My colleague Patrick Reusse had an even longer history with longtime Twins bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek than did I. I recommend reading his memorial to ``Stelly,'' who died on Monday.
I met Stelly when I took over the Twins beat in 1993. The team was entering a run of eight straight losing seasons. The beat should have been miserable, and the games often were, but the experience of covering baseball on a daily basis was made enjoyable by people like Stelly.
Scratch that: Often, it was Stelly above everyone else that made the game enjoyable.
He had the gift of turning the mundane into the hilarious, of turning a quiet moment on the bench into a standup special laced with baseball history.
The problem with baseball humor is that it is both of the moment and tied in long-held inside jokes. I could tell you about a dozen times when Stelly made me laugh, and you might not get it. So I'll leave you with this:
The Twins had just won a game in the Metrodome. Third baseman Corey Koskie, a favorite of Stelly's, had aided in the victory but had also taken a nasty grounder off of his body, leaving a welt.
Koskie grew up playing hockey goalie in Canada. So when Koskie went to the shower, Stelmaszek, with the use of baseball equipment and duct tape, somehow turned himself into a hockey goalie, with pads, facemask and stick.
The large card table in the old, cramped, clubhouse sat right in the middle of the floor, just outside the entrance to the showers. Koskie returned to the clubhouse, wrapped in a towell, and Stelly was sitting on a folding chair atop the table, moving like a goalie under siege.
Nobody was too good for the needle in Stelly's clubhouse. When A.J. Pierzynski made him angry during a meeting, Stelmaszek broke his fungo bat over a desk.
Stelly helped a young baseball writer learn the game. More important, he treated people well and talked baseball like the savant and grassroots comedian that he was.
A lot of people are hurting today, with Stelly gone.