On this date in 1984 (April 13), it was Opening Day for Kenosha’s minor league baseball era.
The debut of the Kenosha Twins was a victorious one even though they were facing a future big leaguer who would eventually coach for and manage a World Series winner.
Thirty-nine years ago today, the Kenosha Twins debuted with a 4-2 win in 10 innings over the Quad City Cubs before 898 fans at John O’Donnell Stadium on the banks of the Mississippi River.
The Class-A Midwest League affiliate of the Minnesota Twins was brought to Kenosha through the tireless efforts of Bob Lee, who was the beaming face of the franchise for its duration in town until 1992. Minnesota’s Midwest League team was in Wisconsin Rapids from 1964 to 1983.
Under manager Duffy Dyer, a former big league catcher who would later guide the Kenosha Kingfish, the Twins used a pair of unearned runs in the 10th to prevail.
Phil Franco and Doug Palmer scored thanks to an error to give the Twins the lead. Steve Gomez pitched a perfect bottom of the 10th to notch the save and preserve fellow reliever Scott Klingbeil’s victory for the first of the Kenosha Twins’ 70 wins that season and 608 in its history.
While Klingbeil got the ‘W,’ it was Kenosha starter Craig Henderson who was the pitching star.
The Milwaukee Hamilton High School product twirled seven shutout innings and gave up four hits and two walks with three strikeouts to ignite a campaign in which he would go 13-7 with a 2.24 ERA and seven complete games.
Dyer yanked the left-hander due to a mounting pitch count and the damp, 40-degree conditions. The former UW-Oshkosh Titan was robbed of victory when Klingbeil yielded a two-run homer to Steve Burton in the eighth.
“I understand why I was pulled,” Henderson said in the Kenosha News. “It was a cool night and Duffy let me throw a certain number of pitches. He did the right thing because I was wearing down. The important thing was that we won the game.”
The only future big leaguer to play in the contest was 19-year-old Dave Martinez, who was 1-for-4 batting second and playing right field for manager Larry Cox’s Cubs. Martinez made his MLB debut for the Chicago Cubs in 1986 and played 16 seasons in the big leagues, including a stint with the Chicago White Sox where he was the last player to don the No. 14 prior to Paul Konerko. Martinez became a coach in 2007 and was on manager Joe Maddon’s staff for the 2016 World Series champion Cubs. Martinez was appointed Washington Nationals manager in 2018 and he led the team to its first championship in 2019.
None of the 13 Twins who played in the franchise’s premiere made it to the major leagues. The only member of the 1984 Twins who advanced to the “bigs” was Danny Clay, who pitched in 17 games for the 1988 Philadelphia Phillies and was in uniform for the first official scheduled night game at Wrigley Field on Aug. 8, 1988.
The Twins were originally scheduled to play their Simmons Field opener on April 18 but, as so often was the case during their time in Kenosha, the climate had other plans. The Twins first homestand was wiped out by inclement weather. Kenosha fans finally got to see their Twins on April 25. On that cold night, the K-Twins took over first place in the Midwest League’s Northern Division with a 7-2 win over Madison before a nocturnal gathering of 2,411 at 7817 Sheridan Road.
The 1984 Twins finished 70-68 and finished fourth in the four-team Northern Division but with the sixth-best record in the 12-team circuit.
Before departing for Fort Wayne, Ind., after the 1992 campaign, the Twins would have future big leaguers Brad Radke, Chuck Knoblauch, Denny Neagle and Pat Mahomes play for them and Rick Sutcliffe, Greg Maddux and Edgar Martinez (among others) play against them.