I was born in 1982. The same age as the Metrodome, I was just old enough to wave my own Homer Hankie with my Kindergarten class during the 1987 world series. My earliest baseball memories include “knothole” games at the Dome (we sat in leftfield so Dad could see Dan Gladden), tracking the Twins “Magic Number” on the refrigerator, everything Kirby Puckett, and watching Game 7 of the 1991 World Series with my dad. Oh, and the Twins’ theme song: ”We’re gonna win, Twins! We’re gonna score!”
Growing up, there were two pictures hanging in my younger brother’s room that my Dad had painstakingly crafted. They featured matted and framed baseball card sets of the Twins’ active roster from each of their two World Series years. I used to sneak into my brother’s room and study those cards. At first, it was to try to figure out who was still playing for the Minnesota Twins. Eventually, it was to revisit the Greats and remember the ones who were a part of a something big before they faded away. The pictures had the rosters laid out in a 5×5 pattern, so the official 24-man roster of the 1987 team had an extra spot. In that place, Dad included Tom Kelly, manager for the Twins.
In 1991, I was nine years old, old enough to be aware of the excitement of a pennant race and World Series run. So, when I’d steal a look at those picture frames, I was more familiar with the players on that set of baseball cards. But I always thought the 1987 picture was something special because it included “TK”. Even when I was really young, the name Tom Kelly was almost mystical. He was, after all, the manager of the Twins. In my young mind, he was the boss of guys like Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek. They were almost more than human (they were my two favorite players), but they couldn’t be as great as the man in charge, Tom Kelly.
Over the years, I’ve revisited some of my favorite Twins memories. In the process, I’ve seen that there might be a little tarnish on some of my childhood favorites, and that my fellow Twins fans have been less-than-Minnesota-nice at times. My teenage years coincided with the Twins’ difficult seasons in the 1990s, and my interest faded away for a long time. When I moved back to the Twin Cities I began to watch more Twins games, largely because I had cable access to games once again. Soon, my favorite games to watch were the days that Tom Kelly subbed on the TV broadcast. Hearing his name, let alone hearing his voice and seeing him on TV, brought me back to the Glory Days of the Minnesota Twins. But what was different about my perception of TK now that I was an adult, in comparison to some of my grownup perceptions of the Twins players and Twins fans, was that I wasn’t disappointed.
Tom Kelly was the real deal. He earned the recognition he had as the leader of two World Series Champion teams, and he started when he was young. His first World Series victory came when he was 37.
TK continues to have the respect of Twins players, and deservedly so. Once in awhile, I’ll hear a sports guru or read an online fan commentator who expresses that Kelly is too boring to be a part of TV broadcasts, interviews, or articles. Sure, he can be a bit monotone, but have you actually listened to him? The man is an incredible wealth of knowledge, whether your baseball knowledge is shallow or extensive. I’ve never listened to him without learning something new. Every time one of TK’s former players talk about him, he speaks with the innate reverence that a Catholic reserves for the Pope. Currently, TK continues to be a valuable part of Spring Training with the Twins and is a very respected “Special Assistant to the General Manager”, tallying 41 years in the Twins organization.
41 years in one organization. Incredible.
The Minnesota Twins are honoring his years and quality of service by retiring his number this weekend. My guess is that the only person in the organization who balked was Tom Kelly himself. He probably downplayed his lasting contribution to the Twins organization, quoting his own words from Game 7 of the 1991 World Series: ”What the hell, it’s just a game.” And TK, what a game you’ve made it for the Minnesota Twins and all the fans in Twins Territory.
Congratulations, Tom Kelly, as the Twins retire your #10 jersey. Thank you for the memories. Thank you for the victories. Thank you for the hope. Thank you for your legacy.