In October of 2002, after the Twins beat the A’s in game five of the ALDS, WCCO radio announced that the team would be arriving at the Minneapolis airport from Oakland later that night. Maybe I was still a little woozy from all of Eddie Guardado’s ninth-inning drama (frankly, I still haven’t totally recovered), but all of a sudden I got it into my head that I wanted to be there to welcome the team when they arrived.
I’d never done anything like that before, so I didn’t realize until I arrived at the airport, about an hour before the plane was due, that they’d be flying into a small charter terminal separate from the main airport. I had assumed I’d be waiting inside the main terminal, but when I got there, the group of fans that had already gathered had to wait outside a chain link fence that bordered the charter terminal’s parking lot. At 11:30 p.m., the temperature outside was about 40 degrees and dropping, and I was not dressed for standing outside.
The plane was delayed, and as we waited, the crowd grew steadily larger. I chatted with two 13-year old girls standing near me, twin sisters who were big fans of A.J. Pierzynski. As we waited, one of them wrote, “I (Heart) A.J.” on a piece of notebook paper to use as a sign. I had brought along my Homer Hanky and a Sharpie pen in the hopes of maybe getting an autograph or two (again, not something I had ever done before), and I loaned the girl my pen so she could make the lettering on her sign stand out better. The girls were also under dressed, but they, like me, had no intention of leaving.
Finally, a little after 1:00 a.m., Ron Gardenhire emerged from the building. He walked across the parking lot and thanked us all (there were about 300 of us by that time) for coming out. Because I had arrived early, I had a prime spot, right up against the fence, so when Torii Hunter appeared, and then Doug Mientkiewicz (in a remarkably ugly sweater), and one by one the rest of the team, I saw it all. The players moved up and down the fence signing autographs and greeting fans, and the girls next to me started screaming when they saw A.J. cross the parking lot. A little after that, Brad Radke was standing on the other side of the chain link from me.
Radke had been the starting pitcher in Oakland that day, and had given up only one run and six hits, with four strikeouts and not a single walk. It had been a huge game for him, sending the team to the next round of postseason play, but you’d never have known it by his demeanor that night. He signed my Homer Hanky, and then looked at the two girls next to me. In unison, the two of them cried, "We're TWINS!" Radke laughed and said, "Oh yeah?" Then he asked us, “Aren’t you guys cold?” He was the only player we talked to that night who seemed genuinely concerned about our well-being.
Which is why, a few days later, when I bought my very first authentic Twins jersey to wear to the playoffs, I chose #22. A Radke jersey.
This past season was Brad Radke’s 12th with the Twins. They were the only Major League team he’s ever played for, even though other teams offered him lots more money. Since early 2006, Radke has said that he will probably retire after this year. Today he’ll take the mound in Oakland again, to face the A’s in another do-or-die playoff game. But this time, it might very well be his last. And he’ll be pitching with the same stress fracture in his shoulder that had him on the disabled list for most of August.
After a Twins season that has had far more than its share of astonishing turnarounds and improbable comebacks, and after he has pitched solidly through the pain in so many games already, it really doesn’t seem fair to lay this one on Radke’s injured shoulders. But there it is.
Whatever happens today, these last few months have been nothing short of amazing. Thank you Bradke. And GO TWINS!