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Friday, May 6, 2016

Struck Strikes Out:The Berns meet 'The Bert'

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Bert Blyleven, Olga and Kenny Bern.
(photo contributed)
Major League Baseball fans - especially Minnesota Twins fans - have no trouble remembering former Twins pitching ace Bert Blyleven.

Blyleven, whose nickname "Bert be home Blyleven" given by ESPN's Chris Berman who has made a career out of twisting professional athletes' last names, is as well known as his wicked curve ball that sent many American League hitters back to the bench muttering for several MLB seasons.

And, for a Cherokee couple with a lifelong penchant for sports and the athletes who play them, Bert Blyleven will forever more be the best of friends.

Needless to say, Kenny and Olga Bern of Cherokee, best of friends to hundreds of area prep athletes gleaned through the years, were thrilled to meet and visit with Blyleven at a recent Twins Caravan outing in Spencer, thanks to arrangements made by their nephew Jeff Benson.

While encouraging the Berns to attend the Twins function, Benson was told by Kenny that he'd go "Only if I can meet Bert Blyleven." A longtime Twins fan with a media angle to access the team, Benson quietly arranged for the Berns to sit in the front row and to meet their pitching icon in person.

On top of it all, that very day was Kenny and Olga's 56th Wedding Anniversary, another key motivation for Benson to pull it all off.

"You know, I've never met a stranger," Kenny is fond of saying. The personable former nationally acclaimed professional bowler, a giant of a man whose handshake can be, shall we say, a gripping experience, has followed prep, collegiate and professional sports his entire life.

Because of their devotion to sports, Kenny and Olga have made fast friends throughout the prep, collegiate and professional ranks, including a great number of MLB players Kenny has befriended through his many years of regularly attending spring training in Florida.

"Bert was wonderful," said Kenny in recalling his experience meeting the Hall of Fame hopeful. "We were shocked to learn we were sitting in the front row, and were shocked again to hear Bert acknowledge us and our anniversary over the P.A. system.

On top of it all, Kenny won one of the coveted Twins door prizes, this one a baseball autographed by Blyleven!

"I won the door prize, related Kenny, and Bert came over to give me the ball, walked right on by me and gave it to Olga! And then he kissed her!" bellowed the Larrabee native with an engaging laugh that lights up a room. "Hey, it was my ball and he gave it to Olga!"

The Berns listen to many Twins games on the radio, and watch them on TV where Blyleven is commentator. They've long felt a kinship to the Netherlands' native, which is now greatly enhanced by knowing him personally.

In a recent telephone conversation with Benson, Blyleven told him to "Say hello to your beautiful aunt Olga and mean old uncle Kenny!"

Kenny also is a fast friend of Boston Red Sox player Kevin Millar, who made "Cowboy Up" the team's mantra during their march to the World Series title in 2004. Kenny met Millar when he was a little known player with the Florida Marlins years ago.

"We go to the Twins-Red Sox games in Minneapolis whenever they play," explained Kenny. "Kevin knows we're coming and he sets us up with tickets."

Besides the personal friendships with the countless professional and collegiate athletes Kenny and Olga have cultivated through the years, the couple are fixtures in many gyms throughout Northwest Iowa, seldom missing an area basketball game or wrestling match.

Because of family ties and friendships, the Berns are widely recognized at sporting events at their beloved Galva-Holstein, Aurelia and Cherokee.

Both the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls Athletic Union make special arrangements each year for them to attend the state tournaments.

"All I have to do is call to tell them we're coming," said a grateful Kenny, whose eyes often tear up as he recalls his many friends and acquaintances that have defined he and Olga's lives through the years.

Kenny and Olga have no children, so they've "adopted" hundreds of them through their love and dedication to the games our kids play.

I can't begin to count the number of times Kenny accompanied me to venues large and small in the bitter cold and rain to watch my oldest son, Adam, play baseball at the University of South Dakota too many years ago.

Of course, there are always the photos, as a camera is part of Kenny's goodies bag he takes to the games. And that camera was clicking when he and Olga were with Blyleven at the recent Twins outing in Spencer.

In their home, the Berns have famous porch walls where dozens of sports photos, letters, news articles and other memorabilia hang in tribute to this special pair and the wondrous life's path they have traveled doing what they love with the people they love. There also are three TVs in that porch so they don't miss out on any games occurring simultaneously.

Bert Blyleven knew in an instant that Kenny and Olga were special, that they were the real deal. And now, obviously, he has embraced them just as they embraced him.

Get the hammer and picture frames out again, Kenny. I do believe you have a few more additions to the porch walls.

Why isn't Bert in?

Bert Blyleven spent 23 years in the Major Leagues playing with the Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, California Angels, Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates. Eleven of his seasons were with Minnesota. Many people in MLB feel that Bert has received the shaft when it comes to the Hall of Fame voting. He has been on the ballot now for eight years the last of which he received 40.9% of the Baseball Writers' votes, but still has not been entered into Cooperstown.

The Numbers:

- Ranks 13th all-time with 4970 innings pitched. Numbers 1-12 are in the Hall of Fame.

- Ranks 5th on all time strikeouts list with 3701, behind Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton and active pitchers Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson.

- 287-250 career record. Ranks 25th all time in wins. Twenty-one of the 24 on the list in front of him are in the Hall of Fame, two are still active players (Clemens and Gregg Maddux).

- Ranks 9th in all-time shutouts with 60. All eight in front of him are in the Hall of Fame.

- Ranks 9th in all-time starts

- 3.31 career ERA

- Five one-hitters

- Two world Series rings - 1987 Twins and 1979 Pirates

- Post season record of 5-1 with 2.47 ERA in eight games. Struck out 36 batters in 47 1/3 innings of work.

Besides his great baseball resume, Bert has been involved in many charitable organizations throughout the years including Parkinson's Association, Juvenile Diabetes, Luekemia Association, Children's Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House.

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