The Twins had the seventh selection for the June draft of 1969. They selected Paul Ray Powell, an outstanding outfielder at Arizona State in the first round, and Ron McDonald, a high school third baseman from California, in the second.
Powell homered in his first Twins’ start in 1971, then wound up with 42 big-league at-bats when he gave up in 1975. McDonald was in the Mexican League by 1973.
The Twins did better in the third round, and 55th overall, in selecting Bert Blyleven, an 18-year-old righthanded pitcher from Garden Grove, Calif.
“The Twins came to the house and offered me $5,000 to sign, plus they would pay for my college education,” Blyleven said. “My dad, Joe, a tough old Dutchman, said in his accent, ‘College? We were lucky to get him through high school,’ and threw ’em out of the house.
“A couple of days later, they came back offering $15,000 to sign. [Pitcher] Jim Hughes and I flew out to Melbourne [Fla.] for minor league camp. That was the start for me with the Twins.”
On Wednesday night, Blyleven’s public presence with the organization came to an end when he was in the home TV booth to join Dick Bremer in broadcasting the third game of a series with the Chicago White Sox.
Blyleven has been a Twins TV analyst since 1996. A few years back, he started reducing his schedule, and recently, the Twins made a further cut in his number of games.
There was no contract extension offered for beyond 2020, and Wednesday’s walk-off was his 16th game of this mini-season.
Blyleven will be around as a special instructor at times in Fort Myers, the Florida home to the Twins, and also to Blyleven and his wife, Gayle,
Quite a half-century journey, from the wide-eyed 18-year-old in a big-league spring training in Orlando to 1970, to leaving as “Bert,” a first-name celebrity across Minnesota.
It takes a long run — “Sid,” “Bud,” “Flip” — to get there, and Bert has had that.
“I remember Calvin Griffith coming up to me that first spring Blyleven was there, and knowing I was Dutch, saying, ‘We have this Dutchman from California and he has a curveball as good as Camilo’s [Pascual],’ ” Jim Kaat said by phone Wednesday.
“Bert did have a great curve, but it was different. Camilo had that huge, looping breaker. Bert had the sharp break with his.”
The sharp one might have caused more trauma for hitters. My favorite Blyleven hook was when he threw one to Kansas City’s Jim Sundberg and “Sunny” sat down in the batter’s box while taking a game-ending strike three.
“I threw one to Seattle’s Jim Presley, he ran out of the batter’s box and it was a strike,” Blyleven said. “I remember thinking, ‘How’d I throw that one?’ ”
Manager Bill Rigney saw the curve in 1970 spring training and said, “I can’t watch him; I’m afraid I’ll fall in love.”
Pitching coach Marv Grissom said, “Kids like that don’t come around too often; he might win 20 right off the bat. But he should go back to the minors.”
The kid who would turn 19 on April 6 said: “I’ve found out there’s more to big-league pitching than just throwing the ball. I don’t think I’ll make it to the Twins this year.”
Blyleven made it on June 5, starting at Washington. He gave up a home run to the Senators’ first hitter, Lee Maye, on a 3-2 count. He wound up going seven for a 2-1 victory.
The opposing manager offered this review: “All right, I was impressed … even if the kid had lost, I would have been impressed. He was pitching in high school at this time last year.”
The baseball man in question was Ted Williams.
Fifty years later, Blyleven’s in the Hall of Fame. He left in rowdy circumstances in a contract feud with Griffith in 1976, came back in 1986.
A year later he pitched the Twins to their first World Series title along with his lefthanded partner, Frank Viola.
“Frankie V. was one of the old teammates I heard from today, when word got out that this was my last game for the Twins,” Blyleven said.
As do all members of those ’87 ring-wearers when waxing sentimental, Blyleven went back to the coming-home reception received in the Metrodome after returning from the upset ALCS victory in Detroit.
The pandemic still rules in 2020, but the memory of those 50,000 fans roaring for their heroes sustains, and Bert has been energetically circling fans in appreciation for summers on end.
On this night, with no fans. he settled for circling “Minne” and “Paul” way above center field and then said to his TV audience:
“It’s an ugly circle, but you are all hereby circled.”
From the 18-year-old too tempting for Bill Rigney to watch to a 25th season in the TV booth, it was a circle broken occasionally, but not so long as to prevent Blyleven from being Minnesota’s “Bert.”