NEW ULM - Since retiring from baseball following the 2006 season, former Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Brad Radke has spent most of his time enjoying family life in the Tampa Bay area in Florida, raising his kids in the place where he himself grew up.
On Thursday, Radke abandoned sunny Florida to make a trip to still snow-laden Minnesota for an appearance at the New Ulm Menards as part of the store's Grand Opening celebrations. A long line of fans showed up from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to greet the Twins Hall of Famer and receive autographs.
Radke made the trip to Minnesota especially for the event in New Ulm, spending a little more than a day in the state before heading back to Florida on Friday morning.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Former Minnesota Twins pitcher Brad Radke signs a jersey for 11-year old Austin Apitz, of New Ulm, Thursday at the New Ulm Menards.
"I'd like to make the [Twins'] home opener, but I'm not going to make it this year," Radke said. "I've got a junior in high school that's got a baseball tournament all next week and I've got to help out and stuff, so it's just a quick in and out."
Nowadays Radke still makes occasional trips to Minnesota, but he sold his house in the Twins Cities two years ago and has spent most of his energy raising his children in Florida. However, despite the fact that Radke lives very close to Tropicana Field, the home stadium of the Tampa Bay Rays, he said that his loyalties still belong to the Major League Baseball franchise for which he played the entirety of his 12-year career.
"I'm still Twins, man," Radke said. "You always root for the hometown team, but this is where my heart is, here in Minneapolis. It's definitely home away from home, being here for 12 years."
Though he hasn't had the chance to see many Twins games at Target Field in recent years, he jumps at the opportunity to catch up with the team when it travels to play the Rays.
"I usually like to see those guys when they come down and play the Rays," Radke said. "I'm not too far from the field down there."
Radke pitched for the Twins starting in 1995 and made his final career appearance in the team's American League Division Series loss to the Oakland Athletics in 2006. During his career he saw the team transform itself from a perennial losing team that faced the serious threat of being contracted to become the American League Central champions in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006.
Over his 12-year career Radke saw a number of teammates come and go, but he was always a fixture in the Twins' rotation, developing into one of the most reliable pitchers of his era.
Though he admitted that it's not always up to individual players whether or not they stay with a single team their entire career, he was glad to be given the opportunity to stay with the Twins.
"It was great. I really wasn't expecting to go anywhere else," Radke said. "I could have had a chance to go back home and play, but it probably would have been a little too much with a lot of the family and friends, so it was nice to stick around here."
Having been a part of struggling Twins teams in the late 1990s, Radke empathizes with the current team for the disappointment it has felt over the past two seasons. However, he knows that all it takes is one good season to get a team back on track, such as Radke experienced in 2002 when the Twins won their first ever AL Central title and advanced to the American League Championship Series to face the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
"Hopefully it will be an improvement from last year," Radke said of the upcoming Twins season. "I know last year was a tough year, it's always a hard year when a team struggles like that, I went through it for a few years here. They'll be fine. They've just got some young kids they have to groom, and go from there."
Radke admits, though, that there is no easy answer for the Twins to return to their winning ways.
"If I knew the answer I'd probably be sitting right next to Terry Ryan trying to give him some help, tell him what I really thought," Radke said. "It's just finding the right players and getting lucky with a few guys, that's really what it is, because they're not going to go out and sign big free agents, they're going to try to put a team together with what they have. It's a difficult thing to do nowadays, but you've just got to keep plugging along, trying to find some guys that will do the job."
Thursday was Radke's first ever trip to New Ulm, the hometown of his former catcher, Terry Steinbach. Radke credits Steinbach's guidance during the three years they played together as helping him development into the successful pitcher he became.
Radke's best career season came in 1997, which was Steinbach's first year with the Twins. Radke finished third in Cy Young Award voting that season behind only Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson.
"I loved him as a catcher," Radke said. "We talked a lot of gameplans before the game, he was really into it. He helped me out tremendously. Seriously, if it really wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't have been the pitcher that I became. I had some decent years in the beginning, but once he came over, and being the veteran that he was, it really helped my game out a lot."
Radke made a name for himself based on his tremendous control, averaging only 40 walks allowed per season over his career, including walking more than 30 batters only once during his final six seasons.
"I sometimes thought it would be nice to throw it 95, 96 miles an hour, but on the other hand, it's just like, I like to trick guys and just set guys up with certain pitches," Radke said. "I loved to hear them snap in the dugout after they'd make an out. That's the kind of things that I won't forget."
Steinbach is now in his first year as the Twins' bench coach, having waited until his children grew up before deciding to rejoin the organization, a development that Radke said "years ago you knew he was going to probably do."
When asked whether he has thought of making a similar transition into coaching himself, Radke said that right now isn't the time for him to consider such a decision.
"There might have been one or two occasions [I have thought about it], but right now I'm just seeing my kids, watching them play and really enjoying my time with them," Radke said. "Once they get out of the house or something I might look into something else, but now it's just I want to watch them grow up."
For all of Radke's fans that came out to Menards on Friday and others that continue to support him now six years into retirement, Radke voiced his immense gratitude.
"Thanks for all the support," Radke said as a message to his fans. "You really can't do it yourself, you need the support, you need fans cheering you on. It helps a lot when you see that."