MINNEAPOLIS -- Forget ugly holiday sweaters; Justin Morneau is trying to make ugly holiday blazers the new thing.
Now a television analyst and special assistant to baseball operations for the Twins, the fan-favorite first baseman appeared alongside franchise great Joe Mauer on a virtual Q&A event for patients and families of Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare wearing a bright red blazer patterned with Christmas trees, snowflakes, "Ho ho ho" written in block letters and cartoons of Santa Claus wearing sunglasses in an effort to bring holiday cheer and engagement at the end of a year when all of those families' lives have been particularly difficult.
"My kids forever thought that [Ron Gardenhire] was Santa Claus when he had that beard," Morneau joked as the night began.
Since the Twins couldn't engage with the community in person amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Mauer's and Morneau's visit with patients was just one part of a lineup of remote and virtual events during the Twins' Holiday Week of Giving, which provided both resources and a Twins touch to those in need around the Twin Cities community.
"During this year in which so many of us continue to experience unparalleled stress, trauma and sadness, finding ways to create moments of joy are more important than ever," said Twins director of community relations Kristin Rortvedt in a release. "The needs in our communities have been multiplied and magnified -- both in depth and breadth -- during 2020. While the logistics for our Holiday Week of Giving have necessarily changed this year, we know that it is more important than ever to lend a hand. We are deeply thankful for our many partners that are joining us in our shared efforts to change the world.”
In addition, last week the Twins partnered with FOX Sports North to craft fleece blankets for members of the Minneapolis Fire Department. Catcher Mitch Garver and his wife, Sarah, dedicated their time to the effort, as did outfielder Jake Cave and his fiancée, Saige Steinmetz.
The Twins typically keep a very close relationship with patients and families at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare, and they bridged the gap this year not only with a virtual visit from Mauer and Morneau, but with music and art therapy with team mascot T.C. Bear for the benefit of pediatric patients dealing with conditions including cerebral palsy, epilepsy, spina bifida and hydrocephalus. The Twins also teamed up with Target to deliver gift bags for those patients and their families.
It wasn't T.C.'s only appearance of the week -- the mascot also led the "T.C. Holiday Special" on Wednesday, when he hosted 300-plus kids for an hour of games, a holiday story, a drawing contest and other activities.
Club employees participated in other community-targeted initiatives earlier in the week remotely from five states and Puerto Rico. Initiatives included putting together snack packs for local families experiencing food insecurity, packing boxes of essential items and gifts for more than 100 veterans experiencing homelessness and a letter-writing campaign for seniors in an eldercare facility who are unable to be with their families this holiday season.
There was an educational theme early in the week, too: On Monday the club launched a holiday reading challenge for children in partnership with Papa John's -- nearly 1,200 signed up in the first 24 hours -- and invited fans to nominate their personal "education heroes" for acknowledgement via the team's social media platforms and as part of the in-game experience when fans are eventually allowed to return to Target Field.
According to Rortvedt, many Twins employees acknowledged that these small acts of kindness meant more to them this year, especially considering fans were unable to attend games and witness the club defending its division title. The hope is that these events meant more to those around the community this holiday season, too.