MINNESOTA TWINS COLLECTORS
From not knowing if they would have a team to support to cheering on a team that would come within three wins of advancing to the World Series, Minnesota Twins fans have experienced the whole gamut of emotions this year.
When over 55,000 of them jammed into the Metrodome for the Twins playoff games, they showed the rest of the world that baseball is alive and well in Minnesota a fact that even Bud Selig has acknowledged.
Not surprisingly, amongst this group of fans, there exists a passionate group of Twins card and memorabilia collectors.
"I grew up watching the Twins all of the Minnesota legends from Bert Blyleven to Dan Gladden, Kirby Puckett, and Kent Hrbek," says Taylor Simons, a season ticket-holder and Twins collector. "I could name every player from the 1987 and 1991 World Series teams back when I was in grade school."
Over the past 14 years, Simons has amassed a large collection of Twins memorabilia that includes game-used jerseys, bats, gloves, balls, and batting helmets.
"I'm just a collector who loves to get his hands on new things every day," says Simons. "My goal is to collect as much Twins stuff as I can."
Like Simons, Tim Stransky also grew up watching the Twins. The Shoreline, Washington resident lived in Minnesota until 1979. Despite his current proximity to Seattle, his allegiance to the Twins has remained strong.
"I love the fact that they're a homegrown team. Twenty-two of the 25 men on their roster (in 2002) have never played for another major league team," says Stransky, who owns a collection of more than 12,000 pieces of Twins memorabilia.
"I collect basically anything that has a Twins logo on it . . . Almost every piece I have in my collection, I can tell you when, where, and how I got it."
Jim Wiehe, another former Minnesota-area resident who now lives in Omaha, Nebraska, has also remained loyal to the Twins. For over 16 years, he has been adding to his collection of Twins cards and memorabilia.
"The first major Twins item I bought was Harmon Killebrew's rookie card," says Wiehe. "Harmon was my boyhood favorite."
His collection has since evolved to include magazines, newspapers, bottles, yearbooks and even a sack of Kirby Puckett pancake mix.
"There is no real focus to my collection . . . just the joy of finding interesting items."
In contrast, Gary Benson, a lifelong Minnesota resident, has chosen to focus his collection on Twins' Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett.
"I had been a Barry Bonds collector since 1991 . . . When his cards finally became hot and went up, I decided to use them to begin a Twins collection, focusing on Killebrew and Puckett," says Benson, who collects primarily game-used cards, serial-numbered cards, rookie cards, and autographs. "I would have to say that my favorite item is the 2001 Topps Tribute "Franchise Figures" dual jersey card of Killebrew and Puckett."
The Twins' playoff run has also spawned a new wave of collectors, says Ryan O'Donnell, manager of Hobby Heroes, a Minnesota-based hobby shop.
"With the success of the Twins, memorabilia and related sales increased dramatically all over Minnesota," says O'Donnell. "I would say there have been a lot of new (Twins) collectors this year."
This excitement is in stark contrast to the mood of fans twelve months ago when Bud Selig announced plans to contract the team.
"I had a real tough time last winter dealing with the whole contraction possibility. On one hand, I understand the business side of baseball, but the whole rotten deal between "Contraction Carl" (Carl Pohlad, Twins owner) and Bud disgusted me and left me extraordinarily anxious throughout the winter," says Wiehe. "When they began playing this summer, the anxiety eased a little. The joy of watching these young guys made me believe everything was going to turn out right."
Benson also had difficulty with the idea of contraction.
"Contraction was scary. But the Twins' success in the playoffs has given me the adrenaline to push forward."
This adrenaline seems to be contagious, because Twins collectors are as committed to their collections as ever. More importantly, they're optimistic about the future of the favorite franchise.
"I think baseball will stay in Minnesota for a long, long time," says Simons. "The fans here are great."
Wiehe also sees a bright future for baseball in Minnesota, but his optimism is a little more guarded.
"I'm an incurable cock-eyed optimist by nature," says Wiehe. "Honestly, I know there are plenty of extraordinarily loyal fans to support it, but I don't trust Pohlad one bit. He's in it only as a business venture."