Twins treat Delano’s Heidi Rensink to a day at the ‘Dome
By Matt Kane
DELANO, MN Twins fans inside the Metrodome went crazy last Tuesday night when Alexi Casilla singled home Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Twins a 6-5 come-from-behind win.
The style of the early-season win and that magical ninth inning are something fans who were there will definitely remember for quite some time.
For four of the five members of the Neil Rensink family mom Clare, and daughters Heidi and Kelly (son Ryan was absent) from Delano, and seven guests, Tuesday’s Twins game might be remembered more for what happened before the game than for what happened in the ninth inning.
The entire Rensink posse spent the Twins’ batting practice time on the turf of the Metrodome mingling and snapping photographs with Twins players, as guests of the Twins. The Twins’ invitation for the Rensinks to attend went to Heidi, who has been battling Glioblastoma (GBM), the same brain cancer that Sen. Ted Kennedy is battling, since her junior year of high school in 2004.
“We got to go onto the field and meet all the players Heidi wanted to meet,” Heidi’s mother, Clare, said.
Heidi was a tennis player at Delano High School, but she has always been a Twins fan.
“It was cool,” Heidi said. “We didn’t meet all of them, because Joe Mauer was down in Florida. That was unfortunate.”
But the rest of the Twins, especially 2006 American League MVP Justin Morneau, more than made up for Mauer’s absence.
“From Justin Morneau, I got a signed bat, and some signed baseballs from some other players,” she said.
Clare talked about Morneau’s visit.
“Morneau stood with us and took a lot of pictures. He’s Heidi’s second favorite player, behind Mauer,” she said. “Morneau hung with us for five minutes, at least. And he gave Heidi an autographed baseball bat. And she likes Gomez, and he was over there, and Punto and Casilla. Those are the ones she wanted to see. Whatever Heidi wanted, they accommodated.”
“I can’t even explain it. They are so nice,” Heidi said of the players.
Family friend Camille Thomas helped organize the Rensink group’s trip to the Metrodome, and she had help from former Twins third baseman Corey Koskie. It was Koskie who made all of Heidi’s wishes come true on the field.
“He was a really nice man. He was trying to be accommodating for whatever she wanted,” Clare said of Koskie, who just recently announced his retirement, officially. “He would ask Heidi who she wanted to see, and he would get them over there to sign an autograph book.”
For seats at the game, the group sat in a suite, stocked with everything they could want. Well, almost everything.
“They had really good food there in the suites, but I still ordered a Dome dog,” Heidi said in her weakening voice. “It was like gourmet. Fruit and dip and stuff. And a whole entire refrigerator of free pop and beer.”
Tuesday was the first time Heidi had ever met the Twins in person, but there is evidence the Twins have thought about her before. Right fielder Michael Cuddyer signed her CaringBridge guest book on March 11, and, much to the delight of the Rensinks, another signer, Heidi’s favorite Twin, Joe Mauer, signed the guest book Tuesday night, just before the Rensink’s saw Mauer’s teammate Nick Blackburn deliver the first pitch.
Here is part of Mauer’s message to Heidi: “I hear you were planning a visit to come down to Ft. Myers for spring training. I’m sorry that it didn’t work out. I too have also had my plans changed this spring as I am not ready to come home and play just yet. I am getting closer to that date though, and I would love to have you and your family as my guests at a game when I get back.”
Mauer’s wishes for Heidi didn’t end with the invitation on CaringBridge. In the mail Wednesday morning, Heidi received a package in the mail from Mauer’s mother, Teresa, containing a Joe Mauer doll and tree ornament, and a second invitation to be Mauer’s guest at a future Twins game.
Sure, Heidi would love to meet her favorite Twin, Mauer, but there is no guarantee that day will ever come.
According to Clare, Heidi’s condition is deteriorating, and doctors say Heidi may have only a month to live. To put Rensink’s battle with cancer into baseball terms, she is now rounding third and heading for home.
“Nothing good,” is all Heidi said when asked what her doctors have told her.
Heidi has had three brain surgeries during her five-year battle with cancer, and each time her cancer went into remission, temporarily. This past January a tumor reappeared on an MRI.
“It’s coming back so fast, there’s not much more they can do about it,” Clare said.
Heidi currently is taking chemotherapy treatments, which leave her tired and fatigued. Her latest treatment was Thursday.
Ironically, the Twins have been a part of Heidi’s battle with cancer, literally, since the beginning. The Rensinks were on a Memorial Day trip to Kansas City to watch the Twins play the Royals in 2004 when Heidi first started feeling the effects of the tumor.
“When we were back in Minnesota, and we went to the Waconia emergency room, they discovered a brain tumor,” Clare said.
As Mauer mentioned in his CaringBridge note, the Rensinks had originally planned on taking another family vacation to watch the Twins, this time to Fort Myers to watch Mauer and the Twins during spring training. But things quickly changed.
“We tried to go to Florida, but Heidi got sick, and we had to cancel that,” Clare said. “I think the Twins heard about that, so they did this for Heidi.”
Knowing the family’s time with Heidi will end soon made the Rensinks even more appreciative of what the Twins did for Heidi.
“She’s not feeling the best right now, but I think she really enjoyed the experience,” Neil Rensink said.
“Just being able to do that, even though it was still iffy, it turned out wonderful,” Clare said. “A big thank you to Camille, and the Twins. To Justin Morneau and all of them. She enjoyed it immensely. That was a great thing they did for her.”
So, now, the Rensinks are counting their time remaining with Heidi in days and weeks, instead of months.
“She’s hoping to make it to Kelly’s graduation, but we’re not sure she will be with us that long,” Clare said.
Kelly’s high school graduation is Sunday, June 7.
The Rensinks weren’t inside the Metrodome to witness Casilla’s winning hit Tuesday night a long day for Heidi had them heading back to Delano after the sixth inning but they did manage to make it home in time to watch the ninth inning on television.
Heidi was impressed.
“That was awesome,” she said. “We gave each other high-fives.”
Fitting, considering high-fives are exchanged as a way to celebrate. According to the hundreds of notes on Heidi’s CaringBridge page, including one from Joe Mauer, Heidi, herself, is worth celebrating.
“I can tell from reading all of the posts that you are truly an amazing person. An inspiration to all of us,” Mauer wrote.
To use another baseball phrase, heard often on the Twins’ radio waves, Heidi has “Touched them all.”