What a difference the lights make

By Samantha Carr

It is no secret that Bert Blyleven loves the game of baseball.

“There is no better feeling than taking a mound against a major league hitter and trying to throw a ball to the catcher’s mitt before he hits it a country mile,” Blyleven said.

Blyleven shared his passion with fans at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Thursday during his orientation visit when he took part in an impromptu Museum program for lucky fans in Cooperstown. Blyleven took time off from his job as a Twins’ TV color analyst to visit the Museum in preparation for his election as part of the Class of 2011.

After playfully leading the crowd through some stretching exercises, a relaxed and honest Blyleven let his personality shine, sharing stories from his career and interacting with the audience.

“I still miss that baseball in my hand,” said Blyleven. “That may be why I’m so interested in the history of the ball and how it’s changed.”

Blyleven got a first hand look at baseball history this week as he toured the Museum in advance of his Induction on July 24 as part of Hall of Fame Weekend 2011. And all that history brought back memories of chasing foul balls at Anaheim Stadium near where he grew up in Garden Grove, Calif.

“My friend and I would bike down to the stadium and go to the season-ticket holder gate,” said Blyleven. “We would politely ask fans for extra tickets and it would only take about 10-15 minutes before someone would hand us a couple extras. We were young kids who were just fans of the game.”

Blyleven and his friends would chase foul balls down the right field line and collect as many as they could. Once the game was over, the fans exited and only the writers were left in the ballpark, he would hide in the bathroom while field staff cleaned the stadium and turned the lights off.

“When we knew it was just the writers left we would come out of the bathroom, jump the small fence and run into one of the dugouts,” he said. “The lights were all off and it was dark. We would sit there and fantasize about playing on that field. Of course we would look around and try to collect anything else we could find; I had a ton of old rosin bags from that stadium.”

When the writers filed out of the press box, Blyleven and his buddies knew they would not be seen.

“We would run out onto the field and pick a position,” he said. “As a high school pitcher, I’d run to the mound. I’d pretend to wind up and deliver the pitch and everyone would run out to right field and catch the imaginary fly ball.”

Less than a year later, Blyleven was a 19-year old right-hander, had been drafted by Minnesota and called up to the big leagues. On July 9, 1970 Blyleven took that same mound, starting for the Twins in his first game against the California Angels, with his parents and friends all in attendance. This time with the lights on.

“I remember I couldn’t move,” he said. “My legs wouldn’t let me. So I stepped off the mound with both feet and picked up the rosin bag and thought to myself, ‘Gee, I have a lot of these at home’.”

Samantha Carr is the manager of web and digital media at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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