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Once an All-Star, always an All-Star
By Gordy Jones
I love big, gala sporting events; a must-win game, whether it be football, hockey or baseball – especially baseball. I love the electricity those games generate. I love the people, the food and the beer that come with them. I love high-fiving strangers who just happen to be wearing my colors. I love the vendors, the street hawkers, the street musicians and the tourists.
The All-Star Game is all of that … except rather than being a must-win situation, it is a showcase of baseball’s elite.
Minnesota was electric during All-Star week. We were a great host to the world! I talked to many tourists and everyone commented on the cleanliness of the area, the great food, the beauty of Target Field and the friendliness of the natives. We were lucky enough to have our second Derek Jeter sendoff in two weeks, and we had some hometown boys as participants in the game.
The MLB All-Star Red Carpet Show, aka parade, was great. Nicollet Mall was a perfect venue. Thousands of fans poured into downtown to watch the free event, while many people who work downtown extended their lunch breaks. They cheered wildly for Jeter, and for any Twin or former Twin. They politely applauded the rest.
But my favorite part of All-Star week was hanging out with the retired stars, many of whom are former Twins. Some were first-generation Twins dating back to the 1960s and others played not so long ago.
I sat with Jim “Mudcat” Grant as he talked about being the first black man to have a 20-win season, in 1965, when he went 21-7. He talked of his affection for our dear, late friend Kirby Puckett, and how he was honored to sing “What a Wonderful World” at Puck’s memorial. He talked about winning one particular baseball game in which he didn’t have his good stuff, and half of the batters seemed to rip a zinger up the third base line. But the great Twins third baseman of the 60s, Rich “Red” Rollins, knocked down every ball and kept them in front of him, and then threw each batter out. After the game when they retreated to the locker room, Rollins removed his shirt and revealed a lot of bruised purple baseball impressions all over his upper body.
And speaking of Rich Rollins, he was in town, too! It was the first time in many years that he’s been to an event in Minnesota. It was not only a reunion for Rich and his teammates, but for the Rollins family, too. Rich brought 22 family members to Minnesota for their own All-Star party.
Rich spent 10 years in the majors, eight of those with the Twins, but retired with Cleveland. After retiring, he accepted a job from the Indians rather than the one offered to him by the Twins. By that time, he had started his big family, and the Indians had promised him an office job with no travel, but with the Twins he would need to be on the road. Thirty-some years later, he still resides in Ohio.
Frank Quilici, the only man to play, coach, manage and broadcast for the Twins, was present. Frank recently had a kidney transplant and is doing well and his donor is his new best friend.
Tony Oliva with all of his charm was holding court and telling stories to the fans, while Bert Blyleven was being his typical comedic self.
The former pitcher Dwight Gooden, who had a wild side, is now a mellow guy and a grandpa, and he brought the whole family to the game.
I got to meet Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, winner of the 1971 Cy Young Award … nice guy!
I got to visit with Jim and Gaylord Perry, and hear some great stories, including a tutorial on Jim’s slider … and his golf game.
I talked baseball and about mutual baseball friends with Jim Kaat. I love listening to him. After an illustrious career as a pitcher, he became one of the best baseball analysts in television.
I talked to Rollie Fingers about San Diego and the days I knew him as a Padre.
Brad Radke was as nice as ever. He looked young and healthy, like he could run over to Target Field and start a game for the Twins.
I invited my good friend Dave Winfield and his lawyer, best friend and confidant, Randy Grossman, to breakfast. They showed up with Eddie Guardado, Scott Erickson and Doug Mientkiewicz . In print, that breakfast table looks pretty star-studded. Well, it is, but they are actually just nice, regular guys who like a hearty breakfast and can tell great stories. But one thing they have in common, above baseball: Family is their No. 1 priority.
It has been years since I hung out with Eddie Guardado, so when I first saw him, he hugged me and I called him “Everyday Eddie.” He laughed and said, “Not anymore. Now I’m everyday taxi driver.” He lives in Orange County, Calif., and carts his kids around the Southland. He has a teenage son who is an actor, another who is into sports and a nine-year-old daughter who has autism. “It’s a lot of work, man!” he said as he told me about his little girl. “She can’t speak yet. But we love her. She’s our baby. That’s all we can do is love her. But she’s getting better. The more love we give her, the better she gets.”
Eddie and his wife, Lisa, work endlessly with a foundation they started, the Eddie Guardado Foundation, to help other kids and families who are affected by autism.
That kind of puts life into perspective, and Eddie is still an All-Star!