How do you get to be the guy with the coolest job in baseball? Well, it all started with just good manners.
Major League Baseball’s First Team Curator
Clyde Doepner looked at a high stack of mail on his desk his first day back from summer break in 1966. As a high school history teacher and baseball coach at Pine Island High School in Minnesota – about an hour south of Minneapolis – Clyde set to the task of reviewing each piece of mail.
A Free Pass to see the Twins
He went through each envelope, catalog and flyer one-by-one. He was happy he did. In one envelope, he found a letter from Calvin Griffith, the owner of the Minnesota Twins. Along with the letter, Griffith included a free Twins season pass. It was a Griffith’s initiative to encourage high school baseball coaches to attend games. The pass was for four people to attend Minnesota Twins’ games.
Doepner rounded up a few buddies, and headed to a Twins’ game in August. A life-long baseball fan, Doepner had attended Winona State on a baseball scholarship, and had a passion for the game.
Thanking the Twins’ Owner
After he and his friends had a pleasurable time at the game, Doepner thought it appropriate to thank Mr. Griffith for the pass. After being directed to Griffith’s office, Doepner thanked the owner for the experience.
Perhaps taken off guard, Griffith asked Doepner to sit down explain himself.
“My mother always taught be that when a gift was given, I should thank the person,” said Doepner.
Griffith explained that in the months of implementing the program that Doepner was the only person to ever thank him. And because of that, when he attended Twins game at the Met, he should plan on sitting in Griffith’s family section behind home plate instead of the cheap seats that the pass allowed.
So for the rest of the 1966 season and subsequent seasons at the Met, Doepner sat in the Griffith family seats until the Twins moved to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. His relationship with Calvin and his family members strengthened.
As one of the last Major League Baseball team owners to rely on revenues from baseball for his income, Griffith had earned a reputation for his frugality. He watched his money closely. When he heard the folks running the Dome would be charging the Twins for storage space, Griffith decided to do some housecleaning and get rid of a lot of items in storage.
Clyde Doepner Explains How He Became Twins Curator Video
An Instant Collection
Now, when you’ve owned and managed a baseball team for many years, you apparently accumulate a lot of interesting memorabilia, communications, and such. Griffith owned and managed the team since 1955 when the team was the Washington Senators. Prior to that, his adoptive father, Clark Griffith, owned the team.
Hearing about the plans to toss old storage boxes, Doepner got the blessing from Calvin’s son that he could review and take whatever he liked, as long as he threw away the discards. For the next 31 days, Doepner showed up at the old Met with friends, and together, they went through boxes and old file cabinets that were set aside. Some nights it might be 6 boxes, and other nights it might be 30.
He found a treasure chest of baseball and Twins memorabilia and ended up keeping some 3,000 items. Perhaps his most prized keepsakes are letters from U.S. presidents to the Senators’ organization when they agreed to throw out the first pitches on opening days of the seasons. Beginning with President Taft, Clyde’s collection includes correspondence from the likes of Eisenhower, Nixon and Truman.
When VP Nixon stepped in for Ike one opening day, President Truman send a telegram to team owner Clark Griffith that read,
BEST OF LUCK TO YOU ON OPENING DAY AND EVERY DAY. WATCH OUT FOR THAT NIXON. DON’T LET HIM THROW YOU A CURVE.
YOUR FRIEND, HARRY TRUMAN.
From Clyde the Collector to Clyde the Curator
Fast forward a few years, Doepner displayed his collection of Twins’ memorabilia at the annual Twins’ fest. Team owner Carl Pohlad (Pohlad acquired the Twins from Griffith in 1984) and Twins’ President David St. Peter recognized the value of what these historic items could bring to the fan experience. They brought Doepner on as the Twins’ Curator. Clyde: the keeper of the collection. He was the first curator hired in MLB. Clyde is responsible for all of the displays exhibited at Target Field — some 50 displays in all.
Coolest Job in Baseball
Clyde, who arrives at 5:50 a.m. every work day morning to Target Field, gave 86 talks to sports fans outside of the stadium last year and made 128 presentation on site.
Over the course of his work with the Twins, he’s had the opportunity to form close relationships with many players. Harmon Killebrew (his favorite), Kirby Puckett and Jim Thome are a few that stand out. When those milestone home runs are hit, and the balls, bases and bats need to be collected for the Hall of Fame, a Twin’s exhibit, and the player, it is Clyde who sees to it. He’s always on the search for new items for the Twins’ collection.
With Target Field also serving as a concert venue, Clyde collects music memorabilia and sees to their display at the stadium for the various acts who perform. This week, the Eagles and Jimmy Buffet are scheduled for Saturday night, and Clyde will be ready.
To say Clyde loves his job is a major understatement. For a former history teacher, the history associated with the collectibles and the opportunity to teach others about them is a perfect fit. And, to think that it all started with a thank you.
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