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The Gospel and GAETTI
Hank Hersch
August 21, 1989
Gary Gaetti, a two-time All-Star, went from banshee ballplayer to born-again Christian in 1988, and now the Minnesota Twins are a different kind of team
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August 21, 1989

The Gospel And Gaetti

Gary Gaetti, a two-time All-Star, went from banshee ballplayer to born-again Christian in 1988, and now the Minnesota Twins are a different kind of team

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His eyes are brimming now with passion. "I've got to play baseball," he says. "That's my job. We're supposed to work. I can't scream and shout at the other team like I used to. But in ways I lead—I just do it a little different. I'm still trying to deal with that because that's part of my profession. There's times I don't want to be in that position, but I am. I have to lead by example.

"But, to tell you the truth, I wish Jesus would come back now and let us all go to heaven. This world doesn't compare to what heaven is like. The Apostle Paul says, 'No eye can see, no mind can comprehend those things that God has planned for those who love Him.' "

Clubhouse chemistry is a mysterious thing. Is the chemistry itself a catalyst for achievement? Or is good chemistry created by simply pouring enough wins into a beaker? The Twins' collective persona in their championship year of 1987 was about the same as it was in 1986, when they went 71-91. And this year's locker room could hardly be described as a cauldron of tension. Nor can Gaetti be accused of being a wallflower. Today he arrives in the locker room wearing a pair of bizarrely patterned pants that look like pajama bottoms. "Them are sweet, Rat!" Puckett coos. "Very sweet!" Gaetti proceeds to jump up on the table and then pounces to the floor, imitating his best pro wrestling move. "Once we come to the park, we play together," says Puckett. "I think that's enough."

But is it? In addition to Gaetti's metamorphosis, the departure of Blyleven, a veteran and an inveterate prankster, has hurt. "Now you walk in, it's quiet—a couple guys talking here, a couple guys talking there," said Viola a few days before he was traded. "It's more of a cliquish thing than a group thing. Bert kept everybody loose, Gary got everybody fired up. It's a great transformation that Gary has had, and I'm really happy for him, but from the perspective of the other players, it's taking time to adjust to the new Gary."

Almost to a man, the Twins respect Gaetti's right to his new and deeply felt beliefs. For Hrbek, though, the conversion has been hard to accept. Hrbek first met Gaetti 10 years ago in Class A at Elizabethton, Tenn. By the time they reached the majors, Gaetti and Hrbek were fast friends and spent time together joking around the clubhouse, hanging around in bars and hunting during the off-season. Even when they began making millions, the two continued to share a room on the road. Their companionship, and its attendant carousing, formed the social spine of the team.

But now that a Bible is Gaetti's constant companion, Hrbek isn't. Hrbek, in fact, remains his old, profane self—"dropping F-bombs," as he puts it. The two are no longer roommates. Hrbek seems unable to understand the change in his old pal. "He's Gary Gaetti on the field—he still has heart and guts and power," Hrbek says. "But he's somebody I don't know off the field. It's almost like he passed away." Says Gaetti of Hrbek, "I love Kent. We don't do the same things we did before, but that's good, O.K.?"

At the All-Star Game in Anaheim, Gaetti distributed leaflets at his locker that included his picture, his testimony and a plan for personal salvation. When the lineups were introduced on national television, he held up to the camera a batting-gloved palm on which he had written JESUS is LORD. In '82, Hrbek, an All-Star when Gaetti was not, had held up a glove with Gaetti's number 8 written on it. In '88, Gaetti returned the gesture in Cincinnati; the message on Gaetti's palm was HI REX, a tribute to Hrbek's wrestling alter ego, Tyrannosaurus Rex. But this year, Gaetti's message was more universal. "It was a victory for the Lord," Gaetti says. "There might've been somebody sitting at home watching who was trying to get his life straightened out, and he saw JESUS IS LORD and it helped him make a decision." Hrbek had been at a resort in Mille Lacs Lake, Minn., during the All-Star break, and had tuned in to the game. When he saw Gaetti's glove, he flicked the TV off.

To some, Gaetti's passionate conversion was a characteristic change. "He's the same old Gary to me," says catcher Tim Laudner, "because whenever he decides to do something, he doesn't test the water. He jumps right in." While attending Northwest Missouri State, Gaetti experimented with drugs. In 1983, he came across an Eat to Win diet book in the supermarket and became immersed in that, losing 30 pounds in two months. He has experimented with hypnosis and sensory deprivation. In '87, after meeting some Vietnam vets and researching their plight, he became deeply involved in the POW-MIA movement, donating a van to the cause.

But Gaetti says he was never happy, even during his wildly ecstatic reaction to winning the World Series. "It was nice, it was satisfying—but only in a baseball sense, in a human sense of accomplishment," he says. "Because it doesn't mean anything the minute you win. It's fleeting, and you realize it."

In August '88, while lying around his house after arthroscopic surgery on his knee, Gaetti read in a pamphlet about the "rapture," an event eagerly anticipated by many born-again believers, in which they are spirited from the world to meet Jesus. An evangelical scholar had even predicted that the rapture would take place between Sept. 11 and 13. At this news, Gaetti began evaluating his life in terms of the afterlife, heaven and hell and where he was bound. He spoke to some of his Christian teammates, and then one day while driving by himself, he repented his sins to God. "He rewarded me right away," Gaetti recalls. "The Bible started meaning what it was supposed to mean. My spirit was alive. I could see with spiritual eyes what He wanted me to see in His word. I was radically saved."

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