Growing up in Fergus Falls, MN, I had some magical Twins Caravan experiences. Somewhere, I have a ball signed by Bert Blyleven and Tony Oliva—as well as Matthew LeCroy & Dennis Hocking (thus pretty much cancelling out its overall value).
This past week, I attended the Mankato stop of the 2020 Caravan and recaptured a bit of my youth:
Upon arriving to the historic Kato Ballroom, I was treated to a “ballpark supper” of hot dog, chips, and soda. A crisp new 2020 pocket schedule beckoned from my seat. A highlight video was shown in which—unsurprisingly—many Bombas were hit.
Before the men of the hour arrived, TC Bear almost stole the show with his working-the-crowd antics. He found a guy wearing a ten-gallon cowboy hat and swapped it with his own oversized ball cap, then snapped a photo with an infant in full baby-TC fur whilst pretending to eat it (at least I assume it was pretend—come to think of it, I never did see that child again...)
Twins Radio Network host Kris Atteberry emceed the festivities, and I’m not sure a better person could be tailored for that role. I’ve always been impressed by his on-air skills, and it’s no different in person. He also got off the best joke of the night: When Tony Oliva made a comment about his own English sometimes not being all that great, Atteberry quickly retorted: “Don’t worry about it...I’ve been working with Dan Gladden for 15 years and still don’t know what language he’s speaking” (cue the rimshot).
Witty banter aside, the main attractions were then brought out: Ehire Adrianza, Brent Rooker, and of course Tony-O, who garnered a standing ovation from the crowd.
Rooker—last seen raking at AAA Rochester—took the mic first and described his ascent through the minors, including much discussion on how diligent he is at maintaining his swing (and often using technology/film study to do so). He once played indy-league ball against the Mankato Moondogs, so that was pretty cool.
Swiss-army knife Adrianza, clad in a black beanie, spoke next. He was highly praised by Oliva for his worth ethic, and I learned he rides a garish scooter—tricked out with flashing lights and music—to Target Field each game day. He takes a lot of pride in being able to play whenever/wherever Rocco Baldelli needs him, and he specifically brought up how amazed he was at Luis Arraez towards the end of last season.
I was able to ask a question to Ehire, inquiring as to whether or not he has considered pulling a Cesar Tovar, all-nine-positions-in-a-game routine. He chuckled and intimated he’d love to make that happen someday!
Finally, Tony got his chance to work his magic. Very interestingly, he talked about how much he loved playing in New York (or just being on the biggest stage), as well as his improbable rise from Cuban farmer to MLB superstar. Apparently, he’d love to get back into farming, but just not in Minnesota (“too cold”) or Florida (“too many snakes”). At one point, Tony started what seemed to be a serious story and somehow had it end up illustrating his fear of riding in elevators. Truly a Minnesota treasure is Tony-O.
I didn’t stick around for autographs like I would have as a child, but as I walked out into the brisk January night I was ready for baseball to be back. There may be a few more harsh winter months ahead, but my mental countdown to Opening Day began right then!