Patrick Reusse
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The Twins were two hours removed from having won the 1991 World Series. Now, early on this Monday morning, manager Tom Kelly was in his Metrodome office, working on victory cigars with Lunch McKenzie, a baseball man and a partner in running the "TKs'' franchise in a fantasy football league.

Kelly was trying to get the final totals from Sunday's football action when his son, Tom Jr., sitting a few feet away, observed: "I don't know why you didn't play Derrick Fenner.''

Tom Sr. shook his head in disappointment and said: "Derrick Fenner and Drew Hill, we didn't play either of them. We left 20 points sitting on the bench.''

Junior was 12, and already aware second-guessing fantasy football decisions was more fertile ground than second-guessing his father's baseball decisions.

On this past Wednesday, the father was sitting at the kitchen table in his Maplewood home, talking about life, long-ago victories and devastating loss.

In the next room, there was a photo of Tom Jr. sitting on a table, along with small memorabilia. Nearby, there were a couple of photo boards prepared by his stepmother, Sharon.

There was also an urn with Tom Jr.'s remains, which were entombed on Friday morning, after a funeral service at Transfiguration Catholic Church in Oakdale.

Tom Jr. died on Jan. 16, at 42, while on a golf trip to Scottsdale, Ariz. He missed a tee time, which had never happened. His companions checked their friend's room in an Airbnb and he was unresponsive.

"Tom was there with the Walshes,'' Tom Sr. said. "They were his second family in the Twin Cities, his second home. We still don't have an official cause. It reads 'unknown' on the death certificate.''

Kelly paused and said: "It was the middle of COVID. The coroner's office was swamped and short-handed. They gave it their best. And there was a policeman down there, he was unbelievable in helping us.''

He paused again and said: "We'll probably never know the cause. People have suggested 'embolism,' but that's only a guess that makes some sense.''

The church service was put off because of COVID restrictions. "Tom had friends … a huge number of friends,'' Kelly said. "I think we heard from most of them. We wanted to wait until his friends could come to a church. And then we tied it in with this weekend, with people coming back for the Twins' '91 championship reunion, if they wanted to be there.''

Tom Jr. was a volunteer on the clubhouse crew. He was an occasional batboy. "With batboys, in '91 for sure, we went with who was hot,'' Kelly said. "If we were swinging the bats, you kept the batboy duty. And if we cooled off, we would bring down the senior man, Clayton [Wilson], to break the slump.

"Tom knew the game, even at a young age. If there was a man at second and we got a hit, he wasn't going to be running out to the plate and grab a bat until the play was over.''

What will be remembered primarily at Target Field this weekend will be the hair-raising seven-game World Series victory over Atlanta: Kirby Puckett's heroics to keep the Twins alive in Game 6, Jack Morris holding off the Braves for 10 innings until pinch-hitter Gene Larkin could bring home Dan Gladden with the lone run in Game 7.

Tom Kelly Jr.

My view has been that the most talented team the Twins beat among the four (Detroit, St. Louis, Toronto and Atlanta) on the way to the World Series trophies was the Blue Jays in the '91 American League Championship Series. This theory was offered to Kelly.

"I don't know if I've thought about that,'' he said. "Pitching is what I always looked at going into a series, regular season, or when we had a chance to play in October.

"Toronto had good starters, Jimmy Key, Todd Stottlemyre, Tom Candiotti, but the one that really concerned me was Juan Guzman, the rookie righthander. He had a ball that went like this …''

Kelly made a gesture with his right hand swerving hard to the left and said: "I kept thinking, 'How are we going to hit that?' I thought we got a little break when they went with Candiotti in Game 1 and not Guzman. No disrespect to Candiotti; he was an outstanding pitcher and competitor. But I felt like we had a better chance with the knuckleball than this thing.''

Kelly's right hand swerved again, then he went back to the Toronto-was-toughest theory again and said: "That Blue Jays lineup … they had some people. That Game 3 we won up there, when Scott Erickson gave us his best four innings with an elbow that wasn't that good that night, and then we went to David West, and he got us eight outs.

"I think what happened is Joe Carter came around and hit a ball in those seats you couldn't even see, way up there, but it went foul. The rest of the Blue Jays saw that and started swinging out of their shoes at David's fastball, wanting to reach those seats with a fair ball.''

Kelly turns 71 on Sunday. He gave up managing the Twins 20 years ago. The intrigue during a conversation with him is always what has stuck in his mind.

Asked about when he first saw Kirby Puckett as a player, Kelly went back to managing the Twins' team in the Florida Instructional League in Clearwater and St. Petersburg in the early '80s — steaming fall heat and long days starting with Kelly and co-coach Rick Stelmaszek dragging the dew off the grass right after dawn.

"Kirby didn't pull the ball at all then,'' Kelly said. "He hit everything to right field, and ran like the wind. We would work on bunting a half-hour every morning. I'd say, 'First pitch bunt … perfect, or foul. If it's perfect, you got a hit. If it's foul, you have two swings left.'

"We started off playing him in left field, which was wrong. And Kirby was quiet … didn't say a word. Oh, boy, did that change. But this is what I remember most:

"There was a big lefthanded pitcher, country guy I think, and he and a couple others would be on Kirby every morning — to the point it was almost bullying. I could've said something, but I waited, wondering what Kirby was going to do.

"One morning, he stood up, stared at them angrily and said: 'No more.' I still remember that: 'No more.' And that pitcher and his pals never said another word to agitate Kirby.''

Puckett has been gone since March 2006, a massive stroke eight days before his 46th birthday, also in the Phoenix area. Stelmaszek, the other half of the Kelly-Stelly combo, died in November 2017 from pancreatic cancer at age 69. And now Tom Jr., 42, cause unknown, a pain that still can strike his father at a moment's notice.

Friday, there was the goodbye for Tom Jr. and the start of the reunion for the second of those two World Series winners in five seasons — championship teams that might have taken root on the hot fall day four decades ago when Kirby Puckett, Hall of Famer-to-be, reached his limit.

"No more'' to "See you tomorrow night.''

That journey was covered, and much that followed, during a 100-minute conversation with Kelly on Wednesday morning. As I was leaving, the phone rang.

Sharon answered and said: "Tom, Tony La Russa's on the phone.''