Twins open All-Star Week with field dedication
Hrbek, team executives among crowd on hand for unveiling of Miracle League ballpark
HIBBING, Minn. -- Kevin Thoresen could not hold back the tears.
After nine years of leading Minnesota's branch of the Miracle League -- a national organization that builds baseball fields for children with special needs -- he stood on the pitcher's mound at the newest ballpark in Hibbing on Wednesday night during the first official All-Star Week event.
"I wanted them to have the same kind of joy that anybody should," Thoresen said through bleary eyes. "These kids deserve the chance to play baseball. Every child, not only just here in Minnesota, but across the country, deserves the opportunity to play baseball, and that's why the Miracle League exists."
Kevin Thoresen All-Star Miracle League Field is the most recent of 12 that Thoresen has helped build since founding the Minnesota chapter in 2005, but the first one with his name on it.
The father of two sons with special needs (Tyler, 23, and Jacob, 21), Thoresen dove headfirst into several metro area projects after seeing a report on the Miracle League on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.
"I had as much joy playing Little League baseball as a kid than I've had doing anything else, and I wanted every kid to have that opportunity," Thoresen said.
But the only such ballfield in northern Minnesota almost didn't come to be; funding issues threatened to kill it at multiple junctures, but this July's All-Star Game provided both the Miracle League and the Twins with a solution.
Twins president Dave St. Peter explained his organization's need for shovel-ready, capital projects as part of the legacy giving programs that come along with the All-Star Game. In all, the Twins and MLB contributed a record $8 million to local and national causes.
"Projects of this nature are pretty easy to dream up," St. Peter said. "They're more difficult to actually implement. This community sensed the need. We simply found a way to partner with them to make them happen."
A star-studded cast was in attendance on Wednesday, along with a large crowd of approximately 300.
Joining Thoresen and St. Peter were Twins CEO Jim Pohlad, Twins legend Kent Hrbek, and MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan, among others.
"I've been coming to All-Star Games now for 23 years, and we've been doing the legacy project since about 2005 officially," Brosnan said. "I think this is the biggest turnout we've ever had for a local legacy project."
Wednesday was the first official event on the All-Star Week docket, and the only one outside of the metro area.
But the birthplace of Bob Dylan, Kevin McHale and Roger Maris seemed like as good a place as any to kick off the festivities, especially considering Thoresen grew up there.
The charismatic native didn't miss an opportunity to spread his passion.
"There's such a lack of programs for kids with special needs of any kind to play any kind of sports," Thoresen said. "It's not just baseball. It's any sport you could imagine. They're not on teams.
"If we're going to continue to look at these people as assets, or if they're going to work for a company and they've never been a part of a team, they're never going to learn teamwork."
The field itself is a carbon copy of the other 11 in the state: a flat, artificial-turf surface that extends 110 feet from home plate to the fence corners, and 45 feet from base to base. After the ceremony, Thoresen pitched to several players in a one-inning game to dedicate the venue.
Per Minnesota Miracle League tradition, everyone gathered at home plate to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" when it was over.
Microphone in hand, Kevin Thoresen led the way.
Alex M. Smith is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.