Michael Hirschbeck, the son of veteran umpire John Hirschbeck, died Tuesday at age 27. This was the second son of the Hirschbeck family to die, following John Drew at age 8 in 1993.
I met Michael at the Metrodome in August 1997, while covering a Twins-Yankees game. I wrote a game story for the Aug. 11 edition of the Star Tribune where the details of the game played very much a supporting role to the relationship between Michael and the Twins.
Here's a hunk of that game story:
THE TWINS HAD lost again, 9-6, to the New York Yankees on Sunday at the Metrodome. Chad Curtis' first career grand slam made it 7-0 in the third inning and doomed rookie lefthander Travis Miller to another abysmal start.
Miller yielded seven runs (six earned) in 2 2/3 innings. He also went 2 2/3 innings when he faced Toronto five days earlier.
Manager Tom Kelly went through his postgame interview with a small group of Twin Cities reporters, and stated the obvious:
"Travis had a lot of trouble, giving up seven runs. We missed one play during all of that, but a pitcher has to be able to come back and pick up a player once in a while.’’
The interview ended and the reporters went looking for other sources. Pitching coach Dick Such said Miller "seemed to have a different release point" when he pitched from the stretch. Miller had no meaningful explanation for his futility.
Bob Tewksbury, on the disabled list for the second time, will throw batting practice today. If his tender shoulder continues to be pain-free, Tewksbury could pitch Friday in Boston. Miller … has defaulted that spot with an 0-3 record and a 9.42 ERA.
While the reporters were talking to Such, Miller and Tewksbury, Kelly had gone to the shower. He was walking back to his office - wrapped in a towel - when he spotted a boy talking to bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek.
Kelly touched the boy on the shoulder and asked, "How are you doing today, Michael?" The boy turned and said, "Very good. Nice to see you. That was a good game."
Kelly said, "You're right. It would've been nice to win, but it was a good game. Our players kept battling."
The boy nodded in agreement. He was Michael Hirschbeck, 10, the son of umpire John Hirschbeck, who worked second base in Sunday's Twins-Yankees game.
Michael has a rare brain disease [adrenoleukodystrophy; ALD].. He underwent a bone-marrow transplant in at the University of Minnesota Hospitals in 1992. His brother, John Drew, had the same disease. John Drew died on March 7, 1993, at age 8.
"Tom Kelly went over and visited Michael at the hospital three or four times during and after the transplant," John Hirschbeck said. "And Michael always looked forward to watching the Twins' games on television while he was in there. Michael didn't care if the games lasted three hours. The more baseball, the better."
The Hirschbeck family will be back at the hospital today for a six-month checkup.
"Michael was progressing and we had gotten to the point where they were going to put him on a once-a-year schedule for checkups," Hirshbeck said. "Then, the doctors saw some things the last time we were here that weren't exactly right, so they made it a six-month schedule."
Hirschbeck paused and said: "Michael will have a long day at the hospital Monday. It was great that he had a chance to see a ballgame and to go to the Twins' locker room today. He's always excited when he gets a chance to see T.K."
Michael had come down the corridor from the Twins' clubhouse to the umpires' dressing room. He overheard this and said, "I showed the Twins my four-quarter trick. I fooled 'em all."
Even Tom Kelly? "Yes, I showed him, too," Michael said.
A visitor asked Michael if Kelly was his favorite manager. "Yes," he said, emphatically.
The Twins lost again Sunday. They are now 14 games under .500 (51-65), a season low. Michael Hirschbeck doesn't care. The Twins' manager is still his buddy.
UPDATE: Ron Gardenhire, the Twins' third base coach when this column was written, also had a close relationship with Michael -- so much so that he was away from managing the Twins on Friday and Saturday to attend the young man's funeral.