Twins curator Doepner is truly one of a kind
MINNEAPOLIS — As Clyde Doepner walked past the Minnesota Twins' clubhouse Tuesday at Target Field, he was introduced to a group of children taking a tour of the park while the team was out of town.
"I want your job," yelled one of the kids.
Doepner's desirable job? He is the official curator of the Twins, and he joked that the kid outside the clubhouse can't take his job from him any time soon; he's enjoying it too much to relinquish his post.
"Every day when I go to work, my wife says, ‘Have fun,' " Doepner said. "And I do."
Doepner has officially been the team's curator since prior to the Twins' final year in the Metrodome in 2009, but he's been around the team much longer than that. He's worked with the Twins since the team held its first annual TwinsFest in the late 1980s. Back then, Doepner was simply a collector — he estimates he had around 1,000 items at the time — who also happened to be an avid Twins fan. He was asked to put together some displays for TwinsFest, something he now does annually.
Since he first started with the Twins more than 20 years ago, Doepner's collection has grown to around 7,000 items. His passion has earned him the nickname "Clyde the Collector."
"I've got, according to my wife, a defective gene," Doepner said. "I'm a retired history teacher, so when I see one thing, I like to know about it."
Doepner has come to know seemingly everything about the Minnesota Twins, past and present. He's in charge of maintaining the team's collection of historical items, many of which he keeps stored in a room in the bowels of Target Field. Each item is meticulously cataloged so Doepner can easily find anything he's looking for.
Along with the many things he's gathered over the years from past Twins players, Doepner adds pieces from the current team. A variety of items from his collection will rotate on display at Target Field throughout the season for fans to see.
"Clyde, his role goes deeper than just a curator," said Twins president Dave St. Peter, who was instrumental in bringing Doepner aboard full-time. "He's a wonderful spokesperson. He certainly brings great historical context to Twins baseball as related to the game experience, as related to connecting with fans, teaching a new generation of fans about our history."
Doepner also gives tours at the downtown Minneapolis ballpark, explaining to fans everything that's in the glass display cases — which are put together and maintained solely by Doepner. The items currently on display range from items from the Twins' 1965 World Series appearance to bats and jerseys belonging to the late Harmon Killebrew (whom Doepner grew close to over the years) to Joe Mauer's batting gloves from the 2012 All-Star Game.
There is a rhyme and reason to each item Doepner displays, and each piece tells a story. There's also a pretty good story behind the man who is now responsible for preserving the history of the Twins.
A foot in the door
Doepner's first exposure to the Twins' front office came back in 1966, one year after Minnesota appeared in its first World Series. After attending Winona State University, where he played baseball until his arm gave out, Doepner got a job as a history teacher and baseball coach at Pine Island High School in southeastern Minnesota. As he returned to school in the fall of 1966, he sifted through the mail that had accumulated over the summer.
One item that perked Doepner's interest was from then-Twins owner Calvin Griffith — season passes to the team's games, which were sent out to all the baseball coaches in the state, Doepner said. As a young 21-year-old, Doepner and a few friends went up to see the Twins play at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.
But Doepner had another motive for going.
"I was brought up to say thank you, so we got there early and I looked up Cal," he recalls. "His secretary said, ‘He's in a bad mood today.' I said, ‘Well, I want to thank him for something.' And she said, ‘He'll see you.' "
Doepner approached Griffith with no intention but to thank the owner for the tickets. At first, Griffith was suspicious.
"He swore about every fifth word," Doepner said. "He said, ‘I've been giving those blankety-blank things away for four months and you're the first blankety-blank to ever thank me. What's wrong with you?'"
Griffith eventually softened as he was taken by Doepner's genuine and appreciative nature, sensing that the young history teacher meant no harm. So Griffith let Doepner sit in his family's seats at Met Stadium.
"He said, ‘When you come to a game, you don't have to have to sit out with those thankless son of a guns. You can sit in here with us,' " Doepner said. "So I got to know the (Griffith) family. That was important."
Doepner kept in contact with the Griffiths over the years, and when it came time for the Twins to move from Metropolitan Stadium to the new Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in 1983, the ownership began to clean house, picking out items to throw away since there was a lack of storage space at the Metrodome.
That's when Doepner received a call from Griffith's brother, Billy.
"He said, ‘You ought to come out here. We're throwing some stuff out you might get a kick out of.' Because they knew I always collected," Doepner said. "It turned out to be a gold mine for me. … I was between the Met Stadium and the landfill. I was lucky, and it was all because I said thanks."
Among the items Doepner snatched up for his collection were letters from U.S. presidents and baseball greats like Ty Cobb, as well as trophies and scorecards from memorable games. These pieces of baseball history surely could have fetched a pretty penny, but that has never been Doepner's motive for collecting.
"It was never about the dollar," he said. "It was about the history of the game."
Telling the story
It's clear that Doepner has a true appreciation for the history of baseball and especially for the history of the Twins. He claims to have the largest collection of Kirby Puckett memorabilia, ranging from 200-300 items. His collection of Killebrew items is vast as well, as he got to know the Killebrew family over the years. Doepner acquired several items from Killebrew's childhood, including the baseball from the first home run Killebrew ever hit in high school and a football jersey from Killebrew's youth.
In recent years, Doepner gathered many items during slugger Jim Thome's march to 600 home runs. When Thome finally did hit career homer No. 600 last season with the Twins, many items from that day ended up in Doepner's collection, including first, second and third base from that game. Doepner also had Thome autograph the metal sign with numbers that hung at Target Field that counted up to 600.
"This is something that, in a way, I prepared for my whole life," Doepner said of his job as curator. "I'm a history teacher collecting history — the history of the Twins."
Doepner credits several members of the Twins' front office for giving him the chance to do what he does. That includes St. Peter, whom Doepner said "would make a great curator", that is if he ever tires of his job as the team's president. Former president Jerry Bell, late owner Carl Pohlad and his family and director of baseball communications Dustin Morse have all been instrumental in helping Doepner add to his collection.
The Twins are just as thankful that Doepner is on board.
"It's been a great hire for the Twins, probably one of the most important steps we've taken here to help preserve the history of our ballclub," St. Peter said. "We couldn't be more pleased to have Clyde on board."
As Doepner continues to oversee the vast collection of Twins memorabilia that tell the story of the franchise's history, he does so with three things in mind. First, his goal is to at least maintain — if not, improve — the condition of each item he receives. Second, he says, "You've got to learn all you can about it. … What is it? How important is it? What's its significance? How can we best let the fans see it?"
Last but not least, Doepner always has an eye on the future — a future that extends past his tenure as the Twins' curator.
"You have to find somebody to replace you," he said. "You've got to find somebody with the same passion. You can't just pull somebody off the street."
One of the things Doepner would still like to accomplish during his tenure with the Twins is to see the team open a museum dedicated to preserving its history. Other MLB teams have museums, whether at their stadiums or nearby. Doepner mentions the Ford Center — just across the street from Target Field and owned by the Pohlads — as a possible site.
It would preserve Doepner's legacy as curator, but that's not what's important to him. What is important is preserving the rich history of the Minnesota Twins and the stories behind each item in the collection for generations to come.
"No other team does what we do," Doepner said. "It's all there for the fans. Everything we do is to enhance the game day experience for the fans."
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