Part of the family

Fans show support for Minnesota Twins during Winter Caravan

Justin Martinez/MDN (Left to right) Bert Blyleven, Kohl Stewart and Mitch Garver hold a meet and greet with fans as a part of the Minnesota Twins Winter Caravan tour Monday at Dakota Square Mall.

As far as Minot residents are concerned, the Minnesota Twins are their team.

That much was clear on Monday as a 300-foot-long line of people, nearly all of them proudly repping Twins apparel, piled inside the Dakota Square Mall to catch a glimpse — perhaps even snap a photo — of both Minnesota Twins royalty and up-and-coming players alike.

The baseball celebrities ventured to Minot as a part of the Twins’ annual Winter Caravan tour that stops at over 40 communities across four states.

First to speak during the meet and greet was Dan “The Dazzle Man” Gladden, a former left fielder/center fielder for the Twins from 1987-1991. Gladden ended his stretch with the Twins on top, scoring the winning run on a single from Gene Larkin in the bottom of 10th inning to win Game 7 of the 1991 World Series against the Atlanta Braves.

As soon as he grabbed the mic and stepped onto the stage, the former Twin and current radio broadcaster was met by a round of applause from those in attendance. Gladden couldn’t help but thank them.

“To meet the fans and listen to their stories is an incredible reward for us,” Gladden told them. “Seeing people come out and show us support is an amazing feeling. You’re the ones that deserve a round of applause.”

The two current players who attended were Mitch Garver and Kohl Stewart. Garver, who is in his sixth season with the organization and his third in the pros, is the starting catcher for the Twins.

When the panel was asked by a fan how the team was looking this offseason, the 28-year-old didn’t hesitate to speak up first.

“I think we’ve got some dudes this year,” Garver said. “We have some guys who are going to bring some good leadership, and I think we’re going to have a lot of offense. It’ll be exciting.”

To Garver’s right was Stewart, a Houston, Texas, native who was drafted fourth overall by the Twins in the 2013 MLB draft and got called up for the first time in August of last season.

“I’m from Texas, so I’m cold,” Stewart jokingly replied while donning a Minnesota Twins beanie when asked by Gladden how he was doing.

The response drew a resounding laugh from the crowd, and Stewart kept the mood light when he delved into a story about the rookie hazing he endured last season.

Stewart was a participant in the “Twins Derby” in September of 2018. Stewart and his fellow rookies had to don a costume that was a combination of a jockey on top and a horse on the bottom and race each other in Kansas City, Detroit and Oakland in their version of the Triple Crown.

Stewart crossed the finish line first in Kansas City but was later disqualified for running instead of galloping – a detrimental breaking of the rules. But that was the least of his worries, according to Stewart.

“It’s also important to remember that we don’t get dropped off at the hotel,” Stewart said. “So there were 24 jockeys walking around, and people were taking pictures of us.”

Third baseman and 2017 All-Star Miguel Sanó was also supposed to be in attendance on Monday, but he was back home in the Dominican Republic, competing with Las Estrellas for the Dominican Winter League Championship.

Perhaps the biggest name on the guest list was Bert Blyleven. The former Twins hurler pitched a no-hitter in 1977, helped Minnesota win two World Series championships and cemented his legacy in 2011 by getting inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Even the legendary pitcher wasn’t immune from a little friendly hazing from the Minnesota faithful at the Dakota Square Mall, though. Blyleven, who set the record for most home runs allowed in one season (50) in 1986, was asked how many home runs Stewart and Garver would’ve been able to hit on him back in the day.

“Smartass,” Blevelyn mumbled, only to have it amplified by the mic. “They even have them up here in Minot, huh?”

After sharing a number of laughs for a good 45 minutes, the meet and greet ended on a heartwarming note when a fan shared his fondest baseball memory with Blevelyn and company. The fan recollected sitting along the third baseline at Game 7 of the 1991 World Series and watching his beloved Twins win the championship.

He explained how much that memory meant to him and thanked the guests for coming to Minot, which fittingly sparked one final round of applause from the crowd as the meet and greet concluded.

Justin Martinez covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JTheSportsDude.