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DOUG'S DIGGINGS: TwinFest brings a sense of warm weather

Sharing a laugh at Twinsfest with former Twins great Frank Viola are Darrin, left, and Doug Stohlberg, right.1 / 2
Sharing a moment at TwinsFest with former Twins great and Hall of fame member Rod Carew are Darrin, left, and Doug Stohlberg, right.2 / 2

As we sit in the depth of winter, my youngest son Darrin and I attended TwinsFest on a recent Sunday afternoon and, despite the snow falling outside, the event got us into a "spring" and "baseball" frame of mind.

TwinsFest, of course, is the mid-winter event that brings together fans and baseball players at the Metrodome. Other teams have tried to duplicate the event, but the Twins are one of the most successful at making it work. This last weekend they were able to bring in more than 60 former players, current players and future players.

Part of what makes TwinsFest so successful is that the stars are always involved. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were there all three days of the event. They were signing autographs, posing for pictures, being interviewed on live radio shows from TwinsFest. And, the same is true for most other players, many past players and the future stars.

One of the most popular attractions at this year's event was the appearance of potential future star Miguel Sano. The 19-year-old is widely regarded as the organization's top prospect. Most autograph stations require fans to pay a fee, but the up-and-comers are free. Sano was at a free booth and the line started early for the 2:30 p.m. scheduled autograph session.

Darrin and I were not going to bother with getting his autograph, but at about 3 p.m. we decided to get in line, hoping we would make it to the booth before the 4 p.m. deadline. I quickly purchased a couple of baseballs and we got in the long line -- not knowing if we'd make it or not. We did. I think the line went a bit quicker because Sano, who hails from the Dominican Republic, can speak only limited English. Most fans said nothing more than "hi." Over the years I've been in the lines with the Mauer's, Bert Blyleven's and Morneau's - everybody wants to exchange a few pleasant thoughts with the stars before moving on.

Sano played at Beloit last year and batted .258 with 28 home runs and 100 RBI in 129 games for the Snappers. One year earlier, he belted 20 homers in just 66 games with the Elizabethton Twins in rookie ball. This year it is expected he will probably play for the Fort Myers Miracle and new coach Doug Mientkiewicz, a former Twins first baseman. It is hoped that Mientkiewicz, a former Gold Glove winner, will help Sano improve defensively.

If the fan reaction means anything, Sano could be headed for stardom in the not-to-distant future. He was definitely a big draw at TwinsFest.

Darrin and I also secured the autograph of former Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland A's pitcher Rollie Fingers. There is always a booth at TwinsFest that includes some former Hall of Famers, among others. This year, the booth featured Fingers, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Perry and Jim "Mudcat" Grant. A few years ago I purchased a George Foster autographed ball at the booth. This year I purchased a Rollie Finger's glossy photo and he autographed it: To Doug, Best Wishes, Rollie Fingers (HOF 92).

The HOF, of course, stands for Hall of Fame -- he was inducted in 1992. The photo has Fingers in a Brewer uniform. And, yes, he still has his mustache! I paid $20 for the photo, and the eight to have him sign it.

We also had our pictures taken with a couple of former Twins greats. You can have a photo with a player for $5. By the way, most of the fees for autographs, photos, etc. go to the Twins Community Fund. We had our photos taken with Frank Viola and Rod Carew. Anyone 30 or over probably remember the 1987 and/or 1991 World Series wins. Viola was a big part of the '87 series. I was fortunate enough to attend a game or two of both of those World Series.

We also sat in on an auction where Twins memorabilia usually goes for a pretty hefty price. Twins TV announcer Dick Bremer acted as auctioneer. TwinsFest, of course has many memorabilia merchants with items from all of baseball. If you're ever looking for a baseball item or a baseball card -- TwinsFest is the place to be. Next year, however, could be interesting. It is yet to be determined if the Metrodome will be available next year. The new Viking stadium will be under construction and the timing of the dome is uncertain.

A couple of years ago TwinFest was moved to the National Sports Center in Blaine (That came after the dome roof collapsed Dec. 12, 2010. (The January 2011 event had to be moved). That venue was much more difficult than the dome. There is talk of a couple of other possibilities. They include the Sports Center, the Minneapolis Convention Center and a combination of Target Field and Target Center. Regardless, mark your calendar for late January 2014 if you're a baseball fan!