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Blyleven’s 28 takes place among Twins greats

July 16, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — No player will wear No. 28 again for the Minnesota Twins.

Prior to Saturday’s game against the Royals, the Twins retired Bert Blyleven’s uniform No. 28, eight days before his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Blyleven joined fellow Twins greats Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett as the only six Minnesota players to have their numbers retired. Blyleven’s No. 28 was placed between Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 and Kirby Puckett’s No. 34.

“Target Field’s going to be here a long time,” Blyleven said Friday on a conference call. “Somewhere down the line, 50 years from now when I’m gone, some young kid will go to the ballpark and say, ‘Who was No. 28?’

“Hopefully their father or grandfather will explain who I was and what I did. It becomes almost unbelievable.”

The ceremony was emceed by Twins announcers Dick Bremer and John Gordon and included appearances by Carew, Oliva and Hrbek. Each of the three received a standing ovation from the crowd as he walked out from left field.

Blyleven followed those three, jogging out to huge ovation from the fans on Bert Blyleven Day at Target Field. Gordon introduced Blyleven as the “greatest right-handed pitcher in Twins history.”

A special presentation was made by The Netherlands, which gave Blyleven a special pair of Size 13 wooden shoes to commemorate his being the first Dutch-born player inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The ceremony also featured a video tribute as well as special presentations by Twins ownership and current team members.

Former Twins manager Tom Kelly brought out a brand new set of Callaway golf clubs along with a custom Hall of Fame bag given to Blyleven — an avid golfer — by the Twins front office.

Each member of the current ballclub followed manager Ron Gardenhire onto the field to present Blyleven with a signed replica of the No. 28 that will hang in his honor at Target Field.

“I think that’s a number that could have been retired a long time ago,” said lefty reliever Glen Perkins, a Minnesota native. “I think he should’ve been in the Hall of Fame a long time ago. It’s well-deserved.”

Said right fielder Michael Cuddyer: “It’s been a long time coming, and he deserves this as much as anybody does. He definitely, 100 percent deserves that recognition and that honor.”

Blyleven was joined on the field during the ceremony by his wife, Gayle, and a number of other family members. His children also took part in the ceremony as they unveiled the No. 28 on the left-field façade.

Special No. 28 logos honoring Blyleven were placed on the field behind the pitcher’s mound and along the foul lines for Saturday’s game.

Blyleven also threw out a ceremonial first pitch to former Twins catcher George Mitterwald, his first battery mate in the Major Leagues.

“Twenty-two years I played the greatest game in the world,” said Blyleven during his speech, “and I still miss it.”

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

Twins beat, 4/8

April 8, 2011 Comments off

Oliva honored during Twins’ home opener

MINNEAPOLIS — Fifty years ago, Tony Oliva left Cuba for the United States to join the Minnesota Twins. On Friday, a bronze statue in Oliva’s likeness was unveiled outside Gate 6 at Target Field.

Oliva, 72, played all 15 years of his career with the Twins, and remained involved with the organization as a mentor to many players. More recently, Oliva was involved in the process of getting the new Twins ballpark built.

“This gate is symbolically numbered for the Twins player who made the unforgettable journey from Cuba nearly half a century ago, and fortunately for all of us, he never left,” said Twins broadcaster John Gordon as he opened the ceremony. “His journey to the big leagues was in fact a blazed trail, and that trail became a populated path for many other great baseball players in an era when this sport became more than just America’s pastime.”

Among those joining Oliva for the ceremony were fellow Twins greats Kent Hrbek, Juan Berenguer and Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who was Oliva’s roommate during their time together in Minnesota.

Additional Opening Day festivities at Target Field included the raising of the 2010 American League Central Division Championship flag by Twins first-base coach Jerry White, a flyover and fireworks.

Oliva also threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Twins home opener to Casey Killebrew, grandson of Harmon Killebrew. Originally scheduled to throw out the first pitch, Killebrew was unable to make the trip to Minnesota due to a conflict with his treatment schedule for esophageal cancer.

“Fifty years ago tomorrow I left Cuba,” Oliva said. “I never dreamed that some day I would be in front of this ballpark next to a statue of me. It’s hard to believe.

“I’d like to thank the Minnesota Twins organization … for giving me the opportunity to play baseball and be with the organization over 50 years. And maybe 50 more to come.”

Morneau returns to action at Target Field

MINNEAPOLIS — Nine months, four days. That’s how long Twins first baseman Justin Morneau went between games played at Target Field before starting Friday’s home opener.

When the day finally came, Morneau was happy to be back in front of the home fans for the first time since July 4, 2010. Judging by the applause he received during pregame introductions, they were thrilled to have him, too.

“I’m sure it’s exciting for him. It’s exciting for all of us, because we’ve been traveling a lot,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “So Mornie is happy to be on the field. He got a lot of that stuff out of the way on the road, so hopefully he can just come home and flow right into it.”

Morneau collected his 1,000th hit on an infield single his first at-bat.

With the way Morneau and the Twins swung the bats on their season opening road trip, they’re looking to get things going a bit more offensively at home. As a team, the Twins entered the game batting .201 (40-for-199).

“We ran into some tough pitching, but with that home cooking, everybody’s happy to be home,” Morneau said. “It seemed like we were on the road for about a month, so it’s nice to get home and get into our routine and all the rest. Hopefully it turns into some wins.”

Cuddyer’s versatility helps Twins at second

MINNEAPOLIS — With Tsuyoshi Nishioka sidelined by a fractured left fibula, the Minnesota Twins have a number of options for replacing the rookie second baseman. One of those options may come as a bit of a surprise to some fans.

Opening Day right fielder Michael Cuddyer took ground balls Friday at second base, giving manager Ron Gardenhire another option at the position. Not only that, it allows him to get a couple more big bats in the lineup.

“We’ll mix and match at second base,” Gardenhire said. “I want options and Michael is one of those options. If I can get Michael in at second, it gives [Jason] Kubel and [Jim] Thome in the lineup. It’ll create some offense. Michael will play anywhere, and we’ve talked about it.”

Playing multiple positions is nothing new for Cuddyer. In 2010, he saw action at first base, second base, third base, right field and center field for the Twins.

While he played just nine innings over two games at second base the last two seasons, Cuddyer has logged 62 games there since 2003. In ’04, Cuddyer started 40 games at second, committing just three errors in 170 chances.

“Me going over there, if need be, just gives Gardy one more option,” Cuddyer said. “I’m comfortable enough to go out there and play.”