How many Minnesota Twins fans remember Juan Berenguer?
Well, he was pitching Monday night in Fairfax (pop. 1,200) as part of Twins Fun Night at Memorial Park.
Berenguer, who had the nickname Senõr Smoke with the Twins (1987-90), was the set-up man for closer Jeff Reardon in ‘87 when Minnesota went on to capture the World Series.
He went 8-1 with a 3.94 ERA for the world champions and also put together an 8-4 record and 3.96 ERA the following season.
Pitching for the Fairfax Cardinals Monday and to a packed house (with more than 1,000 fans), Berenguer was in his customary set-up role.
Protecting a 10-4 lead, he worked the seventh and eighth innings against the Hanska Bullheads, the defending champions in the 35-over senior state tournament.
Berenguer got three quick outs — two on ground balls, one via a strikeout — in the seventh inning.
In the eighth inning, things got interesting as Hanska, which brought a 7-0 record into the exhibition game, bunched three hits to score a run.
It was 10-5 with one out and the bases loaded.
Berenguer lived up to his nickname, Senõr Smoke, by getting two strikeouts. Both were on full-count pitches timed near 90 mph.
Not too bad for a 54-year-old who played 12 years ago. He played two years of independent league baseball with the Minneapolis Loons, retiring in 1996.
Monday, he left the game to a nice ovation from the appreciative Memorial Park crowd.
Eric Schultz, still a teenager, closed out the game in Fairfax’s 10-8 victory although allowing three runs in the ninth inning.
Two runs came on Dean Brinkman’s home run to left field. Representing the tying run, Mike Marquardt then flied out deep to left-center field.
Berenguer was the crowd favorite.
Born in Panama, he was in the twilight of his major-league career in the late 1980s with Minnesota.
His career began Aug. 17, 1978 with the New York Mets, as a 24-year-old.
Berenguer pitched 15 years — on seven different teams — in the big-leagues, ending his career in 1992.
According to information in the official Twins Fun Night program, he was extremely wild as a youngster.
Eventually, he learned how to harness his 90-plus mile-per-hour fastball, which he liked to throw inside. He also added a forkball.
Monday, while in the dugout before getting in uniform in the middle innings, he was asked by the umpire if an expanded strike zone was OK.
“Do you want a big outside corner or big inside corner?” the umpire asked.
“You give me them all,” Berenguer said.
Monday in Fairfax, the Twins set-up man signed pre-game autographs along with ex-Twins’ players, Julio Becquer (1961, ‘63), Tony Oliva (1962-76) and Frank Quilici (1965, ‘67-70).
Quilici managed at Minnesota from 1972-75.
Born in Cuba, Becquer started his career in 1955 with the Washington Senators, leading the majors in pinch hits in 1957 and 1959.
Leaving for the Los Angeles Dodgers following the 1961 season, he played seven seasons on four different teams and ended his career in 1963.
Born in Cuba, Oliva led the American League in batting (.321) and hits (185) for the pennant-winning Twins in 1965. He was named the AL player of the year by The Sporting News (1965).
One of the Twins’ baseball ambassadors today, Oliva also led the league in hitting (1971) and received the Gold Glove Award (1966). He had an excellent throwing arm as a right fielder.
Leading the American League in hits five times, his career was cut short by a knee injury. He was named to the All-Star team from 1964-71.
Born in Chicago, Quilici made the record books when, in the third inning of Game 1 of the 1965 World Series, the light-hitting utility infielder singled and doubled off the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale, tying the World Series record for hits in an inning.
Quilici played second and third base for the most part, with an occasional appearance at shortstop during his career in the big leagues.
The Twins Fun Night in Fairfax was made possible by Curt Sampson, a Hector native, who will celebrate his 75th birthday on July 6. He was the Cardinals’ starting pitcher, giving up four runs in two innings.
In his sincere devotion to the game of baseball, Sampson provided t-shirts, baseball caps and various prizes which were given away.
It was another special night on a crystal-clear night in Fairfax.
Thanks to organizer Gary Hess and the Fairfax Cardinals baseball team for the opportunity to be a part of the 2008 Twins Fun Night celebration.
The annual event was a fundraiser for the Dana Kiecker Scholarship Fund.
Kiecker, a Fairfax native, was 29 years old when he made Boston’s 1990 major-league roster after having pitched more than 1,000 innings in the minor leagues. He was a seventh-round pick in the 1983 draft.
Named the Red Sox Rookie of the Year (1990), he played two years with Boston before his pitching career was shortened by an elbow injury.
He went 8-9 with a 3.59 ERA as the No. 5 starter in 1990, helping lead the Red Sox to the East Division title in the American League.
He pitched in the AL playoffs against the Oakland A’s, leaving in the sixth inning with the score tied, 1-1. Boston eventually lost, 4-1.