Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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Sam Hentges, meet Jim Eisenreich

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: June 18, 2013 - 7:42 PM

Dan Gladden was the Twins' left fielder and leadoff hitter for the World Series winners in 1987 and 1991. He left after that second championship season and returned as part of the Twins' radio broadcast team in 2000. He remains in that role today, and as a very popular figure on the Minnesota sports scene.

The Twins had installed a new structure of baseball management after the 1986 season. Bob Gebhard was hired as a special assistant to GM Andy MacPhail. He came from Montreal, and pushed for the acquisitions of closer Jeff Reardon and backup infielder Al Newman from the Expos.

There was another hole to fill as spring training wound down: left field/ leadoff hitter. On March 31, the Twins traded minor-league pitchers Bryan Hickerson, Jose Dominguez and Ray Velasquez for Gladden and minor-league pitcher David Blakely.

The rest is history for Gladden and the Twins ... although in Gladman's case, it probably wouldn't have worked out that way if not for the health issue that befell another outfielder, Jim Eisenreich, a few years earlier.

Eisenreich came from St. Cloud. He played for St. Cloud Tech and then three seasons (1978-80) for St. Cloud State. The Twins signed him. Owner Calvin Griffith saw him at Wisconsin Rapids during the 1981 players' strike and famously said of Eisenreich, "He's doomed to be an All-Star.''

Eisenreich was in center field and leading off for the Twins to open the 1982 season. He was not  yet 23 and had not played above low-A ball in the Midwest League. No matter. He had a great lefthanded swing and could fly on the bases, and into the outfield gaps.

He also had Tourette's Syndrome. Without that obstacle, Eisenreich would have been leading off and playing left field next to Kirby Puckett in 1987, and we would recall that as the era of Kirby, Herbie AND Eisey.

The Twins' physicians and other medical consultants were not able to fully diagnose and get the problem under control. Jim played 34 games for the Twins in 1982, two games in 1983 and 12 in 1984. He went back home to St. Cloud in '84, was reinstated as an amateur and played town-team ball for three summers.

"They play pretty good town-team ball around here, but that was man against boys,'' Pat Dolan said.

Dolan told me this on the night of Oct. 17, 1993, shortly after Eisenreich hit a three-run home run in the World Series for Philadelphia. It came in the third inning of Game 2 and gave the Phillies a 5-0 lead in what became a Series-tying 6-4 victory.

I called two people from the Skydome press box that night: Griffith at his home in Indiatlantic, Fla. and Dolan, Eisenreich's high school coach, at his home in St. Cloud.

Eisenreich had found the proper medication to control the Tourette's and came back to pro ball with the Kansas City organization in 1987. He wound up playing in the big leagues through 1998. He played in that World Series for the Phillies, and won a World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997.

The home run in Toronto seemed like the climax of a fantastic comeback story -- Jim Eisenreich, by then a family man and a healthy, successful big-leaguer.

That night, Calvin said: "I saw Eisenreich when we had him in the minors and I said, 'He's going to be a superstar.' ''

And that night, Dolan watched the swing that sent a Dave Stewart pitch over the Skydome's center-field fence and said: "Even that swing didn't look quite right, by Jim Eisenreich standards. Those are very high standards, of course.''

I was reminded of that night, and those quick on-deadline conversations with figures from Eisenreich's past, when hearing of Pat Dolan's death. He was 76 and died of pancreatic cancer on June 2. He coached baseball for 18 years at Tech. It was probably only a coincidence that his last season was 1977, the year that Eisenreich graduated from high school.

Dolan worked as a financial planner after he left teaching and coaching. He and his wife Kitty were married for 53 years. They raised five kids. There are 15 grandchildren and two grandchildren.

Nine of those are ball-playing grandsons. Included is Sam Hentges, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound lefthanded hitter, first baseman and pitcher. He's a junior and a prospect as a first baseman for the 2014 MLB Draft.

Sam will be playing for Mounds View today at 4 p.m. in the state Class AAA championship game vs. Rocori at Target Field.

Grandmother Kitty will be in attendance. If Sam gets into one today, perhaps she will repeat her reaction from 20 years ago, when Jim Eisenreich hit that World Series home run. According to her husband, Kitty leaped from her seat and started shouting in celebration.

 

 

 

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