Hall of Famer Winfield returns to campus

The 22-year MLB veteran thinks many things in baseball need to be changed.

Mark Heise

Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi called him the best athlete in Minnesota history Wednesday afternoon as he introduced Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield to a group of coaches and admirers.

The 12-time All-Star was all smiles as he took time away from a five week, 10-city tour for his new book to visit his alma mater.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to come back to the University of Minnesota,” Winfield said. “I haven’t been here in quite a while, but it’s a big part of who I am, and it’s good to be back.”

Winfield spent some time with baseball coach John Anderson and his staff, and was greeted warmly by Tim Brewster, the new football coach who has seemed to take interest in everything college-related since signing.

Anderson said he was happy to spend time with the former star outfielder, who pitched under former baseball coach Dick Siebert during his college days.

“When people like Dave come back here, it’s a reminder of our rich tradition and the efforts we’re expected to put out,” Anderson said. “We talked a little bit about his experience here at the University, and we talked a little bit about the state of the game of baseball. It’s always good to catch up with a part of our history.”

Winfield, a member of the 3,000-hit club, made his stop in Minnesota to do a book signing at the Mall of America, promoting his new book, “Dropping the Ball: Baseball’s Troubles and How We Can and Must Solve Them.”

Concerned with the future of America’s national pastime, Winfield highlighted the changes in the game and the direction it is headed.

“Years ago, baseball was the No. 1 sport in America,” he said. “And now, even though attendance records are being broken, there are some disturbing trends that, unless addressed, could change the face of the entire game.”

The slugger talked about a lack of activity among youth as one trend and mentioned a lack of professional players willing to give back to the community as another.

Winfield has always been into community service. Even after being drafted in three sports – by the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the MLB’s San Diego Padres – he would still come back to the University occasionally to participate in pickup basketball games with the students.

Even though baseball players during his era made nowhere near the money thrown at today’s talent, Winfield started a nonprofit organization as a player in 1975, focused on providing services to underprivileged youth and families in need.

Winfield was one of the first to buy blocks of tickets for youth to attend Padres baseball games. Winfield brought over 10,000 children in for batting practice at the 1978 All-Star Game.

And now Winfield is deciding to tackle all of the troubles he feels baseball is in and discusses solutions for these problems in his new book.

“It’s about educating people,” he said. “If you want baseball as a part of your culture, there are some things that should change.

“It’s called ‘dropping the ball’: If you take your eye off something, you drop it. But there’s still time to pick it up.”