Kent Hrbek and Tom Kelly were the first to arrive. They walked into a large conference room on the lower level of Target Field on Thursday afternoon and did what retired guys do.
They talked about golf, and the ailments that keep them from playing more golf.
“Can’t walk when I play anymore,” Kelly said. “Gotta ride.”
“I’ve played three times in the last three years,” Hrbek said. “[Thursday], I was told to do some weeding, so I laid on rocks and weeded. What’s happening to me?”
They put on name tags like they were anonymous attendees at a tech conference and started signing replications of the old Wheaties box celebrating their first title.
“I don’t mind,” Hrbek said. “I’ve been signing these for 30 years.”
The Twins are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their 1987 World Series championship this weekend. Thursday night, the boys of that long summer convened.
They told all the familiar stories, but the conversations this time around often turned to families and health, grandkids and the departed. Their next stop was Hrbek’s Pub on the concourse level for drinks.
“I’ve been in here before,” Randy Bush said. “I’ve been in here before with Hrbek. I’ve been in here before with Hrbek drinking beer. So, actually, this is not really a surprise.”
Dan Gladden hopped behind the bar to serve, then the group headed to the field, and announcer Dick Bremer played host.
Hrbek and Gary Gaetti recalled blowing a lead and a chance at a division title in Cleveland late in the 1984 season. Gaetti had thrown a ball away. Asked about it then, he said, “It’s hard to field the ball when you have both hands around your throat.”
“That’s what made us good,” Hrbek said. “We admitted our mistakes.”
Hrbek nodded toward the crowd and said, “I think the guy with No. 10 on his back had a lot to do with it, too.”
That would be Kelly, the manager of the championship teams in 1987 and ’91. The Twins will unveil a statue in his honor Friday.
Kelly, like many of his former players, chose to live in Minnesota. They were joined Thursday by players who rarely make it back.
Les Straker, the pitcher from Venezuela, was a rookie in 1987 and never pitched in the big leagues after ’88. He walked through the door shortly after Hrbek and Kelly, and they greeted him as if he were a Hall of Famer.
Former bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, who has pancreatic cancer, made it back for the second time this season. Juan Berenguer walked in, then Bert Blyleven, Mike Smithson, Tim Laudner, Roy Smalley, Steve Lombardozzi and that team’s hitting coach, Tony Oliva, who turned 79 on Thursday.
The men exchanged tug-of-war handshakes, the wives gentle hugs.
Bush was a beloved role player on both World Series teams. He’s an executive with the Chicago Cubs now. “How lucky am I?” he said. “I’ve been involved in three Game 7s, and we won all three.
“I still remember driving to the ballpark for Game 7 in ’87 and thinking, ‘If we lose this game, we’re just going to be one more Minnesota team that didn’t win the big one. You just wanted it to happen so bad for the city.”
Gladden remembered upending Al Newman in a game in 1986, when Gladden was with the Giants and Newman played for the Expos. Newman screamed from the dugout that he would get Gladden.
Newman was with the Twins when Gladden arrived late in the spring of ’87. Gladden marched to Newman’s locker. “He said, ‘We’re teammates,’ ” Gladden said. “We’ve been teammates ever since.”
Then Gladden made the point that talk of “family” for the group is more than an expression. His daughter married Gaetti’s son.
“We all still keep in touch,” Gladden said. “We all care about each other.”
They’ll spend the weekend together, watching baseball together again. Thursday night, they cracked open fresh beers and vintage stories, and succeeded in preventing Blyleven from taking his pants off on stage.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org