Herald Journal Columns
May 22, 2006, Herald Journal / Enterprise Dispatch

One fateful meeting 20 years ago

By Matt Kane

A coworker brought it up in the office late last week that I was going to be 30 over the weekend.

How depressing.

I entered my third decade on this spinning ball of blue Sunday at 8:24 a.m., and I don’t know what to think.

Aren’t I supposed to be married by now, with three kids, a dog and a house on the lake? I guess not.

I don’t really have plans or expectations for my first year in this new decade, or for the years to come, so who knows where I will be when I exchange the “3” in the tenths spot of my age with a “4.”

I never really think much about my birthday, actually, and treat it like any other day. My 21st birthday always surfaces when I see a friend who turned 21 with me, but I think that year is a given to create a lifelong memory. Something did, though, spark a memory of what I consider my best birthday.

An avid KFAN listener, I always have my radio tuned to 1130 on the AM dial to “PA and Dubay” for the 11 a.m. hour on Fridays.

Former Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek always calls in to chat with the dial duo around 11:20 a.m. and my ears are always glued.

Hrbek has always been my favorite Twins player for a number of reasons. We both hit left-handed and throw right-handed, play first base, and are far from being slim. But maybe the biggest reason I liked, and still like Hrbek is we share a birthday — May 21.

Realizing this in the months leading up to my 10th birthday, I wrote Hrbek a letter declaring we share a birthday, while also including a dinner reservation at my Sauk Centre home for him and his wife.

I guess the wheels started turning because somehow (thanks, grandma) a meeting with the big first baseman was arranged for a game during the week of our birthdays.

What sparked this memory Friday was Hrbek declaring he was to be 46. I remembered he turned 26 when I met him, and I still can’t believe it has been 20 years.

It wasn’t just any meet-and-greet though. This encounter between birthday boys took place on the turf of the Metrodome during batting practice before a game with the Milwaukee Brewers.

There we were: myself, my brother, my mother and my best friend David, on the field as the members of the 1986 Twins stopped by one-by-one to wish me a happy birthday and to sign autographs.

Randy Bush, Tom Brunansky, Steve Lombardozzi, Ron Washington, Kirby Puckett and Gary Gaetti, to name a few.

And then, the big guy stopped by. Standing at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Hrbek was a monster compared to my pre-chubby 10-year-old frame.

A giant of sorts, but a gentle one for sure.

Not much of the conversation comes back to my mind, but I do remember our gift exchange.

After I presented him his gift from me, Hrbek took a couple steps into the dugout, reached for the bat rack and pulled out a never-been-used Louisville Slugger with Kent Hrbek scripted across the barrel and “14” markered on the knob.

I used to swing, or try to swing, that 34-inch bat just about every night before I went to bed in the years following the day I received it.

Even today, when I actually use wood bats in games, I don’t think I could swing Hrbek’s club with any authority.

That bat, one given to me by Tom Brunansky and the team-signed baseball I received on that one day, are still prized possessions in my memorabilia collection.

Since our meeting 20 years ago, I have run into Hrbek at TwinsFest and various other promotions, and always think back to our first encounter. In case you are wondering, he doesn’t remember our first meeting, or at least he doesn’t bring it up.

If I were to write a Master Card commercial about my 10th birthday, it would go like this:

Postage stamp: 22 cents.

Driving expenses to the stadium: $10.

Celebrating a birthday with your idol: Priceless.

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