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Blyleven has built tight bond with Twins fans

Blyleven has built enduring bond with fans

Blyleven has built tight bond with Twins fans
MINNEAPOLIS -- Circle me, Bert.

Nearly 10 years ago, during a Twins roadtrip, Bert Blyleven began using his telestrator during broadcasts to circle Twins fans during games. When the Twins returned home, the Metrodome was filled with "Circle me, Bert" signs, and the phenomenon began.

After spending 11 seasons in his 22-year career pitching for the Twins, Blyleven has been a color commentator on the team's broadcasts since 1996. Now in his 16th year on the air, Blyleven's popularity among fans has never been greater.

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"As a broadcaster, I like him because he's pretty funny and has a lot of good quips," said Mike Sellman, a lifelong Twins fan from Albertville, Minn. "He's pretty quick-witted."

The current Twins players are big fans of Blyleven as well, and it has a lot to do with their ability to relate to the former Twins right-hander.

Michael Cuddyer, who is in his 11th season with the Twins, said one of the things that Blyleven is best-known for are his antics during their team photos. Based on Blyleven's personality, Cuddyer said it comes as no surprise that Blyleven is so popular with fans.

"I've gotten to know him really well," Cuddyer said. "Even when he was playing, in the highlights, he was the one that got in front of the microphone to talk to the fans. He was the one that spoke, he was outgoing. His personality is infectious and he's a lot of fun."

At every home game this season, the Twins have counted down the number of home games remaining before Blyleven's induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, starting at 50 for the home opener and reaching two games on Thursday.

Every time they change the number, Blyleven is shown on the video board and he receives a standing ovation from the Target Field crowd.

Last Saturday, when the Twins hosted the Royals, it was "Bert Blyleven Day" at the ballpark. In a pregame ceremony, Blyleven's spot as a Twins legend was solidified when the club retired his jersey No. 28.

"As far as top Twins pitchers, he's definitely one of the best," said Mark Ewell, who has been a Twins fan for 30 years since moving to Coon Rapids, Minn. "Overall, he's somewhere in the top 10, maybe even top five."

Blyleven joined Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett as the only six Twins players to have their numbers retired.

"Target Field's going to be here a long time," Blyleven said last Friday on a conference call. "Somewhere down the line, 50 years from now when I'm gone, some young kid will go to the ballpark and say, 'Who was No. 28?'

"Hopefully their father or grandfather will explain who I was and what I did. It becomes almost unbelievable."

The timing of the Twins retiring Blyleven's number coincided nicely with his selection as one of three 2011 Hall of Fame inductees. Having the ceremony at Target Field a week before the induction ceremony in Cooperstown also provided a nice stepping stone for Blyleven to go from one great honor to an even bigger one in a matter of eight days.

Many fans, though, would tell you the Minnesota Twins and the Baseball Writers Association of America did not need to wait this long to extend to Blyleven the honors of having his number No. 28 retired and being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"It's been long overdue by I don't know how many years," said John Whoolery, a Twins fans from Brainerd, Minn.

Lefty reliever Glen Perkins, a Minnesota native, expressed a similar opinion.

"I think that's a number that could have been retired a long time ago," Perkins said. "I think he should've been in the Hall of Fame a long time ago. It's well-deserved. I think in 2006, when I got here, he should've gotten it then. But I'm happy for him getting it now."

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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