The man who dazzled with his hard-breaking curveball and pitched an impressive 60 career shutouts has become well-known to a new generation of baseball fans and one of the most beloved members of the Twins' organization over his past 15 years as the club's television analyst.
"Fans genuinely embrace him, and that's not easy for someone who didn't grow up here in Minnesota to have that happen," said Dick Bremer, Blyleven's partner on the Twins' television broadcasts. "He is beloved much like the native Minnesotan would be. I think people can relate to his contributions in his two different stints with the Twins. But beyond that, when they watch him on TV, the fans can sense his devotion to the Twins and his passion for the game of baseball. And despite his exploits as a professional athlete, I think he's perceived and loved for being an everyman's baseball analyst."
Blyleven's connection with the fans begins, of course, with his playing days for the Twins, having spent half of his career in Minnesota. He bridged perhaps two of the best known eras in the club's history playing alongside Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Tony Oliva after he was first drafted by the Twins in 1969 and then winning Minnesota's first World Series title in '87 alongside Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti. And now he's linked to the team's current era thanks to bringing games to the homes of fans on a nightly basis.
But perhaps what makes Blyleven such a fan favorite now is that he has brought the same fun-loving, but hard-working demeanor he had in his playing days into the broadcast booth.
Blyleven has delivered the same dedication to his current job, spending his nights gathering stats and updating index cards of opposing players to use for upcoming broadcasts. And he's also brought his humor and well-known prankster ways to the TV as well. The man, who, during his playing days, was known to light his teammates' shoelaces on fire when they weren't looking, has done such crazy things on air as having his hair buzzed by Johan Santana after losing a bet when the left-hander threw a shutout against the Mets.
"He is bound and determined to have fun at the ballpark and I think that was evident in his playing career, and he carries that over to his broadcasting career as well," said Bremer. "The ballpark was meant to be a place to have fun, and what makes him extraordinary is that not many people have been able to make two careers out of that attitude. I think there is a lesson in that for everyone."
It was during the 2002 season that Blyleven began the "Circle Me Bert" phenomenon. During a Twins roadtrip, Blyleven broke the monotony of a game by circling a fan in the stands. He followed by doing it again in the next city, and by the time the club returned home, the signs had begun showing up at the ballpark and fans had a new connection that drew them to Blyleven.
"Bert has got that way of ingratiating himself to people," said Jeff Byle, executive producer at Fox Sports North who works with Blyleven on the Twins' broadcasts. "Whether that was his upbringing from his parents or his personality or a little bit of both, you hear a lot of people go, 'Well, that's Bert.' I think that's all part of his charm. He does engage people and people engage him back. He has something about his personality where people gravitate to him and it comes though on television, too."
Fans watching Twins games have spent the last 13 years sharing the ups and downs with Blyleven in his chase for the Hall of Fame. They've sent him encouraging notes, and when fans would see him up in the booth at the ballpark, they'd pass along their hopes that this would finally be the year that Blyleven would join that elite group of players.
And thanks to Wednesday's announcement, Twins followers will now take part in Blyleven's journey to July 24, 2011, when he will finally get inducted into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.
"I think it will be fun for our fans to share this experience with Bert -- the anticipation of July 24, his work on his speech and of course all of the stories from the experience that he'll be able to share on the air," said Twins president Dave St. Peter. "I think it's going to be a very special season for the Twins and certainly a lot of fun to watch those telecasts."
St. Peter said that the Twins are planning to honor Blyleven's election to the Hall of Fame in the upcoming months, beginning with TwinsFest in late January, when the pitcher will make his first trip back to Minnesota since the announcement. St. Peter said there will also be consideration of whether to retire Blyleven's No. 28, which he wore for all 11 of his seasons with the Twins.
As Blyleven's vote totals for the Hall of Fame took very small jumps in the early part of the decade, there had been questions as to whether the 287-game winner might have to find a different way into Cooperstown -- perhaps even through the broadcast booth. That, of course, is no longer necessary, but Blyleven's desire to remain in his current role with the Twins hasn't changed now that he's officially a Hall of Famer.
"As long as they want me, I love what I do," Blyleven said. "I'm around the game of baseball. I love following Twins baseball, I love the fans up there. I've got to continue my Circle Me Bert stuff. That telestrator's mine. I can't give it up."