CHIPPEWA FALLS — Dan Gladden, a left fielder for the Minnesota Twins on their World Series-winning teams in 1987 and 1991, said he always looks forward to being part of the Twins’ winter caravan, which visits cities across Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“I’ve been doing the caravan since 1988,” Gladden said. “It doesn’t get old. You get to talk to the fans.”
The Twins tour stopped in Eau Claire Thursday morning, then swung by Chippewa Falls midafternoon to tour the Leinenkugel Brewing Co. plant before heading to Menomonie for an evening visit.
Dick Leinenkugel, president of Leinenkugel Brewing Co., gave a tour to the players, who included Tony Oliva, who played for the Twins from 1962 until 1976 and is a member of the team’s Hall of Fame. His No. 6 jersey is retired by the team. Oliva, 79, shook hands and signed autographs, smiling throughout the tour. Oliva said he’s proud to still be associated with the Twins organization and go on these tours.
“It’s a lot of fun to be around them,” Oliva said. “It’s fun to be part of the ball club and doing these caravans and seeing all the fans.”
Active Twins on the stop in the Chippewa Valley were infielder Eduardo Escobar and relief pitcher Alan Busenitz.
Joe Morin, project manager for the Twins, said the team has one of the longest-running caravans among major sports, and the players — past and present — enjoy going on the tour.
“It’s our way of going out in the community and thank them for supporting the team,” Morin said. “We go to cities where we have radio affiliates. And it’s fun for us. It’s kind of the unofficial kickoff (of the season). So many people come to Target Field for six months, so this is our way of giving back.”
Leinenkugel is a lifelong Twins fan — he just returned last week from participating in the Minnesota Twins fantasy camp in Florida. He enjoyed showing off the brewery to the players, and he pointed out the huge barrel that is already making Summer Shandy.
“You know that summer is coming when the Twins are on their caravan and Shandy is in the tanks,” he joked.
John Leinenkugel, Leinenkugel brand ambassador, also joined in giving the Twins the tour of the brewery.
“Being that the Leinenkugel family are Twins fans, it’s really fabulous they took the time to visit our brewery, right here in Chippewa Falls,” John Leinenkugel said. “We grew up as Twins fans, and it’s thrilling to have them here.”
The Twins secured a spot in the playoffs last year as a wild card team but were eliminated by the New York Yankees. Gladden is optimistic about the upcoming season.
“Going into camp, everyone is happy and excited,” Gladden said. “We’ve really improved the bullpen. The key is if (infielder Miguel) Sano can stay healthy.”
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