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Twins honor 50th anniversary of '65 AL pennant

MINNEAPOLIS -- Sandy Valdespino has had the first weekend of August marked on his calendar since late January. That's when the former outfielder got a letter from the Twins informing him of the plan to hold a 1965 reunion weekend, honoring the pennant-winning group on its 50th anniversary.

"After that, I [couldn't] wait. I was very excited to come here," Valdespino said. "This is tremendous."

Before Saturday's 3-2 walk-off win Twins honored the team in a pregame ceremony, which included a filmed video recap of the 1965 series from longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. The Twins lost the World Series in seven games, getting shut out by Sandy Koufax to seal the series. Twins manager Sam Mele -- now 93 years old -- also taped a message to his team, and both Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat spoke at the ceremony before the members of the 1965 team in attendance threw out a ceremonial first pitch to current Twins players.

Just moments before, the group gathered in Target Field's press conference room with their families, retelling old stories and catching up, some after many years apart. Oliva called the team a "big family," and the scene certainly looked the part of a family reunion.

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"I have the chance to see some of the guys sometime, but some of those people here, I [haven't] seen them in a long, long time and to be together and celebrate that 50 years -- 50 years seems like it's a long time, but when you have a good time, you spend it with the family, it doesn't seem like that long," Oliva said. "It's nice to see everybody here today and everybody's happy. We miss a few guys and [we're] a little bit sad about that but we're lucky that we were able to share a lot of good times together with those guys, too."

Though some players from the team have passed, including Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, 21 members were in attendance this weekend.

"We were just simply a bunch of good guys that hung together, that believed that we could do this after a couple trades were made," said Mudcat Grant. "It's something that we are going to take to our graves. Even though we didn't win the World Series, we [won] the pennant and the team that we played against was a great ballclub of all-time."

The Twins moved to Minnesota from Washington, D.C. in 1961, and in 1965, they ran away with the American League, winning 102 games, led by All-Stars Grant, Oliva, Killebrew, Jimmie Hall, Zoilo Versalles and Earl Battey.

"It makes sense that people were so happy that this ballclub jelled like it did. They came from Washington, D.C. and a ballclub that wasn't that good. It was a decent ballclub, but it wasn't that good," Grant said. "And now all of a sudden we got some pitching, we got some hitting and we are celebrating."

And one of those fans was a young man named Paul Molitor, just 9 years old at the time the World Series rolled around. Molitor, now the manager of the Twins, watched the World Series during the afternoon at school.

"I was heartbroken when they lost, but it's not too often that kids grow up, they see a World Series in their youth and they have a chance to befriend a lot of those people that they watched, and that's been an opportunity that I've been given, so it's been pretty fun for me," Molitor said. "Those guys deserve to be honored this weekend."

Betsy Helfand is an associate reporter for
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