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Twins show off past, present at Caravan stop in Willmar

(Tribune photo by Rand Middleton) Seven-time American League batting champ Rod Carew proved a hit with young fans, too, Thursday at the Twins Winter Caravan, posing for a photo with Hunter Wahl, 6, of Willmar at the KEC in Willmar.

WILLMAR — “We have the past and we have the present,” Minnesota Twins’ radio broadcaster Cory Provus said while introducing the players at the Winter Caravan on Thursday at the Kandi Entertainment Center.

Twins great Tony Oliva was on his fiftieth straight Caravan, having been on every single one since 1964.

Top outfield prospect Aaron Hicks was on his first.

Hicks’ rookie status on the Caravan became a quick topic of discussion between him and pitcher Kyle Gibson, who was on his second.

“Aaron wasn’t sure what the Caravan was,” Gibson said.

“I thought we just got on a big party bus and all the fans were in there talking to us,” Hicks said. “Like we drove to different cities, dropped you guys (the fans) off, and picked up a new group. I was pretty excited.”

But to Hicks’ surprise, it was a packed floor at the KEC for a question and answer session and autograph signing with Oliva, Hicks, Gibson, Liam Hendriks and Rod Carew.

A wide range of subjects were discussed, including Carew’s and Oliva’s experiences playing with Harmon Killebrew and against Roberto Clemente, going on the Caravan in the ‘60s and Carew’s least-favorite pitcher to face (Rudy May).

“When Rudy May pitched, I took the day off,” Carew said.

Carew, a .328 career hitter, hit .260 with a .659 OPS in 57 plate appearances against May over his career.

The weather was a popular topic, too.

“We had to do the Caravan in the ‘60s,” Carew said. “That was our winter job so we could make some extra money, but Aaron and I were out in California and the weather was about 85 degrees so we were shocked when we got off the plane.”

For the Australia native Hendriks, it was only his second time seeing snow.

“It was 108 degrees the day I left (Australia), he said. “I’m still playing around with (the snow), it’s pretty fun.”

“It’s been cold the past four days, but we’ve had a great time and enjoyed every moment, Oliva said.

The young players also talked about preparations for the upcoming season.

Gibson, who returned from Tommy John surgery late last season, said it’s been an interesting year for him.

“”I feel pretty strong now,” he said. “It feels basically like it did before surgery. Hopefully I’ll be getting on the mound here soon and getting ready for spring training.”

Other questions included what player Hicks compares himself to (Torii Hunter) and why Hendriks chose baseball over Australian rules football, where he was a nationally-ranked player.

 “At age 16 I was top five in the country,” Hendriks said. “Tough choice, but I had some knee injuries and it was a smarter choice for me to go with baseball.”

The players head to Twins Fest today at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, and then it’s off to spring training where the early reporting date for pitchers and catchers is Feb. 11.

Ben Brewster

Ben Brewster covers the Willmar Stingers and other area sports, as well as laying out the daily sports section cover for the West Central Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @benbrewster.

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