Avoiding stadium issue, Twins visit high school

WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Twins threw out a winter pitch Monday, encouraging students to stay in school and stay away from drugs but failing to mention the team’s desire for a new stadium.
Former players Kirby Puckett and Al Newman joined manager Tom Kelly for the start of the 70-city winter caravan at White Bear Lake High School’s north campus. They answered questions, threw a few balls at a target and kidded around with the more than 1,500 freshmen and sophomores.
The tour is part of Twins tradition, but this year the players will be quietly seeking to shore up good will that might translate into legislative approval for public funding of a new stadium.
Puckett and Newman, however, made other pitches to the students.
Newman told them to stay in school and go on to college to earn their degrees as he did with admittedly limited success.
“I studied to be an accountant. I still can’t balance a checkbook,” he quipped.
Puckett talked about his new job in the Twins front office, which he began after eye problems forced him to retire last summer.
He says the new position allows him to make decisions, attend spring training and “get a tan.”
“I feel great,” Puckett said. “I just can’t hit a 95 mile-per-hour fastball, maybe 70 miles per hour.”
The students cheered when he said he was happy to have played his entire professional career for one team.
One student asked him how he steered clear of drugs and gangs while growing up in Chicago.
“I used to walk past the gang-bangers and drug dealers every day,” he said. “I had my books in one hand and a bat in the other. They never bothered me.”
While the Twins didn’t talk about the stadium, one protester from the anti-stadium Fund Kids First group attended the school rally and passed out fliers.
“We are calling for a reordering of priorities, which put the children of Minnesota first in the allocation of any new state revenues and-or subsidies,” the flier said.
Public financing for a new stadium faces a tough fight with lawmakers, who remained skeptical last week after the Twins offered 49 percent public ownership of the team, $82.5 million cash and at least another $25 million in naming rights and other revenues.
The Legislature has until mid-May to decide whether or how taxpayers should pay for a share of the stadium.