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Former Twins pitcher Kevin Tapani

Marlin Levison, Star Trubune file

From Kevin Tapani: Big-league wisdom for the little guys

  • July 25, 2011 - 6:29 AM

As he sits on the aluminum dugout bench bordering a dusty youth baseball diamond in Richfield, looking across an infield of cleat-clad teens who weren't even born when he was playing with the Twins, Kevin Tapani swears he's finally getting old.

"Sometimes they'll say something like, 'I found this really old card with you on it,'" said the 47-year-old with a chuckle, of the youth team he currently coaches in the summer.

The generation gap aside, Tapani, a Minnetonka resident, is still drawing from his major league experiences -- including those invaluable moments from the 1991 World Series, when he was the second pitcher in the Twins' playoff rotation -- to guide youngsters.

Tapani has been coaching Little League and youth baseball since he retired in 2001, bringing up his sons (now 14 and 16) in baseball, and in many ways, growing along with them as he learned a different side of the game.

"It gets to be kind of a logical fit," he says. "But teaching is a lot different than playing. I have what works for me ... but then it's the experience of learn[ing] from so many different players ... they're like sponges of learning things. And you can get of bunch of different ways to kind of go about getting the same thing done."

The list of talent he learned from is, of course, somewhat staggering compared to that of most local youth managers. When he was with the Dodgers, he would talk shop with Sandy Koufax. Frequently, when he traveled to Texas, Tapani would chat up Nolan Ryan. During the '91 World Series, Tapani was teammates with such stars as Kirby Puckett, Chuck Knoblauch, Jack Morris, Kent Hrbek, Chili Davis and Rick Aguilera.

During that year, Tapani, Morris and Scott Erickson tried every advantage they could come up with, intending to outdo the next guy in the rotation.

"It ended up being as friendly of a competitive situation as you could possibly have," says Tapani of the constant informal contests the team would stage, from in-game statistics like strikeouts and ERAs to who "won" the running drills. "There was an expectation that the next guy had to do it, and it got on a roll that way ... and it kind of pushed everything to another level."

That mosaic of knowledge is now being applied more completely -- in coaching -- than perhaps ever before in his playing career.

"Some of those things they told me -- I couldn't do it that way," he says of game techniques he bounced around with the greats. "But you hold onto that and maybe it works for someone else. Sometimes something will click for one of these kids, where they're able to do something better or something is easier ... and then -- almost more at this level than the major leagues -- you see the excitement that goes with it and how much fun you grasp from it."

AMELIA RAYNO

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