John Gordon made the nickname Dazzle Man famous for Dan Gladden during their years together in the Twins’ radio booth [2000-11]. Gordon had picked this up a dozen years earlier, when Gladden was the Twins’ left fielder.
“It started with Stelly in 1988,’’ Gladden said. “I was up there with the league leaders in doubles for a while. One day Stelly looks at me and says, ‘Dan, Dan, the Double Dazzle Man.’ And then he adds, ‘If you were running hard, five of those doubles would be triples.’ ‘’
As followers of the Twins for the World Series-winning years realize, “Stelly’’ is Rick Stelmaszek, the longest-serving coach in franchise history, from 1981 through 2012.
The Twins open the 57th season in Minnesota on Monday at Target Field, making this the 25th without Stelly in uniform compared to 32 with him. He will have the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, an occasion made more important by this winter’s news that Stelmaszek had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
My time being a visitor to the Twins’ clubhouse started in 1970, when I was assigned occasional sidebars or P.M. features for the St. Paul newspapers. So, I can vouch for 48 of those 57 years when stating that Stelmaszek was the most unanimously appreciated person to have been issued a uniform by the Twins.
As the Gladden anecdote indicates, any player hearing a compliment from Stelmaszek could assume there would be a punchline to follow. The barbs only made the bond more everlasting between Stelly and decades of Twins.
Example A: Rick Stelmaszek and Kirby Puckett, two guys from very different areas of Chicago’s South Side, were as tight as it gets.
He was more than “Stelly’’ the good humor man, more than a bullpen coach. When Tom Kelly lost the interim title and was named manager for 1987, he put full trust in Stelmaszek in many areas, including running the drills for the players not making a road trip in spring training.
“The players called it ‘Camp Stelly,’ ‘’ Kelly said. “He didn’t kill anyone with those workouts, but I also knew the work that had to be done was getting done.’’
PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK
Anybody can pick Dustin Johnson. Here’s my three for 2017 Masters:
1-Justin Thomas. He was maybe 20 the first time I saw that committed swing and said, “Look out.’’ He’s 23 now and remains a fearless bomber.
2-Jon Rahm (Rodriguez). Seve Ballesteros turned 23 on the day before he started and then won the 1980 Masters. Rahm, Spain’s latest phenom, can win his first at 22 ½.
3-Rickie Fowler. Now 28 and without a major, but this guy is rolling it, as one must on Augusta’s burial grounds for adult elephants.