This past weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to the Twin Cities in Minnesota for the Minnesota TwinsFest and let me tell you; it was an AMAZING experience. I’ve attended a couple of Iowa Cubs Fan Fests in my hometown, Des Moines, but this was nothing like the Iowa Cubs. The TwinFest, which is one of the largest team-run festivals in the majors, had over 22,000 fans jam-packed inside the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota (approximately 20 minutes north of Minneapolis). The TwinsFest was moved to the temporary location due to the roof being damaged at the Metrodome by the wrath of Brett Favre.
I flew in on Thursday night from Rochester, the Flour City, New York and checked out the place the next day. The place was about the same size as the Iowa Cubs fan fest, but it was a lot busier and crazier. There would be always somebody signing autographs at six different locations all over and a few random free autographs here and there by the fans that were able to identify the players outside their norm.
It was a fun day on Friday, the first day of the Fan Fest. One of the players that I got to talk with was Jason Repko, an outfielder for the Minnesota Twins. We know each other from his stint in Rochester. At one point, he was so impressed with my photography that he asked me to take photos of his family at his home. We set up a date for that, and then he got recalled to the majors, so we never got around to that. But, I’m happy for him because he’s where he belongs! Repko also told me that he has a new little one in the family.
At the Red Wings booth, my “headquarters” for the weekend, the Kyle Gibson photos were a popular item, as they were sold out in the first hour. Gibson is the Twins number one prospect for the 2011 season and will be the ace of the rotation in Rochester if he doesn’t break camp with the Twins.
I was at the Joe Mauer and Drew Butera (Twins’ catchers) signing in a different building nearby, where the big-name players sign. Apparently, I was in the right place at the right time, as I captured a cute moment between Mauer and a young fan roughly one year old. As the kid came up to Mauer with a baseball for him to sign, the kid literally threw the ball at Mauer.
I returned to the booth and met up with Kyle Waldrop, one of the top pitchers from the Red Wings’ staff of the 2010 season. The Red Wings did a quick interview with him and got a group photo with Waldrop in it. Gibson also joined in the photo op. Kudos go out to my mom, Nancy Heuer, a fellow Minnesotan and a life-long Twins fan.
I also got an amazing opportunity to meet Bill Smith, the general manager of the Twins. He’s the man who makes the decision in the front office. He decides who’s on the roster and who’s not. Pretty big responsibility for him.
The number two prospect in all of baseball in Jeremy Hellickson from the Tampa Bay Rays according to MLB.com made a trip to the TwinsFest to sign a couple of autographs for Twins fans. For those who don’t know him, Hellickson is actually a Des Moines boy. We both have a little history together, as we met a long time ago in 2002 or so. I was working at a baseball camp as an assistant coach and Hellickson paid a visit to camp with his high school coach. At that time, he was one of the top-pitching prospects in high school.
The next day, I chatted up with third baseman Danny Valencia, who finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year in 2010 to lead off the Saturday session. He told me that it has been a while since we’ve seen each other and I replied with “it’s a good thing. You’re staying in the show, not triple-a.”
Throughout the day, I caught up with a couple of Red Wings players from the previous seasons and chatted with them for a little bit. Trevor Plouffe is sporting the mountain man look, with long hair and beard. IL All-Star pitcher Anthony Slama, sans the ‘stache, shared a hello with me. Also told me he was planning on growing a goatee. Pitchers Anthony Swarzak and Jeff Manship caught up with me a little bit as well.
Ron Gardenhire, the manager of the Minnesota Twins, was also at the FanFest. I met up with him and told him that I know his son, Toby. At the moment, I was wearing a Toby Gardenhire jersey with Red Wings sprawled across the front. Toby’s mother, Carol, spotted me in the crowd and came up to me and introduced herself. Nice woman. Seems like a great family. Had a brief chat with Ron and told me that Toby was ice-fishing in Central Minnesota on Saturday.
On the last day of the three-day event, it was a slow start in the early part. At around noon, the pace started to pick up as several of the Twins’ top prospects started to pop up at the Fest.
At the “Down at the Farm” signing booth, Toby Gardenhire was signing autographs. The Red Wings’ booth was right next to it and I was wearing his jersey, so we spotted each other pretty easily. He told me that it was pretty awesome that I was wearing his jersey and I came back with the line, “I look better in this jersey than you.” The two of us shared a laugh with a couple of nearby fans that overheard the conversation.
After Toby’s signing, we caught up with a prolonged conversation. Gave him a CD of his photos from the 2010 season and we were talking about his antics on the baseball field. On every play, he would always have his tongue hanging out, a-la-Michael Jordan and he would always soak himself in cold water before every game in the dugout.
I also got to know one of the players that wasn’t around the Red Wings field much last season, but is expected to serve a greater role in the upcoming season, Cole DeVries. The blond-haired, blue-eyed right hand pitcher (could be my “twin” brother that I don’t know about?) and I got to talking and he told me that he knows a little of American Sign Language (ASL). DeVries, who attended the University of Minnesota, asked me to teach him some ASL this upcoming season and I gladly accepted the assignment! He’s a great guy and has a bright future with the Twins.
Overall, the experience at the 2011 Minnesota Twins Fan Fest was an amazing time, as I caught up with a couple of the players from the Red Wings staff. I also met new players and new friends. Overall, this was a great opportunity for me and I couldn’t let go because this event actually brings me one step closer to my dream, working for the Minnesota Twins after I graduate.
Let’s Go Twins!!
P.S. Go Cubs too! Sorry, but I had to… :-)
Pitcher Cole DeVries
Outfielder Jason Repko
Pitcher Anthony Slama
Infielder Danny Valencia
Pitcher Kyle Gibson
Infielder Toby Gardenire