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Sandy Valdespino

The '65 Twins had no shortage of rookies -- Frank Quilici, Jim Merritt, Dave Boswell, Andy Kosco, Joe Nossek -- but teammates voted Sandy Valdespino the team's top rookie that season.

Valdespino had led the International League in batting in 1964 before making the Twins out of spring training in '65 at the age of 26.

baseball essays: bob allison and sandy valdespino

Bob Allison and Sandy Valdespino.

At 5-foot-6, 170 pounds, he was smaller than the Atlanta Crackers bat boy, but Valdespino tore up that AAA league in '64. He was said to have the powerful shoulders of a boxer and he could belt home runs against minor league pitching, but by 1964 he had learned his way to the big leagues was to hit the ball to all fields.

There was nothing "sandy" about Hilario Valdespino, but he was never called Hilario as his pro career got under way. There was also nothing sandy about Edmundo Amoros, but that's how Valdespino got his nickname.

It goes like this: Amoros, who broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952, was nicknamed "Sandy." One of Valdespino's minor-league managers, Johnny Welaj, thought Valdespino resembled the diminutive 170-pound Amoros. So he tabbed Valdespino, "Sandy." And once you get a nickname in baseball, it tends to stick.

What Valdespino learned with the Crackers in '64 also stuck, and when he debuted with Minnesota in '65 he sprayed the ball. He could also run and play some defense.

Valdespino told author Jim Thielman in 2004 that next to playing in the '65 World Series, it was a defensive play during a regular season game that he recalls most fondly from his career.

A defensive gem

Most of the famous defensive plays from the pre-ESPN days of baseball occured during World Series play. This is because television was there, as it was in 1965 when Bob Allison made his famous catch in Game Two of the Series. That's a catch still considered to be one of the top defensive plays in Twins' history.

Alas, we know there are many wonderful, forgotten defensive gems.

In 2004, Tony Oliva also recalled for Thielman the catch to which Valdespino is so attached. Oliva called it a more spectacular catch than Allison's. Unfortunately, it came midway through the '67 season in just another regular-season game, this one with Cleveland.

Manager Cal Ermer had employed a "double-switch" and sent Valdespino to left field when relief pitcher Ron Kline entered the game. The bases were loaded.

Cleveland shortstop Larry Brown swung.

"It was the hardest ball I ever hit," Brown claimed.

Valdespino turned his back to the field and sprinted toward the fence.

The wind was blowing in, and Valdespino said that held the ball back. He leaped, stuck his spikes into the fence and - with his back to the field and half his body well above the top of the fence - reached up to catch the ball over his shoulder.

In addition to Oliva's praise for the play, Ermer said it rated equally with Allison's great Series catch.

Where are the 1965 Minnesota Twins?

It was January of 1939 when Sandy Valdespino was born in Havana, Cuba.

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