This week, I will be posting several articles handing out some Minnesota Twins minor league awards.
When Minnesota Twins legend Harmon Killebrew announced that his health was deteriorating and he was entering hospice care, fans around the country, and especially in the Midwest, chimed in to tell tales of Killebrew. Amazingly, very of those few stories had anything to do with what occurred on a baseball field. Most of these stories involved something he had told a kid, shaking hands [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]with fans, his impeccable autograph, or some charitable event that he came to and inspired masses. People talked about how great he was as a person.
His baseball prowess was hardly mentioned. His 573 home runs. His 1,584 RBI. His MVP. His six AL home run championships. His 11 All Star appearances. Those are all part of the story, but the stories people told were of Harmon Killebrew, the great human being.
The Minnesota Twins developed the Harmon Killebrew Award for Community Service, and this year, the Twins named one winner for each of their full-season affiliates. Each affiliate’s GM nominated a recipient who exemplifies Killebrew through their work in the community.
Twins Minor League Director Brad Steil said, “In partnership with our minor league affiliates, we encourage our players to be active in their community and emphasize the importance of having a positive impact in society beyond the playing field. In the minor leagues, our players take part in all kinds of activities, including school reading programs, hospital visits, working with disabled youth, and youth baseball clinics. These experiences help our players understand responsibility, compassion, and giving back. Ultimately it helps them mature and grow as people.”
The four 2013 Harmon Killebrew Award for Community Service recipients were:
- Rochester Red Wings – Brian Dinkelman
- New Britain Rock Cats – Dan Rohlfing
- Ft. Myers Miracle – Stephen Wickens
- Cedar Rapids Kernels – Niko Goodrum
ROCHESTER RED WINGS – Brian Dinkelman
Brian Dinkelman was honored to be presented with this award. “I’m honored to be connected with (Killebrew) in this manner. To be considered a person similar to him off the field is very rewarding.”
Dinkelman talked about some of the activities he enjoyed most. “I loved camps with kids to teach them about the game. But anytime being around people who want your autograph and appreciate you is exciting.”
Red Wings GM Dan Mason had glowing comments when speaking about Dinkelman. “Brian has played for us for four seasons and has truly been an ideal player on and off the field for us. On the field, he’s willing to play anywhere and play well. He accepts wherever Gene (Glynn) puts him in the lineup. And he’s a PHENOMENAL teammate. A true clubhouse leader. During the Twins Era of the Wings he ranks second in hits, doubles and games played (Garrett Jones is the leader for all three of those categories). Off the field we couldn’t ask for a better representative of the Red Wings, Twins and the game of baseball. He’s great interacting with fans of all ages be it here at the park or at a school or some other appearance.”
The award is especially important for the Red Wings because, as Mason continued, their “formal corporate name is “Rochester Community Baseball” and has been since Morrie Silver began a stock drive to save the team in 1956. We are community owned, and when Mr. Silver ran the stock drive, he sold shares to 8,222 different fans and businesses in our area. Because “Community” is literally our middle name, it is vital that we give back to the people who have supported us for generations. It is imperative that we are more than just a baseball team in our town, but rather a civic icon.”
The team and the front office get very involved with numerous not-for-profit organizations around the city. Many of their promotions throughout the season are geared toward raising funds for area organizations. With the help of the players, they are able to weave the Red Wings into the fabric of their community.
Mason continued to speak the praises of Dinkelman. “Brian Dinkelman epitomizes the same values that Harmon illustrated. “Dink” is first class in the way he treats EVERYONE. Be it a fan, a front office employee or one of the guys that cleans the stadium or works in our concessions stands. He has been a great role model for the children whose lives he has touched over the last four years here in Rochester and has endeared himself to all our fans with his outgoing and warm personality. He has a great understanding of the kind of impact he can have on somebody because he plays for the Red Wings/Twins and he embraces that responsibility. He is a truly perfect recipient for an award named after Mr. Killebrew.”
Mason continued, “There are SO many great guys in this organization. Brian’s character is impeccable. We really appreciate the way he’s represented our organization and city the last four years.”
NEW BRITAIN ROCK CATS – Dan Rohlfing
The New Britain Rock Cats recipient of the Harmon Killebrew Award was Dan Rohlfing. He worked at several camps throughout the season.
Rohlfing said, “I've worked three or four different camps including two special needs camps, which are my favorite camps to do. Also, I made a trip to the children's hospital to visit some sick kids and try to put a smile on their faces.”
Though young, Rohlfing truly grasps what Harmon Killebrews means to Twins fans and how that carries into the community. “It means a lot to me to win the Harmon Killebrew award. To win an award based on your character is special to me. Being a baseball player is great, but I like to pride myself on being a good person too, and I think this award shows that. We all know what a legend and great person Harmon was, so to be associated with him and to win an award is his name is something I'm very proud of.”
FORT MYERS MIRACLE – Stephen Wickens
In Ft. Myers, the recipient of the Harmon Killebrew Award for Community Service is Stephen Wickens. The Miracle infielder played all over the diamond in 2013. A Canadian, Wickens played four years at Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers. So, he was familiar with the area and has been very active in the community even before this season.
When Wickens learned he had been selected the Harmon Killebrew Award recipient, he fully understood what an honor it was. “I see it as a great honor to be selected for this award because Harmon Killebrew is ingrained in Minnesota Twins history. He was such a historic player and one of the best hitters of all time, and like you said, he may be known for his baseball accomplishments. He is very well known for what he did off the field. Harmon was a killer on the field and a gentleman off of it, and I think that’s how the Twins organization wants their players to be. To be even considered for this award was a great honor and I'm happy to be selected for it. The award may have been given to me but there are multiple people who deserve this award as well.”
