Duensing wears goodwill on his shirt sleeves
Along with wife Lisa, Twins pitcher dedicated to pediatric cancer awareness among charities
MINNEAPOLIS -- When Twins owner Jim Pohlad took the stage at the annual Diamond Awards banquet at Target Field on Jan. 22, he couldn't help but joke about Brian Duensing's impending contract status before presenting him with the Carl R. Pohlad Community Service Award.
With Duensing still in limbo at the time as an arbitration-eligible player who hadn't yet agreed to terms, Pohlad quipped he couldn't say anything nice about the six-year veteran or else it could be used against him in an arbitration hearing.
But then Pohlad smiled and reeled off the impressive charity work Duensing and his wife, Lisa, are involved with and added he didn't even have time to mention every organization individually. Duensing eventually agreed to terms with the Twins on a one-year, $2.7 million deal just two days later, and Twins general manager Terry Ryan said it's hard not to respect Duensing for all the work he does in the community.
"Brian Duensing's one of the more accessible guys and is certainly out in the community," Ryan said. "He's involved in so many charities he couldn't mention all of them in that speech. Those are the type of things that you can be proud of."
Duensing, the third-longest tenured Twins player after Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins, is as humble as they come and said he learned from former teammates Michael Cuddyer and Jesse Crain how to carry himself as a big leaguer and how important it is to give back.
Duensing and his wife are involved in countless charities such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Cheerful Givers, the Light the Night Walk and Tapestry, but it was their effort in September to help raise awareness and donations for pediatric cancer that was their biggest cause.
With September being Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, the Duensings made it their mission to spread awareness through Duensing's twitter account (@BrianDuensing52). As a former University of Nebraska star and Omaha native, Duensing was touched by Jack Hoffman's story in '13, when Hoffman, who suffers from pediatric brain cancer, was allowed to run for a touchdown in the Huskers' spring game. It became a national story, with Hoffman eventually getting to meet President Barack Obama and winning an ESPY.
Lisa Duensing heard about a rally for Hoffman to kick off Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September and thought of the idea for her husband to wear different T-shirts for those affected by childhood cancer throughout the month. She asked him if he liked the idea of wearing those shirts and tweeting out a picture with details on where to give donations, and Duensing immediately jumped on board.
"I asked Brian if he would consider it, and right away he thought it was awesome and wanted to do it," Lisa Duensing said. "We thought we'd get a few T-shirts and then he'd have to re-wear them, but we were astonished at what we got."
The Duensings were hoping to get 10 to 15 shirts they could recycle throughout the month, but instead, Brian received 47 shirts by Sept. 8. Duensing was able to wear all of the shirts he received in September, and ultimately raised awareness through his tweets and personally donated to every cause.
"We were excited it went well, but it's really just the tip of the iceberg with how many people are affected by it," Duensing said. "But what was cool about it was that it wasn't just T-shirts from Minnesota or Nebraska. We got ones from Maine, Florida, California, Washington and all over the country."
Duensing now hopes his message reaches more and more children affected by childhood cancer, as a few of his teammates, such as Casey Fien, also became involved with the effort in September. Former Twins Justin Morneau and Cuddyer also contacted Duensing and are hoping to do the same thing next September.
"That's the hope," Duensing said. "I put the information out on how to donate. The whole point was just to raise awareness for people who need help. Even if someone saw it and just donated a dollar or five bucks, every bit helps. Cancer is a bad thing, and nobody needs to go through that, especially kids."
So it was an overwhelming month for the Duensing family -- which also includes their daughter McKenna, 3, and son Boston, who turns 1 on March 31 -- but one they won't soon forget and one they plan to replicate in the future.
"I think the best thing about him being a professional athlete is that he has that little bit of a platform where he can help these families out," Lisa Duensing said. "But it was really tough. That month with all the shirts that came in and all the letters we received, it was emotionally draining to hear what these families were going through and to know this was just the tiniest snippet of what is going on."
Their efforts culminated with Duensing receiving the club's award for community service at the annual Diamond Awards, which was an honor for Duensing, but not the reason why he continually gives back throughout the year.
"I was honored, but obviously we don't do it for recognition," Duensing said. "My wife had a lot to do with it. So to receive the award, I was happy and excited about it. I just hope we're representing the Twins in the right way."