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MLB, Twins leave lasting legacy in Twin Cities

MLB, Twins leave lasting legacy in Twin Cities

SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- Gilbert de la O could not hold it in any longer.

All the years, about 40 of them, spent with the Westside Boosters trying to give kids a decent place to play baseball games. All the rocks, the holes in the field, the dandelions, the toughness.

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All the applause, the "standing de la O" he had just received from eight-time All-Star Tony Oliva, Major League Baseball and Twins officials, his local mayor, community leaders, parents and kids.

How could you keep it in? There was a big and beautiful sign on the outfield fence that read: "MLB Twins All-Star Park at Gilbert de la O Fields." This was his legacy, an All-Star Legacy Project.

"I wish my mom and dad could have been here for this," de la O said, wiping away tears of joy.

Welcome to All-Star Week in the Twin Cities. This is the kind of effect it can have. Not just the greatest ballplayers of today gathered at Target Field, but a deep community impact that is far beyond anything MLB has done in any other host area to date. In fact, this was one of three All-Star field dedications on Thursday in the metropolitan area, leaving a positive footprint long after the Midsummer Classic.

MLB and the Twins unveiled renovations made to a youth field that was previously unplayable by local leagues, near the El Rio Vista Community Recreation Center in Saint Paul. The renovations include grading and sod, field lights, an irrigation system, player benches, dugout fencing and concrete, backstop and fencing, a new batting cage and a new scoreboard.

The project was supported by Scotts, the official lawn care company of MLB. The field, which is owned by the Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Department, will provide more playing opportunities for local diverse youth leagues, especially the Twins Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, which serves nearly 6,000 youth each year. This project is a key component of a larger project by The Neighborhood House and the City of St. Paul to develop a premier athletic complex.

In attendance along with Oliva and de la O were Twins owner Jim Pohlad and Twins president Dave St. Peter; Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president of business; Vera Clemente, MLB goodwill ambassador and widow of Roberto Clemente; Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman; Nancy Brady, president of Neighborhood Houses; and emcee Kris Atteberry of Treasure Island Baseball Network.

"If I played in Cuba on a field like that, I would have eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner [there]. I would have slept at the field, too," Oliva said of his native land. "This is a privilege. That's a dream coming true to have a field like that. I never, ever played on something like that."

Oliva implored the youths and parents in attendance to get the most out of the sweet surroundings, emphasizing the need for practice as well as school attendance and homework. He equated the two and told them how Twins players would arrive at 2 p.m. CT for a night game across the river.

Oliva also told them a story they will never forget, of how he used to throw to his own teenage son when he was hitting coach for the World Series champion Twins of 1987, and how his son was a know-it-all who made the legend actually consider throwing one at the ribs. (He didn't.)

For Pohlad and St. Peter, this was home turf in Twins Territory, as much as downtown Minneapolis.

"We wanted to create a real legacy of the 2014 All-Star Game," Pohlad said. "We want everybody to be fans, of course, and we need to give back to the fans in addition to just providing the baseball experience. It's really important to give back to the community.

"It is mostly about the community, the Twin Cities area and Minnesota. That's when it really gets a chance to showcase itself, and we all hope for good weather, and we hope that everyone watching nationally will think that the Twin Cities are a great place to be."

The field was broken in by two teams from the same Westside Boosters. Watching a third baseman easily field a standard grounder on the perfectly manicured grass infield and then rifle a throw across the diamond for a 5-3 out in the first inning after the ceremony, the answer was clear. You could see it in the satisfaction on the kid's face. And on others.

"I hope it doesn't make us softer," de la O said, after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch and before the first youth game there. "I think that playing in those kinds of conditions that we did, I think it cut the edge for us. It gave us an edge. I think our kids grew up to be a little bit tougher, a little bit stronger, and appreciate when we went to areas with really nice places and we just played our tails off."

They will remember this ceremony for the girl who sang the national anthem, for the first pitch, for the dedication, for the first game and for the "standing de la O."

"When I hear those claps and stuff, it makes you really feel good, and makes me feel that my time here must have been OK," de la O said. "I must have made an impact, so to speak. But I couldn't be here without all the volunteers, the coaches, the parents who have made our Westside Booster program such a success. We started in 1970 with the Westside Boosters and we've been going strong ever since.

"Here's to 40 more years."

Off the field, the final phase of All-Star Game voting will again allow fans to help choose the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com and via Twitter in the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote Sponsored by Pepsi, and their collective voice will represent 20 percent of the overall vote that determines the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.

MLB.TV Premium subscribers, for the first time, will be able to live stream the All-Star Game via MLB.TV through FOX's participating video providers. Access will be available across more than 400 platforms that support MLB.TV, including the award-winning MLB.com At Bat app. MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.

The 85th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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