Rollie Fingers mustache.

 

2020 has been a year of milestones for Dobnak. In addition to earning a spot in the starting rotation Dobnak has a league leading 0.90 ERA and is 3-1 on the year. Perhaps the best mark for Dobnak was his August 5th homecoming win against the Pirates at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, just a hop skip and a jump away from his childhood home in the Pittsburgh suburbs.

 

There’s no question that Dobnak has won over the hearts of Twins guru’s not just for his strong start to the 2020 season, but because the chances of someone with his story becoming a everyday starter in the MLB are probably less than the chances that Tropicana Field will ever sell out a baseball game again. (It's one of the few ballparks where the stands look similar this year compared to last).

 

Hopefully we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the success of Randy Dobnak. The meat and potatoes pitcher isn’t the only surprise who has been a fan-favorite on and off the field for the Twins. So in no particular order here are the Top 5 Lovable Underdogs in Twins History.

 

Al Newman

Played for Twins: 1987-1991

 

A member of both World Championships with the Twins, Newman was known for his sharp skills as a utility infielder and as a speedy pinch runner. Success at the plate however was not exactly Newman’s forte. In his eight year MLB career Newman batted a meager .226 including an 0-31 streak in that 1987 championship season. Newmie’ tallied his best season in 1989, racking career high numbers at the plate batting .253 with 62 runs and 31 RBI.

 

Perhaps Newman is most recognized by younger fans as the Twins’ third base coach from 2002-2005 (although he coached in the Twins organization dating back to 1993) . Both as a player and coach, Newman was known as a clubhouse guy who always had a smile on his face and a joke ready to crack with teammates and fans.

 

Following his time with the Twins, Newman spent time working for the Diamondbacks as well as coaching in the Northwoods League until 2018. All in all, the guy wasn’t a Kirby Puckett or a Kent Hrbek impact type of player but hey, not many people are. A great guy that was a part of some special teams and the Twins were lucky to have him around after his playing years.

 

Nick Punto

Played for Twins: 2004-2010

 

An original member of the Ozzie Guillen patented ‘Piranhas’, Punto spent seven of his 14 years in the MLB patrolling the infield for the Twinkies. Similar to Newman, Punto was not known for his skills at the plate, although he did post a .290 average in 2006.

 

A family friend of mine ran into Punto on a flight to St. Louis a few years back. He said that chatting with Punto felt like chatting with an everyday type of guy off the street. At the time Punto had left the Twins for his one year with the Cardinals in 2011 where he was able to help contribute to their World Series title.

 

Even though he flirted around the majors for a good chunk of his career, Punto will always be a Twin to most fans. While there wasn’t much to love about his stats at the plate it’s tough not to love the poster child of headfirst slides into first base.

 

Willians Astudillo

Played for Twins: 2018-Present

Download attachment: Tortuga1.jpg

Photo above © Jonathan Dyer-USA Today Sports

 

There’s no doubt that La Tortuga still has plenty to prove in his short career. Leaving him off this list just seemed unethical due to the love that Twins Territory has shown him. From the helmet leaving his beautiful mane every time he runs to the fact that the guy can play just about anywhere on the field, there’s nothing not to love about Astudillo.

 

After shuffling around the minors for eight years La Tortuga finally got the call up from the Twins in 2018, appearing in 29 games and batting .355. That number bumped up to 58 games last season and La Tortuga hit a solid .268. The big man hasn’t seen the diamond yet this season primarily due to his positive COVID-19 test earlier this summer. However, he was cleared back in late July and is currently training at CHS Field.

 

In a year where the world has seen a whole lot of darkness we could all use a healthy dose of La Tortuga back in a Twins uniform as a glimpse of light.

 

Ben Revere

Played for Twins: 2010-2012

 

There’s no doubt that the Twins have been blessed with some spectacular outfielders over the past three decades. While his name isn’t Buxton, Hunter, or Puckett, Ben Revere proved to be a spark in his short tenure as a Twin.

 

Revere entered the majors in 2010 as a 5’9 kid from Georgia who many thought would be too short to anchor the Twins outfield. He proved otherwise in 2011 batting .267 and stealing 34 bases. Those numbers jumped to .294 and 40 swiped bags in 2012.

 

Revere was bumped out and traded to Philly (for Trevor May) in 2013 as the Twins welcomed a premature Aaron Hicks to take his spot. Still, Revere’s tenure in Minnesota proved to be electric at times and his speed and personality captured the love of many fans.

