After taking part in 47 straight spring trainings, Tom Kelly’s knees won’t allow him to hit grounders to Twins infielders this year. But his team announced plans Friday to make certain the former manager is always a part of Target Field.
A bronze statue of the 66-year-old Kelly, who managed the Twins from 1986-2001 and guided the team to a pair of World Series championships, will be added to the plaza at the Twins’ home ballpark, the team announced Friday, an honor already accorded a pair of his former players, Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek. Kelly said he will be depicted with his fungo bat, and in a choice appropriate for the Minnesota native, will be wearing a road uniform with “Minnesota” across the jersey instead of “Twins.”
“To me, these things are about players,” Kelly said. But team president Dave St. Peter “said ‘No, you’re a big part of the history of the Twins.’ … I feel very fortunate and very honored.”
He expects to feel a little wistful this spring, however, when the Twins begin training for the 2017 season. Counting his days as a player, Kelly has been in uniform at a major-league spring training camp every year since 1970, but he has decided he can’t take being on his feet, working with players, every day for six weeks anymore. “When I got home last year, I was really struggling. My knees were just in bad shape. My achilles were a mess. It was a little bit of a rough summer,” Kelly said. He’s been able to climb stairs without pain for only two months. “My mind says I can’t do it anymore,” Kelly said, “but my heart wants to go.”
The Twins offered to fly Kelly to Fort Myers and give him a non-uniformed role, but the manager said he doesn’t want an “honorary” position; he’s only willing to take part if he can coach players.