By PATRICK SLACK
A full house packed into Little Falls VFW Post 1112, Thursday, as a group of former and current standout players visited as part of the Minnesota Twins Winter Caravan.
Featured Twins at the event were 2011 Hall of Fame inductee Bert Blyleven, Tony Oliva, Denard Span, Drew Butera, Rene Tosoni and mascot TC the Bear.
The Twins are coming off their second-worst season since the franchise moved to Minnesota in 1961, the same year former owner Calvin Griffith created the Caravan.
That did little to dampen the enthusiasm of those in the crowd or Blyleven, the emcee of the event, who said that the team expects to once again compete for a playoff spot this season.
“Last year’s over with,” Blyleven said. “It was a dead end.”
After a video was played previewing the upcoming season and players were introduced, audience members were given the chance to ask them questions before signing autographs.
In response to what each player’s favorite big-league memory was, Oliva responded that it was his first.
“When I got to the clubhouse, Harmon Killebrew, (Camilo) Pascual, wow,” Oliva said. “I never even thought I’d be in the big leagues. To be a part of that group, be inside the clubhouse,” was his favorite memory.
Oliva also shared a story about his career with the Twins almost ending before it started.
The team let him go in 1961, but he was unable to return to his native Cuba because of the Bay of Pigs invasion.
A few months later the team brought him back and he went on to accumulate 1,917 hits with the franchise.
“If someone gives you a second chance, you grab it,” he said.
For the most part, though, the mood was simply fun and light-hearted.
Blyleven teased Span after the latter revealed he cried when he was called up to the big leagues, while Tosoni claimed that he is going to give travel companion Ben Revere a run for his money in spring training for the starting spot in left field.
“This is a great way for players to come out and say thank you,” Blyleven said.
Food and drink specials were offered at the event, as well as 125 items valued at more than $4,000 were raffled off, with proceeds going to the Freedom Fund for Military Assistance.