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Local Sports

May 4, 2011

'Proud' Blyleven tours Baseball Hall

COOPERSTOWN _ Former major league pitcher Bert Blyleven said he is "very proud" to be the first Dutch-born ballplayer voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Although Blyleven said he feels like becoming a Hall of Famer is a dream come true, he said it won't really sink in until he's on stage at the Clark Sports Center on July 24 _ "probably messing up" his speech.

"I am still in disbelief and in awe," Blyleven told media members in the Hall's Plaque Gallery on Tuesday, when he took his orientation tour with his wife, Gayle.

Blyleven, who became the youngest pitcher in the majors (age 19) when he was called up to the Twins on June 2, 1970 _ after 21 minor league starts _ said seeing Hall of Famers such as Rollie Fingers during Induction Weekend will help.

"Then, I will probably be asking myself, what am I doing here?" he said. "I'm very, very happy and proud to become a Hall of Famer."

Rik Aalbert Blyleven was born in Zeist, Netherlands, and was raised in Southern California. He said he became interested in baseball when his father took him to see Sandy Koufax pitch for the Dodgers.

Blyleven, 60, said a lot of his friends played ball, too, so he joined a Little League team at age 10. A coach saw that Blyleven threw hard, so he was asked to try pitching. His dad later built a mound in their backyard and allowed him to break a few windows along the way. Years later, Blyleven developed two of the toughest curveballs of his time _ the "roundhouse" and the "overhand drop."

When he signed to play minor league baseball, Blyleven said, he never thought he would go as far as he did. But Blyleven also said he wishes he could have pitched a little longer.

Blyleven spent 22 seasons in the majors _ playing for the Twins, Indians, Pirates, Rangers and Angels _ and finished with a career record of 287-250 and a 3.31 ERA. He threw 4,970 innings in his career, striking out 3,701 and walking 1,322.

Among his accomplishments were an American League record of eight straight seasons with 200 or more strikeouts _ set in 1986 with the Twins _ and a World Series title with Minnesota the following season. Blyleven also won the AL's Comeback Player of the Year Award at age 38 in 1989, following a 10-17 season for the Twins with a 17-5 year that included a 2.73 ERA for the Angels.

Blyleven finished his career with the Angels, going 8-7 in 1990, missing the entire 1991 season with a shoulder injury and pitching through pain for an 8-12 record in 1992, his final season.

"It just was not fun anymore," he said.

Blyleven said his Hall of Fame plaque will feature him wearing a Twins' cap because he started his major-league career in Minnesota, where he is now a broadcaster for the organization.

"I'm probably a Twin more than anything," said the right-hander, who was selected by Minnesota in the third round of the 1969 amateur draft. "The journey to get here has been up and down, but I think it's my Dutch stubbornness that kept me going. You've got to take the good with the bad."

"I went as far as I could until I realized I had to call it quits," said Blyleven, who added he wanted to reach 5,000 innings, 300 wins and 4,000 strikeouts.

Blyleven earned election to the Hall in his 14th year on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot. He will join fellow BBWAA selection Roberto Alomar, a 12-time All-Star second baseman, and Expansion Era pick Pat Gillick on stage July 24.

"I'm just glad they won't be putting my plaque by a door or a bathroom," Blyleven joked.

Tuesday marked Blyleven's third trip to Cooperstown.

"If you are a history buff and love the game of baseball like I do, then you're in heaven," Blyleven said of the Hall after his tour.

Blyleven is the 72nd pitcher elected to the Hall. He also is one of 12 foreign-born Hall of Famers.

"I came up at a young age and I retired at an old age," he said. "I was one of only a few pitchers to win a game before they turned 20 and after they turned 40. I think as a young kid coming from Holland and then coming to the United States when I was 6 years old, we all have dreams as kids, but you don't know where your dreams are going to take you."

Blyleven's dreams brought him all the way to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"I came up very quickly and I got to play a kid's game," he said. "That's the way I look at it. And that's what this museum is all about; it's a kid's place. It's a paradise right here. If you love the game of baseball, you've got to come here."

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