The Twins taking the field at Yankee Stadium on April 11, 1961, was the greatest moment in the history of Minnesota professional sports. As Sid Hartman, a devoted football man, always said: "Baseball was the big prize at that time. Baseball was what made you major league.''
My strongest emotional attachment to a Minnesota pro sports team remains the Twins of their first decade (1961-1970). Those Twins went to the World Series in 1965, were in the middle of the American League's Great Race in 1967, and won the first two AL West titles when divisional play started in 1969 and then 1970.
I attended numerous games as a fan from 1961 to 1965, worked as a sportswriter in Duluth and St. Cloud from 1966 to 1968 and covered high school sports for the St. Paul newspapers in 1969 and 1970.
Thus, there was no requirement for objectivity when it came to the early Twins. That's probably what made me a preacher to the new generations voting for the Twins Hall of Fame, which the team started with its 40th season in 2000.
A half-dozen years into it, Camilo Pascual, the Twins' first pitching star, still wasn't among the honorees. I lobbied persistently, along with a few other long-timers such as Dave Mona. Camilo finally was elected in 2012.
Another cause — Cesar Tovar — came to the forefront after Pascual gained entry. This amazing little ironman for seven full Twins seasons (1966-72) was a harder sell to voters.
Thus, on this Thursday in January 2022, 6 ½ weeks after devotees of the early Twins were thrilled by the elections by committee of Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat to baseball's national Hall of Fame, it was with as much relief as celebration to be informed of this:
Cesar Leonardo "Pepito'' Tovar, who died in July 1994, and the most glaring omission on the list of player honorees for the past decade, has been elected for induction into the Twins Hall of Fame, along with player Dan Gladden and manager Ron Gardenhire.
There is a symmetry between the players, with Tovar as a Twins leadoff man who would take a pitch anywhere other than the head to get to first base, and Gladden, the leadoff man who would do whatever it took to get to second in his last-ever Twins at-bat (Game 7, 1991 World Series).
Two guys you wanted at the top of the order, "Pepi'' for a Great Race and two ALCS teams, and "Gladwrench'' for two World Series winners.
Joy over Gladden's election will be easy to find in the Twin Cities. He's the team's radio voice, offering yarns and select innings of play-by-play. He has raised a family here with his wife, Janice.
The Tovar connection is not so obvious, but there's also family here, including a very happy grandson.
Paul D. Jones II, also known as "PJ,'' is a sophomore at Cretin-Derham Hall. He's a lefthanded pitcher and first baseman. In addition to the Raiders, he travels with the Little Caesars national 16-under team based in Detroit.
This PJ is all-in on baseball, as can be discovered by looking at his Twitter account: @PJPlaysBasebal1.
Nancy Jones, his mother, is Tovar's daughter. "Cesar died a decade before PJ was born,'' she said. "He's always been curious about his grandfather, though. We've watched videos, read stories. We've had Cesar's No. 12 jersey from the Twins in our house, and that's the number PJ wears for Cretin-Derham and for Little Caesars.
"Whatever team he's on, PJ always wants No. 12.''
Tovar's family life was … let's call it "non-traditional.'' Nancy's mother, Maria, and Cesar were together in the Twin Cities and had Nancy. Cesar also was married to Beatriz and had children in Venezuela, where he played winter ball full time for two decades and part time for another six.
"My half-brother, Cesar Jr., lives in St. Louis,'' Nancy said. "We've been in contact over the years. My dad had arranged for me to come to Caracas one winter for a visit, but then there was political upheaval of some kind and that didn't happen.
"It was a shock when he died at 54. Cesar was small but strong, always in great shape. He had a great personality. Everybody loved him. What I remember most about my dad is his smile.''
Tovar was an unrepentant smoker and had a heart problem early in the 1990s. What caused his death was pancreatic cancer on July 14, 1994.
Tovar first appeared in the Twins organization in 1963 at the Class AAA farm club in Dallas-Fort Worth. He was on loan from the Cincinnati Reds and his roommate there was Tony Oliva.
"He weighed 150 pounds and was 'tough,' '' Oliva said. "He would invite a pitcher to hit him with a pitch. He would show off the bruises after a game. He came to the park to give 150 percent every day. He never wanted to be on the bench. In 1967, we had two ties, so we played 164 games, and Cesar played all of them.
"Calvin [Griffith, the Twins' owner] gave up a real good pitching prospect, a lefty, Gerry Arrigo, to get Cesar from the Reds in 1965. He could play everywhere — he did for us in that game in 1968 — and helped you win in many ways.''
Tony paused and said: "This has been a great time for my family, since the Hall of Fame news, and now our friend Cesar going in the Twins Hall makes it even better. I'm happy for Nancy, too. That young man of hers … he's a good ballplayer, you know. And much bigger than his grandpa.''