Oliva, Kaat share mentor who got them through early career woes

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva have a common thread during their journey from the minors to the Hall of Fame. And he will be in the audience Sunday for their induction ceremonies.

Jack McKeon was the player-manager in Missoula, Mont., in 1958 when a struggling Kaat was 1-4 and wondering if it was time to reassess his life goals. McKeon kept putting Kaat in the rotation every fourth day, and Kaat began how to figure out how to get hitters out. By the end of the season, Kaat was 16-9 with a 2.99 ERA, and he debuted with the Washington Senators the next season.

Oliva batted homesickness early in his pro career. In 1963, he tried to make the Twins in spring training, but the decision was made for him to play every day at Class AAA Dallas-Fort Worth. Oliva got off to a terrible start, batting under .200. But McKeon kept showing confidence in him and left him in the lineup. Oliva got hot and was batting over .300 within a couple of weeks. He finished with a .304 batting average, 23 home runs and 74 RBI. Oliva earned a late-season call-up and never saw the minors again. He hit .323 in 1963 and was named AL Rookie of the Year.

McKeon, now 91, went on to manage five major league teams. He won two Manager of the Year awards and led the Marlins to the 2003 World Series championship.

When asked will there be anything special in his speech on Sunday, Kaat said, "The main two will be my father and Jack McKeon, who will be there tomorrow, as my minor league manager in 1958. And I wanted to tell the story that without your support and encouragement I probably wouldn't be here."

Flocking to Cooperstown

Several former Twins will be part of the club's delegation on Sunday.

President Dave St. Peter and former players Dan Gladden and Mike Pagliarulo were in town as of Friday. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, LaTroy Hawkins and President of Baseball Operation Derek Falvey flew in Saturday.

Kent Hrbek was driving in from the Twin Cities.

Big Papi party

David Ortiz is only the fourth player from the Dominican Republic to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He will join Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero.

So he is doing it up big.

A local brewery is throwing a Cooperstown Dominican Latin Fest on Sunday evening. It will be free of charge, but attendance will be capped at around 5,000 fans. The event will be broadcasted live back to the Dominican Republic and several former players are expected to attend.

It looks like Hall of Fame Weekend will end on a high note. Or a bunch of them.