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Baseball brings Gagne trying times, Series titles

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Former Minnesota Twins shortstop Greg Gagne addresses the crowd moments before throwing out the first pitch Wednesday at Bill Taunton Stadium.

WILLMAR — As a high-schooler in Somerset, Mass., Greg Gagne faced the decision like many Northwoods League players do, on whether to go to college or go into professional baseball.

Gagne, who was drafted in the 5th round by the New York Yankees in 1979, chose the pros.

He said the decision came down to him not knowing what he wanted to do in college.

“I was going to take forestry” said Gagne, who was the Willmar Stingers’ opening-night celebrity guest Wednesday. “I took the test with the guidance counselor and it came up ‘you like the outdoors,’ forestry would be a good place.”

He had a football scholarship to Murray State in Kentucky and it was between that or signing with the Yankees.

“I figured forget football because I’m just going to get beat up,” he said. “I’m only a 165-pound tailback and I’ll be eating steak and potatoes the rest of my life.”

Skipping college let him concentrate on one sport.

“So I said now I can really focus on baseball,” he said. “I knew I wanted to play baseball, I had the talent and people believed that I was pretty good.”

The Yankees paid him a signing bonus of $20,000, enough that he could turn pro and go back to college later if it didn’t work out.

It worked out for him, but it didn’t all come easy.

He was traded to the Minnesota Twins in 1982 and played for the Twins’ minor league affiliate in Orlando.

“There were some trying times,” he said. “My first year with the Twins in double-A, it was the worst 16-hour bus trips in the hottest places in the nation. Thank God next year I was in triple-A (Toledo) … the weather was a lot nicer, the traveling was a lot easier and I was one step away from the big leagues.”

Gagne debuted in 1983 and was a full-time player by 1985, eventually winning World Series titles with the Twins in 1987 and 1991. He played 10 years for the Twins and five for the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers before retiring after the 1997 season.

Gagne coached his son’s high school team after retiring and had several kids opt to play college ball. He said the education aspect is more important for some kids.

“It has to be the kid’s decision,” he said. “For me, I knew I loved baseball, I had a chance to go play baseball, so I took that instead of college. Some kids it might not be their No. 1 priority.”

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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