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Career-Twin Hrbek started his career on the banks of the Watauga

Tanner Cook • May 22, 2020 at 10:00 AM

If you look up the definition of a true hometown hero, you’ll probably find a picture of Minnesota Twins great Kent Hrbek next to it. 

Born on May 21, 1960 in Minneapolis and growing up just outside of the Twin Cities in Bloomington, Hrbek spent his entire 14-year, big-league baseball career with the Minnesota Twins. 

He won two World Series titles (1987, 1991) after finishing as runner-up for the American League most valuable player award in 1984.

Hrbek’s stint in Elizabethton was short-lived (17 games), but the first baseman certainly helped out a young ball club that was loaded and still in its first decade as a Minnesota affiliate. 

SUMMER OF 1979

Hrbek was drafted in the 17th round of the June Amateur Draft and sent to his new home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, far away from his home in Minnesota. 

The E-Twins were coming off of an Appalachian League championship the season before and had future major leaguers on the team like Gary Gaetti playing playing third and lefty Ed Hodge being a commodity on the pitcher’s mound. 

Fred Waters was at the helm for the Twins at the time and would wind up with 443 wins in the Appy League, which was the most at the time of his retirement. 

In a July 22 doubleheader against the Johnson City Cardinals, the E-Twins swept the two games at Riverside Park — 2-1 and 3-2. 

“Herbie” went a combined 2 for 5, delivering a game-tying single in the sixth inning of the second game. 

The 19-year-old Hrbek wound up hitting .203 in his time for Elizabethton while hitting one home run and driving in 11 runs. 

In the field, the first baseman made just two errors while tying for the best fielding percentage on the team with Kevin Miller (.986). 

ROAD BACK HOME

Hrbek had quite a jump in the next season, playing for Class A Wisconsin Rapids of the Midwest League, socking 19 round-trippers and driving in 76 runs in 115 games. His batting average was not the best, hitting .267, but he was becoming more of a power hitter. 

In his first full season for the Twins in 1982, Hrbek made his one and only All-Star team and finished runner-up in the AL Rookie of the Year voting to some guy named Cal Ripken Jr. 

In the ’84 season — undoubtedly his best, production-wise — he hit 27 homers, batted in a career-high 107 runs and recorded a then-career best average of .311. 

WORLD SERIES MOMENTS

In a seven-game upset of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987, Hrbek hit .208 in the Series and had six RBIs. 

His best moment came in Game 6 when he hit a grand slam off of Ken Dayley, which all but sealed the win for Minnesota. 

The 1991 Fall Classic against Atlanta was one of the best ever played and “Herbie” made his mark on that one as well. 

In Game 2, he got tied up with Atlanta’s Ron Gant after Gant rounded first base too wide on a single and was tagged out by Hrbek. Umpire Drew Coble called Gant out after he pleaded for an impeding progress to get back to the bag. Gant strongly disputed the call and had to be restrained when Coble wouldn’t change the call. 

The call was then dubbed the “T-Rex Tag” after Hrbek jokingly speculated about a post-baseball career in professional wrestling using the name “Tyrannosaurus Rex.” Once the Series moved to Atlanta, he was jeered and he received a lot of hate mail, including one death threat.

MOVING ON FROM THE DIAMOND

Hrbek — citing constant but never serious injury — retired after the players strike in 1994. He later had his No. 14 retired by the ball club and was inducted into the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. 

He was constantly outspoken and known for losing his stirrups. He was adamant about mandating that future players would “not have to rummage through their lockers 20 minutes before the first pitch to find those darn stirrups.”

His career numbers include a lifetime .282 average, 293 homers, 1,086 RBIs and a .386 on-base percentage. 

Hrbek is active when it comes to fighting against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or “Lou Gehrig’s disease” since his father succumbed to it in 1982. He was awarded the 1991 Lou Gehrig Memorial Awards for his outstanding efforts.

 

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