July 5, 1982
Mr. Hrbek goes to Washington this week. All eyes will be on him as he strolls through the Capitol Rotunda, working the crowd with a firm handshake and warm smile. Is former Twins All-Star first baseman Kent Hrbek, who's so popular in Minnesota that Jesse Ventura asked him to run for lieutenant governor, testing the political waters? "Come on, I got no time for politics," says Hrbek, who would rather be fishing for walleyes than for votes.
Since retiring from baseball in 1994, Hrbek has turned much of his attention to raising money to help find a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and his efforts are the reason he has been summoned to Washington. He will receive the annual All-Star Award from the ALS Association for his outstanding contribution to fighting the disease. ALS claimed Kent's father, Ed, near the end of Kent's storybook 1982 rookie season, in which he hit .301 with 23 homers and 92 RBIs and seemed to get stronger as his father's condition deteriorated. Hrbek's performance, along with those of fellow rookies Tom Brunansky, Gary Gaetti and Frank Viola, brought hope to a small-market franchise struggling—as today's Twins still are—to compete with big-market teams. Two years later Kirby Puckett arrived, and within a decade Minnesota had won two World Series tides, in '87 and '91.
Ed taught his son to play baseball, and, in turn, Kent has used his baseball fame in his efforts to fight ALS. In 1985 the Kent Hrbek Celebrity Golf Tournament for ALS was born, and to date the annual one-day tournament, dinner and auction has raised almost a million dollars. "My rookie year was a high point and low point for me, but the whole thing has now come full circle," says Hrbek.
In Kent's playing days his wife, Jeanie—mother of seven-year-old Heidi—handled most of the event planning, but since his retirement Kent has taken the lead and attracted corporate sponsors who have sent tournament proceeds skyrocketing. He often finds himself in the boardrooms of companies like Anheuser-Busch and Target, successfully spinning his sales pitch. "After I sign a couple of autographs, that usually puts me over the top," he says. The rest of his time is spent hunting, fishing or calling local businesses to solicit donations for the tournament auction. "When we get a cure for this tiling, I'm going to rent out the Metrodome for a party," says Hrbek, "and everyone's invited."