By Rachel Kytonen
With hard work, dedication, sacrifice and love for the game, he made you feel anything is possible.
Former Minnesota Twin and Hall of Famer, Bert Blyleven, made an appearance in Cambridge on Tuesday evening, May 1, to talk, share stories, meet with fans and sign autographs.
Blyleven is known from his color commentary for the Minnesota Twins with fellow broadcaster, Dick Bremer. The “Circle Me Bert” phenomenon took off when he used the telestrator (which permits on-screen highlighting by a commentator) to circle something on the screen during a Twins game.
With fans holding up “Circle Me Bert” signs at virtually every Minnesota Twins game, the popularity of the “Circle Me Bert” catch-phrase has enabled Blyleven and his wife, Gayle, to raise money for Parkinson’s Disease, a cause close to their hearts.
During his baseball career he played for the Texas Rangers, the California Angels, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cleveland Indians, returned to the Twins in 1987 and then finished his career with the California Angels retiring in 1992.
Blyleven has two World Series rings—one with the Pirates in 1979 and one with the Twins in 1987. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in July 2011.
Blyleven was born Rik Aalbert Blijleven in Zeist, Netherlands in 1951, and was raised in Garden Grove, Calif.
(To view or purchase photos of Bert’s visit to Cambridge, click here.)
“When my family and I came to the United States in 1957, my father introduced me to the game of baseball through the radio and Vin Scully,” Blyleven explained. “When I was in 3rd grade, some of my friend were playing Little League and asked me if I wanted to join. I started off as a catcher and then my manager asked me if I wanted to pitch. I was tall and skinny and fell in love with the baseball in my hand.”
Blyleven was drafted by the Minnesota Twins right after high school in 1969. He entered the major leagues the following year at the age of 19 and was named American League Rookie of the Year by Sporting News.
Blyleven was playing Triple A baseball at the time when he got the news he was heading for the major leagues.
“It was a rainy night in Tulsa, Okla. and our game got rained out, so a player and I caught a movie,” Blyleven explained. “When we got back to the hotel I received word the manager wanted to see me. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, so I didn’t know what he wanted to see me for. When I got there he showed me a telegram that the Minnesota Twins were playing in Boston, and they needed a pitcher.”
He boarded a plane and arrived in Boston around 2 a.m. and immediately met with manager Bill Rigney as per the instructions in the telegram.
“I got to the hotel in Boston and went to Mr. Rigney’s room,” Blyleven said. “I knocked on the door. He said, ‘Now that you’ve woken me up, go introduce yourself to the other players.’ Well I proceeded to do that and got back to Mr. Rigney’s door at 3 a.m. He asked, ‘Well did you meet the other players?’ I told him, I met as many as I could because most players weren’t in their rooms. Well, Mr. Rigney made a little money that night (with fines).”
His first major league game
Blyleven’s first major league game was June 5, 1970 against the Washington Senators.
“I watched what the other pitchers did to prepare for a game and did the same exact thing,” Blyleven said. “I was nervous, my legs were shaking and the first batter I faced was Lee May. Somehow I got the count to 3-2. My sixth pitch at the major league level went for a home run right out of the ball park. After that my manager came out and I thought he was going to pull me. He said, ‘Son, that’s not the only home run you will give up. And he was right, I gave up 429 after that.”
The Signature Pitch
Bert Blyleven learned what turned out to be his signature pitch when playing the game his junior and senior years in high school. He also recalls being fascinated by Vin Scully’s description of Sandy Koufax’s devastating curve ball.
However, his father, with a Dutch heritage, didn’t want him throwing the bender until he was age 14 or 15 because of the stress it puts on the elbow. It was family tradition, too, that the Dutch don’t work (or pitch) on Sundays, so Bert and his father visited Dr. Robert Schuller, a known televangelist.
“My dad asked him, ‘Would it be a sin to work (pitch) on Sundays?’” Schuller replied, “I think it would be a sin for him to pitch everyday because I’ve seen him pitch,” smiled Bert.
Bert indeed waited to start throwing his curve ball, and it was worth the wait as it gained him enough attention that he was drafted in the third round by the Minnesota Twins in 1969. Just as exciting: he was able to get his own “bubble gum card.”
1987 World Series season
Blyleven said he enjoyed all the teams he played for, but especially his Twins teammates from the 1987 World Series Championship.
“No one expected the Minnesota Twins to do what we did that year,” Blyleven said. “I just love the area so much and the people in Minnesota. When we beat Detroit in five games to advance to the World Series, we were on the plane ride back and they told us we would head to the Metrodome so season-ticket holders could offer their congratulations and wish us well in the World Series.
“Well as we headed to the Dome, we saw signs hanging from all over the highway overpasses congratulating us. We got to the Dome around 11:30 p.m. and there were over 55,000 people waiting for us. I still get goose bumps thinking about that night. We just didn’t have nine players on the field that year, we had 10—thanks to the wonderful fans all across Minnesota.”
Words of advice for youngsters
During Blyleven’s presentation, he told the youngsters in the audience that becoming a professional baseball player is not easy.
“If you have the dream to be a baseball player, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication,” Blyleven explained. “I always had a hard work ethic that came from my parents. My mom told me they came over from Holland with $52 in their pocket. My inner drive really came from them …When I would be pitching games, I was always the first one at the ballpark. I wanted to get there to clear my head, start focusing on the game, and see the line up.”
Blyleven shared a few thoughts on his overall view of the game by giving each letter from the word ‘baseball’ a special meaning: B: Believe. A: Attitude. S: Sacrifice. E: Enthusiasm. B: Behavior. A: Action. L: Leader. L: Love.
“I got to play a kids’ game for 23 years, wear a uniform and make a complete fool of myself sometimes,” Blyleven said. “And now with broadcasting, I have the opportunity to stay a part of the game I love. I love broadcasting games, and love watching the Minnesota Twins win.”
Blyleven, who lives in Fort Meyers, Fla. with his wife Gayle, explained he is only broadcasting 100 games this season, compared to 150 as in past seasons.
“The hardest part about being a professional athlete was being away from family,” Blyleven said. “But we did have six months off during the year, and the reward for all the sacrifice you made is spending time with your family later on in your life.”
Blyleven’s visit was sponsored by East Central Regional Library and Cambridge-Isanti Community Education, and made possible with money from Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. His final comment of the evening was addressed to the fans.
“Thank you all for coming tonight, and supporting the Minnesota Twins,” Blyleven said. “Thank you for watching the games and coming to see us at Target Field.
• Minnesota Twins (1970–1976)
• Texas Rangers (1976–1977)
• Pittsburgh Pirates (1978–1980)
• Cleveland Indians (1981–1985)
• Minnesota Twins (1985–1988)
• California Angels (1989–1992)
Favorite player on the current MN Twins roster: Denard Span
Batter you feared the most: Anyone with a bat
Favorite teams to play for? 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates & 1987 MN Twins
Favorite stadiums to play in: Anaheim, Kansas City, Minneapolis
One of his favorite moments: When over 55,000 MN Twins fans greeted the team at the Metrodome around 11:30 p.m. after defeating Detroit in Game 5 in 1987 to advance to the World Series