Stinger opener to feature pitching great Saberhagen
WILLMAR -- At a Northwoods League game, you never know which players could turn into a future star.
On Stingers opening night, a former one will be in attendance.
Bret Saberhagen, former Kansas City Royals ace and two-time Cy Young winner, will be a special guest for the Stingers' opener against the Mankato Moon Dogs on May 30.
Saberhagen's son, Drew, is the manager for the Alexandria Beetles. Drew also pitched for the Beetles for four seasons and was an assistant coach last year before getting the manager position for the upcoming season.
Stingers co-owner Ryan Voz previously worked for the Beetles, which is where he met Bret.
"I've known Ryan for a bunch of years," Bret said. "He asked me to come out and throw out the ceremonial first pitch."
Bret said he'll then head to Alexandria to catch a few of his son's games.
"I try to get out there once a year," Bret said. "I keep track of (the Beetles). It was great to see them go to the playoffs last season."
Drew, who played four years of college ball for Pepperdine and Western Carolina, was born Oct. 26, 1985 -- the same day as Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, which Bret was pitching in for the Royals.
"It was a great time for me," Bret said. "You have your first child being born the day before the seventh game, then pitch the seventh game and win it. It was a special year."
Bret pitched a complete-game shutout in Game 7 to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 11-0 and give the Royals their only World Championship. He won the World Series MVP for his two starts in the Series, in which he gave up a total of one run.
He also won the 1985 American League Cy Young Award with a 20-6 record and 2.87 ERA in the regular season.
Playing in the American League West from 1984 to 1991, Bret faced some good (and not-so-good) Minnesota Twins teams, including the World Champion '87 and '91 teams.
"(The Twins) and Oakland always seemed to be right there with us," he said. "Those were the teams you feared battling back and forth with."
The hitting talent the Twins featured could be problematic, but so did one other thing: location.
"That dome was my least favorite place to pitch," Bret said. "I couldn't stand pitching in Minnesota. I hated pitching indoors.
"I feel baseball is meant to be played outside. (And) if it's cold, better for me because hitters don't like to hit when it's cold."
Bret was on a Hall of Fame track before he was slowed by injuries.
Through his age-27 season with Kansas City in 1991, he'd already won 110 games, two Cy Young Awards and a World Series.
He was sent to the New York Mets in a blockbuster trade after the 1991 season.
He pitched well for New York, but missed parts of 1992 and 1993 to injuries. Healthy again in 1994, he was off to his best start since the trade before the MLB players strike cut the season short.
In 1995, he was sent to the Colorado Rockies in trade-deadline deal where he again struggled. At the time, the Rockies played in one of the best hitting environments in baseball but Bret said injuries were more to blame than the thin air.
"If you were a command pitcher and didn't walk a lot of guys, you would be successful in Colorado," he said. "(Then), even if you give up a home run, it's a solo homer."
In Kansas City and again in Colorado, Bret was teammates with Atwater native Mike Kingery.
"Mike was a great teammate," Bret said. "He played hard. He hit for average and he could track down your mistakes in the outfield."
Bret missed all of 1996 to injuries before latching on with the Boston Red Sox in 1997.
His 1997 season was also ruined by injuries, but finally healthy again in 1998 he started 31 games for Boston to help lead them to a playoff spot where they lost to Cleveland in the American League Division Series.
"I always wanted to win in Boston, especially because they hadn't won in so long," he said. "When they won in '04 I went to a couple games. I was very excited for Boston but I was also very jealous I wasn't there to partake.
"Boston's still my favorite city in the country. Their fans there are like no others."
He retired after the 2001 season, finishing with a 167-117 record, a 3.34 ERA and 1,715 strikeouts for his career.
In the years since, Bret has spent five years coaching at Calabasas (Calif.) High School and another two years as a baseball agent.
"Now I'm not doing anything," he said. "I call myself a free agent."
He said he wouldn't rule out returning to coaching, but that he's enjoying his time off.
"I never say never," he said. "But I do love my summer times. I worked and played hard and now it's time to enjoy as much as possible."