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Days of catch with dad led Duensing to big leagues

Left-hander, who has two kids, reflects on childhood memories for Father's Day

Days of catch with dad led Duensing to big leagues play video for Days of catch with dad led Duensing to big leagues

MINNEAPOLIS -- While growing up in Omaha, Neb., Brian Duensing would patiently sit on the front porch waiting for his dad to come home from work.

Duensing would either have a glove and a baseball or a football in hand, depending on the season, and would join his father, Kent, for a game of catch. It was a ritual between father and son, and something the Twins left-hander will always treasure.

"We'd play catch for as long as he'd allow me, I guess," Duensing said. "I think that in itself was a big influence. He was there to support me and help me along. So it was really important."

Duensing, though, didn't have dreams of being a Major League pitcher as a kid, as he was much more interested in playing football. He lived the first four years of his life in Marysville, Kan., before moving with his family to Omaha. Duensing's father went to Kansas State University, and the two would spend countless Saturdays watching the Wildcats under legendary coach Bill Snyder.

So naturally, Duensing wanted to play for his beloved Wildcats and become a star in the NFL.

"I wanted to play football," Duensing said. "I wanted to play in the NFL. I wanted to be a receiver. When I was younger, I could actually run. But now I just jiggle when I brush my teeth, so I can't run as fast."

But there was just one little problem when Duensing got to Millard South High School in Omaha that derailed his dream of being a football player.

"My freshman year of high school, I was 5-foot-4, 140 pounds, so I was the tackling dummy," Duensing said with a laugh. "That was the last year I played football."

Duensing turned to baseball instead, and he quietly developed into a star player at his high school, as he went 9-1 with a 0.74 ERA as a senior while also leading the state with a .522 batting average.

The University of Nebraska's coaching staff took notice of what Duensing was doing just 50 miles from Lincoln, and he decided to go there after they had scouted him at a few camps while in high school.

"I knew I was decent, but I was never like a standout or like a high school All-American or anything," Duensing said. "I just went to a few camps at the University of Nebraska and could always throw strikes. Everything just kinda clicked. And when I got to college, I put on 13 pounds of muscle and my velocity jumped."

Duensing's parents, Kent and Shari, were thrilled their son was playing so close to home, and they were fixtures at all of his home games and often traveled to see him pitch in road games as well.

"They were road-trip warriors," Duensing said.

Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery his sophomore year, Duensing had a stellar career with the Huskers, and he ended up getting selected by Minnesota in the third round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.

Duensing made it to the big leagues in 2009, and he has essentially been a fixture for the Twins since while bouncing between starting and relieving. He's pitched out of the bullpen exclusively for the last two seasons, and he is off to a strong start this year. But even after parts of six years in the Majors, the ever-humble Duensing is in awe of the way things have worked out for him.

"I was playing baseball basically just to get an education, but one thing led to another," Duensing said. "It's ridiculous."

Duensing's parents don't see him pitch in person too often anymore, but they watch as many Twins games as they can on television. As Duensing put it, his parents come to visit now for a different reason.

"They mostly come to see their grandkids," Duensing said.

Duensing, 31, has been a father himself for two years now, as his wife, Lisa, gave birth to their first child, McKenna, in January 2012. They welcomed home a son, Boston, on March 31, which caused Duensing to miss the first two games of the season.

Duensing said it makes life as a big leaguer easier, as he's able to forget about any of his baseball-related troubles as soon as he comes home and sees his children.

"It puts everything in perspective," Duensing said. "If you have a bad outing and fans are booing you or blowing you up on social media, you can come home and see two kids who don't care how you pitched."

It all started with those summer nights playing catch with his dad, and Duensing will forever be thankful for that relationship.

"He was a big influence," Duensing said. "I was always outside doing something with him, whether it was sports related or just working on the yard. But I always remember sitting out on the porch waiting for him. Hopefully, now I can do that with my daughter and my son."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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