It started organically and modestly, as most traditions do. Back in 2002, Twins color commentator Bert Blyleven started circling Twins fans via Telestrator during a season-opening road series in Kansas City. Soon enough, fans at Twins games were holding up, “Circle Me Bert” signs, hoping to get some air time on Fox Sports North.
There were dozens of signs every game — maybe hundreds. Even David Ortiz, still with the Twins in 2002, wore a “Circle Me Bert” sign around his neck.
“What made it such a good idea is nobody really thought of it,” Blyleven’s longtime broadcast partner, play-by-play voice Dick Bremer said in a 2002 Star Tribune story. “It just kind of spontaneously happened. Nobody at a production meeting said, ‘OK, now we are going to start circling Twins fans at the ballpark.’ It’s just something that happened spontaneously that has caught fire.”
That quote and the very nature of the “Circle Me” phenomenon carried weight and irony Tuesday after Blyleven on Twitter said that “Circle Me Bert” is no longer. Or at least no longer as we know it.
Just informed by FSN that there will be no more “Circle Me Bert” and Minnesota Lottery winners for this coming season. I want to thank all the fans that made signs over the past 15+ seasons. Doesn’t mean you can’t still bring signs! Go Twins ��⚾️
— Bert Blyleven (@BertBlyleven28) March 27, 2018
Wait, what? Why? Fox Sports North attempted to retake control of the narrative a few hours later with another tweet, noting that “Bert broke the news” and trying to put a positive spin on the new promotion that would be taking the place of “Circle Me Bert.”
Bert broke the news! We’re launching a new @mnlottery “Winners Circle” concept so fans at the ballpark AND watching at home can get involved! Signs are still encouraged. Here’s a preview: pic.twitter.com/RbQZCrwpma
— FOX Sports North (@fsnorth) March 28, 2018
Here is that sentiment, roughly translated (at least for Circle Me Bert enthusiasts and fans of good things staying the same): “We are going to do something new that is kind of like what you are used to, except it’s fundamentally different in the only way you care about, and you won’t like it nearly as much.”
Predictably, FSN’s attempt at damage control Tuesday evening did not go well. Here are a few examples of responses:
You’re selfish and taking away something unique that has brought me/other fans joy since we were little. Why can’t you do both your lame lottery promotion AND let Bert circle people?
— Melissa Berman (@Melissa_Berman) March 28, 2018
How about we not do this, and instead stick with the thing that wasn’t broken and that the fans all really liked, sound good? We don’t need a new “concept.”
— Josh Taylor (@jscotttaylor81) March 28, 2018
Hey @fsnorth you’re hereby eliminated from the circle…
— Something Clever (@mntwins2034) March 28, 2018
Perhaps the outrage worked. Or maybe “Circle Me Bert” was never really ending. By Wednesday morning, FSN had crafted a new tweet indicating Blyleven would still be circling people — just not as part of a promotion. That’s how it started, after all. So, win-win? Maybe?
“Circle Me Bert” started as an organic on-air element and is not going away. It will continue in its original form. @BertBlyleven28 will continue to circle fans on TV. The “Winners Circle” concept by @MNLottery – separate from “Circle Me Bert”- is evolving to include more fans.
— FOX Sports North (@fsnorth) March 28, 2018
Part of me wonders if changing the promotion is a response to Blyleven’s shrinking role on Twins broadcasts. Back when he started, Blyleven did almost every game. He had a five-year contract that started earlier this decade that reduced his workload to 100 games a year, and then a new contract for 2017 and 2018 that has him doing just 80 games — fewer than half of the 162 on the Twins’ schedule. Now FSN can do their promotion regardless of who is in the analyst chair.
That was probably part of the logic that went into the decision. This is a corporate partnership with Minnesota Lottery, so money is involved as well. FSN officials probably wished Blyleven never tweeted, though Bert also did some damage control on Wednesday.
— Bert Blyleven (@BertBlyleven28) March 28, 2018
Blyleven will be on the air for Thursday’s opener at Baltimore, free to circle Twins fans as he pleases. A deluge of “Circle Me” signs at the home opener is a good bet, too.
Maybe everyone will get what they want in the end, and we will all hereby circle this whole situation as one big misunderstanding?