Flat tire can't stop Twins Caravan

Caravan chugs along despite bump in the road

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Traveling across the Midwest in a bus during the winter months usually can bring its fair share of problems, and that's exactly what the Twins Caravan found on Tuesday.

Delays and late arrivals are often a common occurrence for the annual bus trip as it plugs through the wintry weather of the Dakotas and the upper parts of Minnesota. On Day 3 of the five-day venture, although light snow fell for most of the morning and afternoon drives, it wasn't weather that sidetracked the trip but a flat tire.

Thanks to a broken coffee mug that punctured one of the front tires of the Twins' bus, the caravan was delayed for 45 minutes on Tuesday morning. Those traveling on the northwest leg of this year's tour -- manager Ron Gardenhire, pitching coach Rick Anderson, outfielder Lew Ford, shortstop Jason Bartlett and WCCO Radio's John Gordon -- were forced into a change of plans but made the most of the downtime.

As the bus had its tire replaced, the group sat inside the teacher's lounge of Detroit Lakes Middle School and found plenty of entertainment between talking baseball and filling out crossword and Sudoku puzzles.

"Nothing like doing Sudoku puzzles, huh?" said Ford with a smile.

Despite the delay, it was another successful day for the caravan. The group visited two schools and two radio stations in the northwest corner of Minnesota before ending the day with the nightly Hot Stove event in Grand Forks, N.D.

The day started early for the group, as they embarked at 7:30 a.m. for the hourlong drive from Fargo, N.D., to the town of Detroit Lakes, Minn., where the group made an appearance at local radio affiliate KDLM before heading over to the middle school. Though the group was sidetracked with the flat tire for a bit, they made their way to Fosston, Minn., a little after noon to visit Magelssen Elementary School.

Both school visits featured a question-and-answer session with the Twins and a trivia game, followed with plenty of prizes, including autographed baseballs. Getting to see the enthusiasm from the younger fans was a thrill for Anderson. It was also a welcome change to hear the inquiries that some of the students had for the coach and his players.

"It's really amazing to see the types of questions that these young kids come up with," said Anderson.

Some of the questions challenged the players and coaches, while others were a bit more humorous. Bartlett couldn't help but smile when he was asked if a player had to be short to play shortstop.

"I'm not that short, am I?" said Bartlett with a chuckle.

Unique serenade: One of the primary objectives of the Twins Caravan is to get the audience to participate in events, and often that is by asking questions of the players or coaches.

But since only the older kids at Magelssen Elementary School were able to submit questions, the students in kindergarten through the third grade found another way to show their Twins love -- by singing.

A rousing rendition of the Twins' fight song was sung by a group of around 100 students. Bartlett, Ford, Gardenhire and Anderson all stood and clapped along to the music.

"That was a neat way to have the kids be a part of the event," said Bartlett. "It was nice to see them having fun with it, too."

Sentimental moment: Between all the school visits, there was an extra-touching moment during the visit to Detroit Lakes, when a local family was brought onstage to receive tickets to a Twins game.

The Ziegler family lost their mother, Nicole, in a train accident a few weeks ago, and seeing the Twins present the tickets to the family brought some in the crowd to tears. Gardenhire and the rest of the Twins onstage were all affected by the moment.

"The family is still reeling from the tragedy," said Gardenhire. "I'm just glad we could do something for them."

Serve it up: Another focus of the caravan is to provide a fun experience for all. Part of that means plenty of laughter for those on the bus.

For Gardenhire, one bit of entertainment came on Tuesday, when he was able to watch T.C. Bear play a game of badminton with some of the sixth graders at Detroit Lakes Middle School.

As Bartlett and Ford signed autographs in the school office before the official program, Gardenhire visited the gym to watch T.C. and see exactly how the mascot would fare against the kids. Despite a few misses, T.C. was the hit of gym class.

"That could have been one of the highlights of my day," said Gardenhire with a laugh.

Coming up: Day 4 will hit the Minnesota towns of Crookston, Thief River Falls and Warroad.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.