The sounds of kids screaming and laughing echoed in the empty Target Field ball park Sunday morning. The Minnesota Twins wrapped up Hope Week with a salute to military families.
Manager Ron Gardenhire hosted 25 families, welcoming them to a game of catch in the outfield.
“This is me. This is what I’m all about because of my dad,” Gardenhire said.
Gardenhire grew up on military bases, his father retired from the army after 24 years.
He joked he always knew he’d wear a uniform professionally, though he thought it’d be a military uniform, not a baseball uniform.
The invitation to play catch at Target Field, he says, is the best way he can say thank you.
“It’s so important for not just the guys and girls who are serving, but their families. I was once the family and my dad was gone for a long time. It’s important for me. I understand what they’re going through when their husbands and wives are away,” Gardenhire said.
The team’s appreciation for their service isn’t lost on the families.
“This is a phenomenal event, it’s actually pretty cool to be with major league players, be on a major league field to play some catch and get in some quality family time. Look around, everyone’s loving it,” Joe Bougie, an active U.S. Navy member, said.
“It’s been great to share stories with the players and Gardy told us about growing up on base,” Bougie said.
When they weren’t playing catch or running on the outfield grass, the families took pictures with the players.
Unlike most autograph sessions, the Twins could take time to talk with their fans. Gardenhire said while some wanted to talk baseball, it was hearing their stories he most loved.
“I just want to listen,” Gardenhire said. “I love hearing their stories and how they’re doing, what branch they’re in and where they’ve been. And hear a little ‘hoo-rah’ here and there. I just enjoy the heck out of it.”
Looking around the field, it was hard to find anyone not having fun.
Parents were instantly transported back in time and became kids themselves. While the children enjoyed playing under the sun, the adults enjoyed playing at the ballpark.
Christen Bruns, whose husband is in the Navy, joked while the kids got excited to see TC Bear, she got excited to meet the players.
“We saw the opportunity on Beyond the Yellow Ribbon,” Bruns said, “I responded right away. I thought it was a very nice cause for them to support and it’d get our family out here. We don’t get to come much.”
As for the Twins, the event is a favorite.
Trevor Plouffe said he would have jumped at the experience as a kid. After all, it is fun to get outside and play catch with your parents.
While many people look up to Plouffe and his teammates, the third baseman said it’s the military families that are the real heroes.
“Anything we do is not heroic. It’s not just the men and women that are deployed, but their families as well. They’re all heroes to me,” Plouffe said.
Sunday’s events concluded the Twins fourth annual Hope Week, an entire week of team-led activities dedicated to giving back to the Twin Cities community.