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Twins plant spruce tree in honor of fallen fan

May 31, 2011

 

ZUMBROTA, Minn. — Those who knew Patrick Gadient would tell you he did not like to be the center of attention. Imagine what he would have thought of the Twins holding a ceremony Tuesday morning in his honor.

One of the 14 black spruce trees from Target Field was planted just beyond the center field fence at Zumbrota Mazeppa High School, creating a memorial to Gadient, a Class of 2006 graduate who was killed in a car accident on Feb. 3, 2011.

The tree was awarded to Twins season-ticket holder Dan Flaaen through the club’s “Sweet Spot” program. When the Twins decided to remove the trees from beyond the center-field fence at Target Field, season-ticket holders had the opportunity to submit a video on why they deserved to have a black spruce tree from the inaugural season at Target Field.

Flaeen, a friend and classmate of Gadient, teamed with another classmate, Bobbie Ersland, to submit a video in their friend’s honor.

“We got the email, I think they sent it out in about January, and I didn’t even think about it,” Flaaen said. “But then after the funeral, I was walking back from class, I called Bobbie, and I said, ‘You know, I think we should do it.’ … It felt right. He loved the Twins, he loved baseball, and so I thought it fit perfectly.”

At Tuesday’s ceremony, Flaeen and Ersland spoke along with Gadient’s sister, Karen Lang, and Zumbrota Mazeppa High School Principal Erik Enger. They spoke of Gadient’s personality and his love not only for baseball but life in general.

Enger commended Flaaen and Ersland for seeing the opportunity and taking advantage of it to honor their friend.

“None of us controls our fate, that is given to an ultimate higher power,” Enger said. “What we can control is how we respond to when things happen. And thanks to the response of Bob and Dan getting things started with the tree, and then the response from the community … that makes me feel very proud.”

The video, titled “Spruce for Pat,” was filmed at Zumbrota Mazeppa, using video equipment from the high school, along with photos of Gadient from his Facebook page.

It details Gadient’s popularity among his friends, his love for outdoor activities and his connection to the Twins as a baseball player. Twice during his career, Gadient had the opportunity to play at the Metrodome on the same field as his heroes.

“He was just ecstatic,” Ersland said of Gadient playing at the Metrodome. “He knew he’d be pitching off the mound and all the greats that pitched from ’82 to ’04 and ’06, when we went and played there, he was toeing the same rubber as those guys that toed the rubber.”

After placing among the five finalists, Flaaen and Ersland spread the word to friends and family to vote for the video. The response snowballed as the people they contacted sent it to other people they knew, then so on.

The video received 69 percent of the vote, winning easily as no other video got more than 26 percent.

“They did a phenomenal job of showing what a great person he was and how much he really loved the Twins,” Lang said. “So, here’s to Dan and Bobbie.”

Gadient was engaged to be married to his high school sweetheart, Briana Darcy of Mazeppa, in July. But as he drove home from work on that February night, his car hit a patch of ice and slid into oncoming traffic.

He may never get to play baseball again or go to another Twins game, but as the Target Field black spruce grows beyond left-center field at the Zumbrota Mazeppa baseball field, it will serve as a reminder of Gadient.

As his friends and family see it, Gadient will get to watch his younger brother, Kurt, play on the field. Even after his brother has graduated, they believe Gadient will be watching over the field and the school.

“Just like when we were in class and he’d be joking around and everyone would draw the attention to him, we knew that happen with this tree, too,” Ersland said. “Let’s make this about him, and the attention was drawn towards, ‘Everyone vote for this tree so we can plant it for Pat, so that he can be remembered all the time.

“Any time they play a ball game here, this tree’s going to be in center field, and it’s only going to grow bigger.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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