Pardon the pun, but despite the frigid temperature and snow-covered ground, Friday evening was a Bee-yoo-tiful night for baseball in Burlington.
A big part of that was the enthusiasm of 450 Bees baseball fans at the team’s winter banquet — an annual fundraiser for the Friends of Community Field — but the proverbial icing on the cake was Hall-of-Famer Paul Molitor, who was the event’s keynote speaker.
Molitor played 21 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins. He is one of only four players in MLB history with at least 3,000 hits, a .300 lifetime batting average and 500 stolen bases. His 3,319 career hits rank him ninth on the all-time hit list. His 39-game hitting streak in 1987 is the fifth-longest in modern-day baseball history, and he was named MVP of the 1993 World Series.
What made Molitor’s visit to Burlington particularly special is that he played for the Bees in 1977, when he helped lead the team to a Midwest League championship. He hit .346 (third-highest in franchise history) with eight homers and 50 RBI in his half-season with the Bees. And judging by a show of hands before Molitor spoke, dozens of people in attendance watched him play in Burlington.
Molitor’s speech ranged from the beginning of his Hall of Fame career in Burlington to anecdotes about some of his well-known teammates, including Roberto Alomar (who thought comedian Bob Hope once played for the Yankees), Kirby Puckett (who complained to Al Gore about taxes when the then-vice president visited the clubhouse) and the inimitable Rickey Henderson.
I’m not going to write everything Molitor said here — you can read some of his quotes in this article from The Hawk Eye — but I do want to share something he said about the importance of minor-league baseball in communities like Burlington.
“I think in any state in our nation, on any summer night, you can find a baseball game. I think that’s awesome,” Molitor said. “It’s about family. It’s about entertainment. It’s about what’s good. It’s about what’s pure. …
“You see how it’s part of the fiber of your community here and you want to see that continued. … It’s something that we can hold onto and keep special in our communities.”
Judging by the turnout for the winter banquet, the people of Burlington agree with that sentiment. The event raised $13,000 for Friends of Community Field, the nonprofit organization that helps the Bees raise money and volunteers for capital improvement projects. Unfortunately, the Bees have a big hurdle to overcome when it comes to fundraising: Burlington is the smallest market of all in affiliated, full-season Minor League Baseball.
You can read more about Friends of Community Field here.
If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know I love to see photos of snowbound ballparks. I was in Burlington the day after a significant snowstorm, so I snapped this picture of the front of Community Field. (You can’t see much of the field from anywhere outside the park, so I had to settle for this view.) Enjoy!