With snow still covering plenty of the ground outside the Willmar Civic Center, Al Newman brought the warm feel of a ballpark back to Willmar Thursday night.
The former Minnesota Twin enchanted attendees of Life Connections with tales from his playing days, a seven-year career that spanned stints with the Montreal Expos, Twins and, finally, the Texas Rangers.
The longtime utility man played five of those seasons with the Twins. He was a member of both World Series teams in 1987 and 1991. He's one of seven Twins players to participate on both championship teams.
"I can talk about those years until I'm blue in the face," said Newman, who went on to work as a third base coach for the Twins from 2002-2005. "I was the third one on the pile each of those years and I remember that because I was the one saying, 'Let me up, let me up, I can't breathe.' Those were some of the best years of my life."
Newman began with a story about his first time at a professional ballpark, reminiscing about seeing "the greenest grass I've ever seen" and alpine-white baseballs that brought him to try out for his first baseball team. The smells from the ballpark he described complemented the Stinger Dogs served by the Willmar Stinger front office at the event.
Though his team didn't win a game in his first year, Newman was hooked.
He weaved stories from his time in the minor leagues to his first at-bat at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, where he saw three straight strikes without swinging due to nerves.
That same year, he learned firsthand about baseball's infamous unwritten rulebook. After laying down a bunt that drifted foul, he paid the price with a heater to the ribs from Nolan Ryan.
Newman's sprawling speech featured a variety of lessons he learned from his playing career and beyond. Now an assistant coach for the St. Cloud Rox, Newman also couldn't help but show off his new bling with a Northwoods League championship ring, rubbing it in the face of Stinger fans and management.
"You know what, this ring is bigger than both my World Series rings," Newman joked after the event. "I keep those with my mom in California but I've got to wear this one out. This one pops.
"I had to take the chance to show off to (Stingers co-owner Ryan) Voz, too."
The Willmar Stingers' mascot, Barry, appeared attentive despite the gentle ribbing from the champ.
"Barry, the two of us got close, I think we've really changed our relationship today," Newman said.
The jovial St. Joseph, Minnesota, resident made sure to make fans laugh but also talked about heartfelt stories from his time as a manager in the Twins' minor league system. He also thanked fans for prayers and discussed challenges he's faced since his brain aneurysm in 2003.
Fans dressed in World Series garb shook his hand and posed for pictures before and after the talk, his smile never wavering. He thanked fans for the support throughout his time as a starter, role player, champion and coach.
His dedication to the game continues, as it has since he was 19 years old, and the echoes from the Metrodome continue to ring through his head.
Newman will be back in Willmar soon, too. He'll return May 29 when his St. Cloud Rox kick off the 2018 Northwoods League season with a four-game series against the Stingers.