Caravan skates on through Midwest

Caravan skates on through Midwest

WARROAD, Minn. -- It seems like it has almost become tradition on the Twins' annual Winter Caravan that Lew Ford try something new.

This is the second straight year that Ford has participated in the Winter Caravan, and on both trips, the Texas native has been exposed to some elements of life in the upper Midwest. Last year it was ice fishing and on Wednesday as part of the Northwest leg of this year's caravan, it was another activity related to the ice that Ford was able to add to his checklist -- skating.

The stop at the Ralph Englestad Arena wasn't planned, but when the team bus arrived at its afternoon stop in Thief River Falls nearly an hour and a half early, Twins director of broadcasting Andy Price did some quick thinking and arranged for some open ice time.

"That was a lot of fun, but also a really good workout," Ford said with a smile as he shuffled off the ice. "It's definitely hard on the legs."

Ford wasn't the only novice skater in the group, as shortstop Jason Bartlett made his first trek onto an ice rink. The California native had some experience with inline skates, but nothing in regards to time on the ice. For a rookie with no experience, the workers at the arena were quite impressed.

"I've never laced up a pair of ice skates in my life," Bartlett said. "But I didn't fall as much as I thought I would."

The two players may have been kidding about their request to try skating but quickly it turned into a fun event for all.

Besides getting to play a little hockey with some sticks and goals brought out by the people at the arena, the guys were also treated to some on-the-spot skating lessons by a local doctor who was taking a break from work to get in some ice time. Watching two Major Leaguers try to learn how to spin on the ice was quite a bit of entertainment, but it may have been topped when T.C. Bear donned his own pair of skates to join.

Along with Ford and Bartlett for the Northwest leg of the caravan are manager Ron Gardenhire, pitching coach Rick Anderson, and WCCO radio announcer and voice of the Twins, John Gordon.

Though Gardenhire didn't take part in the skating himself, he did seem to get a kick of the fact his players were a part of the event. The Twins skipper joked during the afternoon school visit that Ford could become the first person to play both professional baseball and hockey. Gardenhire's comment garnered a few laughs, especially from Ford himself, who was still a bit shaky on those skates.

"I definitely haven't found a new job," Ford said with a laugh. "But it was a lot of fun."

Thankfully for Gardenhire and Twins general manager Terry Ryan, who was still back in the Twin Cities, the event turned out to be all fun and no hurting for the players. After the ice time was done, all the players had to nurse were some sore muscles.

"No injuries," Bartlett said with a smile as he took off the skates. "But I'd really like to get back on the ice and race."

"That was a lot of fun, but also a really good workout. It's definitely hard on the legs."
-- Lew Ford, on ice skating

Change of plans: The Twins' bus was scheduled to make a stop at a local elementary school in Crookston on Wednesday morning, but had to readjust on the spot when the school was closed due to a water main break.

The damage caused by the water break was massive throughout the school -- it destroyed the boiler room and knocked out the heat. Since the break this past Saturday, the school has been closed, with no idea when it may reopen.

Since the school was not available for the visit, the Twins' radio affiliate in Crookston, KROK, provided an alternative plan for the group. The caravan instead headed over to the Riverview Health Center to visit with some local residents there.

The visit meant a lot to the residents, who all pay close attention to the Twins. Though the Twins were unaware of the change, the Center had been informed the day before, and decorated the halls in red, white and blue balloons along with banners welcoming the team. One woman even offered to knit socks for Ford with the red, white and blue colors and his No. 20 on them. It was a sign of just how excited the residents were to see members of their favorite team.

"All during baseball season, we make copies of the schedule so that they can watch every game," said Leah Stroot, an activities assistant at the center. "They all grew up with baseball and really enjoy getting to see these guys here."

Excitement level: Cheers bounced down the hallways of Challenger Elementary School as the Twins headed to their second visit of the day in Thief River Falls.

Though there have been many raucous visits and unique serenades to the caravan over the its first four days, Wednesday brought a new type of salute. Seven kindergarten students wore bright yellow vests with a blue or red letter on it spelling out "Go Twins" to welcome the group.

Seeing the young bunch of fans brought a smile to Bartlett's face.

"How cool is that?" Bartlett said, as he pointed to the yellowed attired bunch. "It's fun to see that they get so excited to have us here."

Coming up Thursday: The Northwest leg of the Caravan winds down with stops at the Red Lake Reservation, Bemidji, and Brainerd.

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