Twins Talk, August 17 17 Aug 16

TWINS TALK

Story and Photos by Gordy Jones

A Salute to Dave Winfield

 

In the mid-1970s, I was working at the St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch as a courier. At the same time, I was writing weekly entertainment stories and taking photographs for the Thursday Dispatch Entertainment section.

While I was working as a courier, advertisers would often give me ad copy, and the art department would create an ad. Once the ads were approved, I’d give a camera-ready copy to the Star Tribune. Major accounts with many stores would usually run the same ads in both papers. Many advertisers would have the Star Tribune create the ad and give us a copy. As a courier, I would be the guy who’d go the Star Tribune building and check the ads off the list as I dropped them off and picked them up. There was an ad rep, Jerry Douglas, at the Star Tribune whom I’d talk to nearly every day. He was very funny, and a nice guy, so we became friends and would sometimes hang out on weekends.

One Friday he was very excited as he told me that his best friend in the world was coming to town, and I’d be welcome to join them for a night on the town. Being a social person and enjoying Jerry’s company, I jumped at the chance. I volunteered to drive, and was given a St. Paul address where I was to pick them up. Moments after arriving at the address on Saturday night, I was flabbergasted by who was heading toward my messy car. I was embarrassed. It was Jerry and his best friend, Dave Winfield. I recognized the huge frame from watching him on the St. Paul ball fields, at the University of Minnesota, and more recently as a Padre on the rare occasions you could see their games on TV in Minnesota. I knew him a little from around town, but now we were about to hang out for the evening. Baseball is my passion, so I was overwhelmed. We had a terrific time that night, dining, discoing, and talking pictures. That was one of our common bonds: Dave loves photography. After that night, when Dave would visit home during the offseason, Jerry made sure I was invited out with them. One time Jerry couldn’t make it, but Dave still called and invited me, and we went out for dinner with his brother, Steve. I formed a nice friendship with both brothers, which continues today.

In 1978, I decided to seek my fame and fortune in California. I found a way to get there free, and make a little money at the same time. I arranged to write a story for the St. Paul Dispatch about a local rock band called Raggs. They were going on their first tour, and I would travel in the band’s van, bus, or truck, whichever had an open seat on a given day, and I roomed with a beautiful female lead singer. It was heaven on earth. A few days into the tour, Raggs were scheduled to play in Kansas City, and we arrived a day early, so I had a night off. I decided to go downtown KC sightseeing. Within a few minutes I heard a deep voice calling my name. I easily recognized the distinctive pipes of Dave Winfield. It was highly unlikely that I could be in the heart of a busy city for the very first time and, within minutes, run into a buddy from home. I believe it was fate. We talked for a while, and I told him of my plans. Then he invited me to a baseball dinner that night. I went, and was thrilled to be seated at a table with Dave Winfield and Hank Aaron. I don’t even remember what the theme of the dinner was, but I was ecstatic. I remember I had to find a lot of quarters and a pay phone to call my dad and share the moment with him. This ended up being the first of many baseball dinners and events I would attend. At the end of the night, Dave gave me his card and told me to call him when I got settled in California. He said he could use a volunteer photographer and writer with his new foundation for children.

A couple days later I left Kansas City and the tour continued, and it was over within two weeks. After the tour I visited Las Vegas for my first time, then headed to Riverside, California. I had a buddy there, and I could stay with him for a while. I went into California with a divine intervention, and was hired by the local newspaper the very first day. I landed a great job in advertising with a car and expense account. A few months later when the baseball season began, I called Dave and the timing couldn’t have been better. The upcoming weekend, there was to be a Winfield Foundation event in San Diego, and he offered to put me up if I’d come shoot photos and help him make a brochure. I hopped into my newspaper-issued car, and took the 90 minute drive to San Diego for a long weekend. It was amazing. I was suddenly part of a family…a fraternity: The Winfield Foundation. I now had media credentials and many new friends. All of the volunteers, especially me, listened and learned from Dave. I would accompany him to his school visits and public appearances, and I got to travel a lot. Dave always spoke eloquently and always had a message catered to the specific audience of the day. He always had full control of the room. I soaked up every word he said. Many more speeches and 23 years later, I’d hear both him and Kirby Puckett address thousands of fans at Cooperstown, New York, as I was Dave’s photographer at his Hall of Fame induction.

Dave always had a keen sense of direction in running a foundation, raising funds, and helping kids. It wasn’t something he was taught. He is a just brilliant guy, and was naturally inspired. He moved forward daily with new ideas and ways to find new resources, and all of them would benefit kids. He came up with things like free physicals at tailgate parties for low-income kids, baseball equipment, scholarships, the very first All-Star party for kids, game tickets and food, pregame autographs sessions — and nearly every idea worked. Years later, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and many other athletes would approach Dave for advice on starting foundations.

August 11 of this year was proclaimed Dave Winfield Day in St. Paul. The St. Paul Saints honored Dave, and also another hometown boy, Paul Molitor. Unfortunately, because of a makeup Twins game, Paul was managing the team that night and could not attend. But he thanked St. Paul via video, and Dave was thrilled to be there. The time surrounding Dave’s wedding, and also his Hall of Fame induction, were the only other times I’ve seen him this elated. The only fly in the ointment was his Delta flight from LAX being canceled, then having to fly to San Francisco to get a Minneapolis St. Paul flight. And finally his new flight was diverted to Rochester because of storms at MSP. But he would’ve walked here to accept this honor, and to visit with friends and family. When he addressed the crowd, every word came from his heart. After the ceremony I asked him what all of this meant to him. “It means a lot. You see all the friends, family, and members of the community that have come out. And this is my first time to see a game in the Independent League — never been to one. The Saints have a great field, and St. Paul loves baseball. I appreciate them honoring me — and in a permanent way,” he said as he smiled and pointed to his plaque that will be a permanent fixture on the plaza, right next to Paul Molitor’s. By the way, Dave and Paul had the same coach, Billy Peterson, for many of their amateur years, but they were never on the same team at the same time.

Dave is currently the advisor to Tony Clark, the executive director of the players association in New York. Tony is only the fourth person to run the players’ union in its 50 year existance. One of Dave’s assignments is to visit every major league camp at spring training, and address all of the players on the 40-man rosters. I told Dave about the feedback I have gotten from players who know that I’m his friend. They have told me how he inspires them, teaches them things, makes them look at things differently, and how excited they are just to meet him. He modestly said, “I’m glad. You know, I had my career, I did it for 22 years, and I just tried to be the best that I could. I found the key to unlock my talents. As a teacher and a mentor, I try to give that back to other people, in language they can understand. I like to tell them, ‘Do as I say, but also as I did.’”