MINNEAPOLIS — At a charity event happening a short hop from Target Field on Monday afternoon, Hall of Fame right-hander and legendary prankster Bert Blyleven got fans warmed up for the All-Star game by pitching live batting practice with a Wiffle ball.
The folks from 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey — a local brand — spiced up the event by adding some stakes: Make contact (beyond a foul tip), or otherwise get a whipped cream pie in the face. But swinging and missing had an upside: For every whiff, 2 Gingers would donate $200, splitting the funds evenly between the Wounded Warrior Project and the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, up to $10,000 total.
Conversely, if anyone made solid contact against Blyleven, who now works Twins games as a TV broadcaster, he'd get a pie in the face. A batting cage was set up in the beer garden of Darby's Pub and Grill. An actual scoreboard kept a tally. Pies were filled with Reddi Whip. Fans watched from a parking garage above. It was gametime.
Blyleven, 63, wasn't messing around with the people who had waited in line. He was throwing hard, albeit from a distance much shorter than 60 feet, six inches. Anyone expecting a slow breaking ball, like the ones Blyleven threw at major leaguers to rack up 3,701 strikeouts, forget it.
In a brief warmup beforehand, Blyleven looked quite hittable when he lobbed some curve-like pitches to a couple of VIPs. He also joked about downing a couple of Irish whiskeys to get his bender working. But it was all a decoy to get the fans in line overconfident. Most of them were helpless. The final tally was Blyleven 45, fans 4. Even though it was a little twisted, it was fun and all for charity.
After Shawn Fondow of Minneapolis made contact to avoid the face pie, a genuine look of disappointment came over Blyleven. And then a look of pie cream crossed his face literally.
"I was just happy to hit him," Fondow said. "We've met Bert a couple of times and he's always been a good guy. I would have taken a pie in the face for charity, too, so. I came ready to be smacked and I just got lucky and hit the ball."
Fondow, a K-8 school principal in North Minneapolis, said he wasn't lulled into expecting trick pitches from Blyleven. After all, Fondow's played ball all of his life.
"You always gear up for the fastball and adjust to anything else slower," Fondow said.
Bonus Bert pic:
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