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Basic Biittner : "Circle me Bert, and be home 'Bly 'leven"

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The year was 1970, and my young bride and I were at a Minnesota Twins baseball game at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington with my parents.

Bert Blyleven at Cooperstown. AP Photo
Two things from that day stand out in my memory : first, I lost a pin from my prescription sunglasses,which I replaced that day with the metal from a bread wrapper and it stayed that way until I lost the glasses in the Colorado River 20 years later, and more imortantly, I got to watch a game pitched by a starting pitcher who was my age (19 at the time). That" was a big righthander by the name of Rik Aalbert Blyleven, whom the Twins had just brought up from the minors.

It wasn't much later that I discovered that Blyleven was called "Bert," was born in The Netherlands, and had a wicked curveball. He wound up winning 10 games that first season in Minnesota and before he was through pitching in the major leagues, Blyleven had pitched 22 seasons for five clubs (including a return to Minnesota for a couple of seasons, which included a World Series championship in 1987), finishing his career pitching for the Angels in southern California, where he grew up.

Blyleven had won 20 games one season, pitched in two All-Star games, thrown a no-hitter in 1977 (for the Rangers), amassed 287 career regular season wins (plus another three in League Championship Series and two in the World Series), 3,701 regular season strikeouts (5th all-time) and 60 shutouts (9th all-time).

A real workhorse, who believed in finishing what he started, Blyleven pitched 4970 regular season innings and completed 242 games. He was a member of the starting rotation on two different World Series champions - the 1979 "We Are Family" Pittsburgh Pirates and the 1987 Minnesota Twins - the first World Series champion in the club's Minnesota history. When he was pitching, Blyleven's name, as spoken by ESPN's Chris Berman, was "Bert Be Home Bly 'leven," one of my all-time favorite examples of "Bermanese."

Blyleven retired from pitching in 1992, but he certainly didn't disappear from the Major League scene. Since 1996, he has been a very popular (and sometimes very colorful) color commentator on the Twins' baseball telecasts, with his most popular segment being his use of the telestrator to respond to fans' pleas to "Circle Me, Bert."

Kenny Bern at Target Field in Minneapolis. Photo contributed
This is a very special month for Bert Blyleven. Last weekend, he was honored by the Twins with the retirement of his uniform number 28, and this weekend, he will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York following his election to that shrine last winter.

Cherokee's number one sports fan, Kenny Bern, and his late wife, Olga, became personal friends with Blyleven many years ago and Kenny still keeps in touch with Bert, who lives in Florida during baseball's off-season.

This spring, the two saw each other at a Twins' game at Target Field in Minneapolis, and Kenny and his nephew Jeff Benson headed out by car Tuesday morning for the long trip to Cooperstown, where they plan to be in attendance when Bert Blyleven is inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday afternoon.

Bert Blyleven (back to camera) had his Twins' number 28 retired in a ceremony last weekend at Target Field. AP Photo
Unfortunately for the rest of us, the ceremony is no longer telecast on ESPN, as it was for many years. The MLB Network now handles the telecast, and I don't think many of the cable or satellite carriers around here carry the MLB Network, although I may be wrong. One shot you may have is to go to mlb.com on your computer Sunday afternoon and see if you can catch the ceremony that day. If not, I'm sure the highlights will be on ESPN's "Sports Center."

The other inductees this year are former second baseman Roberto Alomar and long-time baseball executive Pat Gillick.

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Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner