Bringing the big leagues to the boondocks

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April 12, 2010 // UPDATED 9:13 am - April 12, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
// In his history of the Twins, Doug Grow details how the Upper Midwest got hooked on big city baseball, one season at a time //

For a guy who spent eight years of his career writing about Minnesota sports, you’d think Doug Grow would know pretty much all there is to know about the Twins. But the longtime Star Tribune sportswriter and columnist ran into more than a few surprises when he set out to write “We’re Gonna Win, Twins!,” a loving tribute to the home team, which walks fans through a half-century of Twins baseball one season at a time.

Like the fact that, during the 1968 season, Cesar Tovar played all nine positions in a single game. Or that the Twins were the last team to integrate their spring training, insisting that black players stay in separate Orlando hotel rooms until 1965. Or even the simple fact that, originally, Minneapolis sports fans weren’t all that pumped about professional baseball in the first place — even less so after many had to trudge through mud to get to that first game in Metropolitan Stadium, a late spring snow storm having soaked the unpaved parking lot five days before the 1961 home opener.

But the biggest surprise Grow ran into while researching the book came in an interview he conducted with Greg Gagne. Gagne, of course, was the star shortstop that, along with Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek, helped lead the Twins to the World Series in 1987 and 1991. He was considered one of the best defensive players in the American League, and during a 1986 game at the Metrodome, he hit two inside-the-park homeruns.

“Gagne said he never felt like an important contributor to the team,” Grow marveled. “And I found that just amazing. That he never felt important. That was just a stunner to me.”

“In journalism, you’re sense of self-worth and self-assurance fluctuates,” Grow, who retired from the Star Tribune in 2007, said. “You’re only as good as yesterday’s story. But you don’t expect that these wonderful athletes, who are at the top of their game, would have these same feelings. But you know,” he added, “they’re just people.”

It’s small revelations like that that fuel Grow’s history. More than two-thirds of it, he said, was sourced from original interviews conducted just over the last two years. And the most helpful of these interviews, Grow added, were with the non-superstars, “the players whose names don’t necessarily last in the minds of fans.” The result is an intimate look — sometimes hilarious, sometimes heart wrenching — at the team from the folks who were actually there.

“We’re Gonna Win, Twins!” is rich in visuals, with every other page featuring photos and memorabilia from the renowned collection of Clyde Doepner, the Twins’ recently hired team curator. There’s  even a shot of the famed 1961 bobble head labeled “Minneapolis” Twins, which appeared before the team officially incorporated as the Minnesota Twins.

As Grow points out, the Twins were the first team in professional sports to represent an entire region, instead of just one city. In his treatment, the team comes off as a humble Midwestern ball club that never got too big for its britches. And while there’s a slight tone of mourning for the days before multi-million dollar contracts and stadiums, Grow still considers baseball in Minnesota to be on a community level.

“Here, it’s not always about wining or losing,” Grow said. “A guy can be a pretty good guy, but a mediocre ball player, and still be loved. In New York, you’d better produce, or you’re a bum.”


Reading
Doug Grow reads from “We’re Gonna Win, Twins!” on Sunday, April 24, in the Town Ball Tavern in Target Field.  Memorabilia from curator Clyde Doepner’s collection will also be on display. Seating is limited. The reading will be 2–4 p.m.