 

Caleb Thielbar

Played for Twins: 2013-2015, 2020-Present

Download attachment: Thielbar 1.jpg

Photo above © Michael McLoone-USA Today Sports

 

One month ago Caleb Thielbar was the pitching coach for the Augustana Vikings. After a short stint with the Twins from 2013-2015 the Randolph, MN native spent two years playing independent ball across the river for the St. Paul Saints followed by two years in the Tigers farm system. To be frank, Thielbar’s chances of touching an MLB mound ever again did not look good.

 

So when Thielbar got the call from his hometown team in early August to suit up once again there couldn’t have been a better Cinderella story. There isn’t a soul in the state of Minnesota that isn’t cheering for Thielbar to have a stellar 2020 season.

 

Thielbar has appeared in three games (3.2 IP) so far this year giving up two runs on six hits. If there’s a guy in the league to cheer for this year it’s Caleb Thielbar. Through all the ups and downs and hard work the hometown kid represents everything that is great about the game of baseball and the dreams that it can fulfill.

 

Who’s your favorite lovable underdog in Twins history? Drop a comment below!

 

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Honorable mention: Jim Eisenreich. A 16th round draft pick out of St. Cloud State, he went from hitting .311 with 23 homers in the Single-A Midwest League in '81 to play CF opening day for the Twins in '82. He batted over .300 and played a good CF, but his season was short circuited by undiagnosed Tourette's Syndrome and his difficulties dealing with it in the high pressure Major Leagues. None of us knew what was happening when in early May in Boston Eisenreich walked off the field holding the hand of Gary Ward. The next 2 seasons he played sparingly, then spent 2 years out of professional baseball getting treatment. He came back and had a great career playing 12 more seasons, ending with a .290 average and a World Series ring with the '97 Marlins. I always wished those seasons could gave been spent playing for the Twins.

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Newman was also great for the baseball card of his that was a hot commodity when I was young b/c he had a giant booger hanging out of his nose on it.

 

But a better Newman story is from a buddy of mine who met him at a Twins fest or some such thing and while Newman was autographing something for him, he cracked a joke about Newman's one career home run. To which Newman, without looking up from signing the card, simply replied "one more than you have."

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What a unique story! Looks like he had a very solid season in 1997. First baseball hat my parents bought me was a '97 Marlins World Series Champions hat because I was born during the Series. Would love to do some more research on the guy and potentially a story on him!

Honorable mention: Jim Eisenreich. A 16th round draft pick out of St. Cloud State, he went from hitting .311 with 23 homers in the Single-A Midwest League in '81 to play CF opening day for the Twins in '82. He batted over .300 and played a good CF, but his season was short circuited by undiagnosed Tourette's Syndrome and his difficulties dealing with it in the high pressure Major Leagues. None of us knew what was happening when in early May in Boston Eisenreich walked off the field holding the hand of Gary Ward. The next 2 seasons he played sparingly, then spent 2 years out of professional baseball getting treatment. He came back and had a great career playing 12 more seasons, ending with a .290 average and a World Series ring with the '97 Marlins. I always wished those seasons could gave been spent playing for the Twins.

 

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So in no particular order here are the Top 5 Lovable Underdogs in Twins History.

 

Seems odd that, even without counting Dobnak, the top 5 would all be from 1987 or later, 4 of the top 5 from 2004 or later, and 3 of the top 5 from the last 10 years...

 

Obviously any kind of list like this will be subjective, but I would have liked to see some research into less recent/familiar Twins teams and players. Who were the lovable underdog Twins from the 1961-1986 teams? Griffith was cheap and largely running the show on his own, so there must have been a few.

 

I do appreciate that some attempt was made at diversity -- too often, similar lists have focused on players who historically benefitted from opportunities not available to everyone. Although perhaps 1st round pick Revere isn't the best Twins example we can find.

 

I too am not terribly familiar with those pre-1987 years, but just looking at Twins of color at B-Ref, it seems Bobby Darwin would have an interesting story -- longtime mediocre minor league pitcher turned regular MLB outfielder for the Twins at age 29. Gary Ward was signed as an undrafted free agent and had a fairly undistinguished minor league career before getting ROY votes at age 27, MVP votes at age 28, and becoming an all star at age 29 for the Twins. Jose Morales (the old one) basically became an MLB semi-regular for the first time at age 33 for the Twins -- and batted over .300 twice in 3 years here. Albert Williams was smuggled out of Nicaragua to pitch for the Twins. And these are just Twins of color -- obviously looking beyond them, you'd find even more players from those eras.

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