Recently Wickens said, “Since I had the opportunity to go to school in Fort Myers, I have had the privilege to work with multiple organizations when it comes to community service. In the past, I have also worked with the Salvation Army, doing their Christmas "Toys for Tots", where we would separate donated toys for children. I did various beach and nature clean ups in the Fort Myers area. Various baseball camps for my university, and surrounding high schools. Also, I was able to work for "Race for the Cure" where I was able to hand out the roses for the survivors that finished the race. I also did a reading at a local school in Fort Myers, took pictures and played games with the children.”
He continued, “This past season with the Fort Myers Miracle I did several baseball camps for the team. The coolest one being the Special Needs Baseball Camp. It was a real unique experience being able to work with those children, and seeing their love for the game. Things like that remind you to play the game for fun, and don’t take things so seriously all the time.”
CEDAR RAPIDS KERNELS – Niko Goodrum
The Harmon Killebrew Award selection for the Cedar Rapids Kernels was their shortstop, Niko Goodrum. He was nominated by the team’s GM, Doug Nelson, who had very good things to say about Goodrum, his Cedar Rapids Kernels and the Twins organization.
“Niko went on a number of community appearances for us. He was always one of the first players to volunteer and sign-up for these appearances. He participated in all of the community events involving the team (baseball clinic, post-game autograph sessions, bowling outing and golf outing). Niko was a positive influence in the clubhouse encouraging his teammates to support of community efforts. The entire team has been a pleasure to work with this season. They have supported all of our community efforts and have been excellent ambassadors for the game of baseball and the Twins organization.”
Goodrum was busy with activities in Cedar Rapids, but he takes his off-field work seriously all year long. “In Cedar Rapids, I've done a kids camp at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tony Oliva Breakfast, and hangout with adults and children with disabilities. My favorite one was seeing a kid off for his Make-a-Wish Foundation trip. The list goes on for things in Cedar Rapids. In Georgia, every year I do camps in the off season, and during Christmas, I pick a family in need and give them money and presents. It feels great giving back because I know if I were in their situation it would feel amazing to know someone is thinking about you. ”
According to Nelson, the Kernels have many programs all around the community. “Supporting the community is one of the Kernels main objectives. We feel that if we are actively involved in the community, then the community will support our team.”
The Kernels staff and players frequently visit local schools and encourage the kids to read. In fact, they have a program in which kids get prizes for reading for 250 minutes. If they reach 1,000 minutes, they get to go to a Kernels game to be recognized.
At fifteen Kernels games through the season, they held silent auctions and jersey auctions that raised money for various local charities. After the games, winning bidders were able to meet the player whose jersey they bought and collect the jersey from him.
At the stadium, the Kernels held many community events. They held walks, movie nights, pancake breakfasts, baseball clinics and many more events to raise awareness for the non-profit’s mission and serve as fundraisers for the organizations.
The Kernels players and staff, including Mr. Shucks, make over 100 community appearances to hospitals, baseball clinics, non-profit events, school events, day cares, and many more places, giving of their time.
Goodrum’s response to being given the award? “To be honest an award was just icing on the cake. I don't do it for awards. I do it because that's how I was raised and that's just the person I am. I'm honored that the Twins saw fit that I deserved it.”
Killebrew made his way to spring training and to the affiliates from time to time and made an impact on those he met.
Dan Mason said, “I have had the great fortune of meeting Mr. Killebrew on a few separate occasions when he came here to do appearances for us. You couldn’t find a classier gentleman if you tried.”
Dan Rohlfing spoke of meeting Killebrew in the spring. “I have been fortunate enough to meet Harmon. The first couple years of spring training, he would come down and talk to all the minor leaguers. Not only about baseball but about life in general. He was very humble and easy to talk to and gave everyone, regardless of status, the same courtesy. It's easy to see why they have the name of this award in his honor.”
Stephen Wickens met Killebrew in a place you may not have expected. “I did have the opportunity to meet him. I played in the Northwoods League for two seasons when I was in college. I played for the Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers. It was in 2009 and he was our guest speaker at our luncheon that we put on for the beginning of the season. He also threw out the first pitch of our Opening Day game. It was a very cool experience because, being from Canada, I did not know much history on Harmon Killebrew. I grew up hearing stories about Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor etc... but seeing the passion all of these people had for him was amazing. He was up on the podium giving his speech, and I remember looking around and seeing all of the locals just hanging on to every word he said. He was very well spoken and told some funny stories, but I also remember there was probably about 200+ people lined up for autographs, and he signed every one and shook every person’s hand and talked to each person like he knew them personally. It was amazing, considering he probably had this treatment for more than 40 years. So to still be so humble about everything was amazing.”
Goodrum’s time around Killebrew was brief but memorable. “I met Harmon Killebrew at 2011 Spring Training. I wasn't able to have a conversation with him, but just being able to shake his hand was all I needed.”
Brian Dinkelman met Killebrew that same spring training. “I was amazed by what a true gentleman he was, and how he carried himself. And, to think a man of his size hit that many home runs!”
Congratulations to all four award winners. They have given of themselves to help people in their communities over the course of the season. All are very deserving to win an award named after one of baseball’s best power hitters and one of its best ambassadors.
Brad Steil summed it up nicely, “I think it was well known that Harmon was a very giving and compassionate person. Giving back to the community was something he encouraged our players to do, whenever he had the opportunity to address them. This award recognizes those minor leaguers who stand out at their affiliate for serving their community in the same spirit that Harmon did throughout, and after, his career.”