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Justice delayed but not denied: an ode to Bert and the rest of us

In which stories are told about a favorite pitcher

Sports Contributor Archive 2019 Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Times are tough, and like many of us, I presume, my thoughts have been fairly negative all too often. That said, it’s incredibly easy to feel sorry for oneself, and for many reading this, there are probably quite legitimate reasons to feel that way. A few weeks back I wrote about appreciating all the workers who are “essential” in healthcare and retail who are keeping us as healthy as we can be and who keep us hopeful that normalcy will return again someday fairly soon. They remain, or should remain, in the forefront of our thoughts, even as we keep thinking about baseball and its return.

Those of us old enough to remember, remember 9/11 very well. Some of us may even remember the surreal days that surrounded the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Everything, including sports obviously, seemed so unimportant given the larger context. I’ve struggled myself with trying to appropriately weigh the importance of sports in my own life against the things my wife, who works in a hospital, must deal with daily, and those out there who’ve truly suffered in one way or another through this ordeal.

Some days I wake up and think sports really don’t matter at all, but other days I wake up and think how desperately society needs sports to distract us and to entertain us and to give us something to look forward to when there doesn’t yet seem to be light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve also written previously about David Ortiz, from his humble Twins beginnings through his glorious Red Sox endings, but one of the things that Boston fans and residents will remember most about David Ortiz is how he seized the moment (and the microphone) in the days after the Boston Marathon Bombing, and basically reclaimed the city from the horror of the days before. He didn’t do it particularly artfully, but he did it his way and that helped to make it real and meaningful for a lot of people who needed something real and meaningful about then.

Ortiz couldn’t alleviate all the suffering, he couldn’t bring back the dead or truly give back the injured what they had lost, but he could somehow be influential in putting the city back together and getting everyone moving forward again. Baseball was life, life was baseball.

I don’t know who, if anyone, in baseball or in the country will reclaim our cities from all of this, but I know who I want it to be when the Twins get back on TV. I want it to be Bert Blyleven, and not because I intend any disrespect for anyone else who covers the Twins for FSN. Frankly, I have great respect for all of them. I have my favorites in the booth, but honestly, Bremer, Morneau, Smalley, Hawkins, the occasional small doses of Tom Kelly, or Torii Hunter, all serve their purpose for me. I have no issues with any of them, but for me, when it all comes back, and we all have to somehow transition from whatever we’re in now to the beginning of the rest of our lives again, I’d like to hear from Bert Blyleven, most of all.

Bert combines the best of what we need. He’s an HOFer, and a nice guy…and even though he’s a Californian by way of the Netherlands, he’s a Minnesota Twin through and through, and you can tell he gets it. He gets that we all want the Twins to win so badly, and that it means a lot to us, but he also understands that in reality, there are other more important things.

I remember when Bert Blyleven wasn’t yet in the HOF. I was strongly in the camp that believed he should have been and it took far too long for his induction. But, when it happened, maybe it made it even sweeter. An injustice corrected. Like the 1987 World Series championship…something that seemed overdue and something that seemed to right a wrong, that was long overdue.

When baseball starts again, and we all get to resume our lives as safely as we can, it’ll most definitely seem like correcting a wrong. We won’t be able to undue all the pain that many families have and will suffer, but it’ll nevertheless seem like, finally, justice has been served.

Those of us who have grown up as Twins fans know that world series championships don’t come along very often, and if you were alive in 1987 it was as if a breath of sweet relief was taken by an entire state and region of professional sports fans. A giant exhale, after years of holding our collective breaths. We would all love for the Timberwolves, Wild, and Vikings to win a world championship, but I’m not sure any of us would bet much on the odds of that happening in our lifetimes, especially if we’re older than thirty. That Twins championship, and then the 1991 Championship validated lifetimes of waiting, and made us feel like we were all a part of something much bigger than ourselves. We could use that feeling again now.

Blyleven, of course, was an integral part of that 1987 World Championship, and it seems so fitting that after suffering through the mediocrity of the Twins teams upon which he played in the 1970s, he’d get the opportunity to come back to his MLB roots and win the first championship for his first team (It wasn’t Bert’s first championship, as he had won one with the Pirates) but it was “our” first championship.

Blyleven’s role as a Twin when I was first old enough to follow them, and then his role in our first championship, is one of the reasons Blyleven has always been one of my favorite players. I think he could speak well for welcoming baseball back for us, and we know that he’d speak from the heart, because we know he cares about us, and we need that right about now.

I remember asking Bert during a Royals/Indians game in 1985 (long unnecessary story about why I’d be at a Royals/Indians game in 1985) if he’d heard the rumors about the Twins wanting to make a deal and get him back. Blyleven always struck me as one of the most honest, genuine guys who sometimes (and history reflects this in certain instances) wore his emotions on his sleeve and told people what he thought.

It’s so hypocritical of us to want athletes to be real people like the rest of us, and then to excoriate them when they do something real, and Bert suffered through some of that, like many athletes did. But Bert answered my question, even though I was just a student attending a game and yelling a question at an MLB pitcher, but he answered me, and as I recall it, he said “that’d be great.”

He didn’t leave the Twins on the best of terms, and while I’m willing to blame Calvin Griffith for all of that, and Bert for none of it, the truth is, not all fans probably felt the same way. Bert could’ve held a grudge against the organization, or he could’ve shrugged off the question, but he did neither, he was positive (as he always appears to be), and he was genuine.

Many years later, I found myself living in Rhode Island and attending a Twins-Red Sox game at Fenway Park with my young sons. While they were born after Bert’s career had ended, I had managed to convince them that they should try to meet my favorite Twins pitcher. So, after the game, we wound our way behind home plate in the funky old concourses of Fenway Park and waited by the Press Elevator area to see if Bert would come down that way. He did, and even as a young father, I remember saying “Mr. Blyleven, you were my favorite Twin, it’s great to see you” or some such meaningless drivel, that celebrity athletes probably endure all the time.

Bert could’ve easily ignored me, could’ve pretended not to have heard me, could’ve done many things, but what he did was come over to me, shake my hand, and greet my sons. He leaned down to them, asked them if they were playing baseball and how their seasons were going. He was, in a phrase, a genuinely nice guy. Sometimes meeting your heroes goes very wrong, I’m pleased to say that didn’t happen for me.

From a Minnesota perspective, the Twins did something that no other Minnesota team could do, then or now, even though we’re almost thirty years past the 1991 World Championship. (I don’t want to slight the Lynx, as I know they’ve had championship success, but they had it soon, and thus their fans hadn’t suffered as a result of historical futility). In contrast, long time Minnesota sports fans have suffered through the North Stars lack of a championship (it would figure, of course, that after they moved to Dallas, they’d win the Stanley Cup), the lack of championships for the Wild, Timberwolves, and the almost frightening history of the Vikings, whether it’s wide right or wide left, or just why’d that have to happen?

Justice delayed can be justice denied, but then again, justice ultimately achieved seems sweet indeed. Blyleven was a major part of our “justice” in 1987 and I think he should play a major role when we return.