Twins honor vets with Caravan tour in Luverne
Hall of Famer Tony Oliva and current Minnesota Twins stopped in Luverne Wednesday with the annual Winter Caravan tour
LUVERNE – The Minnesota Twins Winter Caravan made a visit to the Minnesota Veterans Home on Wednesday afternoon in Luverne. The visiting members of the Caravan were pitcher Caleb Thielbar, catcher Ryan Jeffers, TV play-by-play Dick Bremer, mascot T.C. Bear, newly elected baseball Hall of Fame player Tony Oliva, and his wife Gordette Oliva of 56 years.
The Caravan answered questions from the room which was full of veterans, many who were directed to Tony-O. One veteran, who was a farmer, told Oliva that he never missed listening to a game during Oliva’s 14-year career.
Oliva went around the room stopping by each and every veteran to share a greeting, sign memorabilia, and showcase his Hall of Fame ring.
Dick Bremer shared a heartwarming story of his own high school baseball career, when he pitched in a practice session against a smiling Oliva who clobbered the pitches.
Caleb Thielbar was asked by a veteran what he thought about baseballs used by Major League Baseball.
“They have been changing balls year after year. Some people think it's a conspiracy, some people don’t. I am not one in the conspiracy camp, but there is a noticeable difference from ball to ball,” said Thielbar. “Some of them have low seams, some of them have high seams, some of them feel harder in your hand, and others you can sort of press into. It does change, but at the end of the day we all use the same batches and it's not something I am all that concerned about.”
Bremer is celebrating his 40th year with the Minnesota Twins as the TV broadcast play-by-play announcer.
“It is kind of ironic, as long as I have been doing it, I have not done one postseason inning,” said Bremer. “When the team is good enough to get into the playoffs, the networks take over. Radio guys keep working, but TV guys get kicked to the curb, if you will. So my most fond moment was probably the last home game of 1987, when the Twins clinched a tie for the division title. At the Metrodome, Bert Blyleven pitched a complete game and they beat Royals and the next day won the division title. That ended a long playoff drought; the Twins had not been to the playoffs for nearly 20 years until then. Then, of course, they went on to win the World Series. That was a big moment for me.”
Dawn Esselink has worked at the Minnesota Veterans Home for 29 years and she said this was the third Twins Caravan visit in that time frame. “I was a Greg Gagne and Dan Gladden fan when they won those World Series,” said Esselink on her memories of the Twins. “My son’s name is Greg and he wrote to Gagne when he was a little boy and he sent him a baseball card back with a whole note on the back of it to my son Greg.”
Stan Hoffman, a Korean veteran living at the Veterans Home, said he’s tried to go to a couple Twins games every year.
“One time in Worthington at Perkins I won four Twins tickets,” said Hoffman. “My wife’s youngest sister lived up there, so we took her and her son-in-law. The Perkins section was all full, so we sat in the next one which was up there in the old Metrodome. My arm was so sore the next day, it was like I tried to shake hands with St. Peter.”
The Twins look to field a competitive team in the upcoming season. The team re-signed top shortstop Carlos Correa, and brought in two-time All-Star outfielder Joey Gallo. The Twins bolstered their rotation by trading Luis Arraez to Miami for right handed pitcher Pablo López.
“I am really excited for Kenta (Maeda), for Pablo, and to really get some action from (Tyler) Mahle,” said Jeffers. “I think there are some really exciting pieces that we have put together. Jorge Alcala is coming back from being gone all last year. That is another bullpen piece that can play a big role this year, too. I can go down our entire bullpen list and everybody is a pretty exciting arm. Overall, the feeling is very exciting for what the season is going to be like.”
Not only do the Twins have a lot of options on the mound, they also are putting together a very competitive offense.
“I think offensively last year we were in a good spot. If we are able to stay healthy as a team, with (Byron) Buxton healthy, with me healthy, with (Alex) Kirilloff healthy,” said Jeffers. “Just everybody up and down the lineup that's what is going to help us win baseball games and I think we are going to be a really really good complete and depth-y squad this year.”
“I think the team is going to be very good,” said Bremer. “The moves that they made over the last couple of weeks have cemented them as a serious contender, and not just for a division title but I think this team, one of these years, is not only going to get in the playoffs but they are going to make a run like they did in ‘87 and ‘91. We are all looking forward to that, but as we all know there is a lot of work to do to get to the playoffs. So we will see what happens, see if this team can get off to a good start like they did last year, and this time maintain it.”
The Twins Winter Caravan continued onto Mankato after its stop in Luverne to pay respects to our nation’s veterans. “They have given so much for all of us,” said Esselink.