Cracking a home run
The bases are loaded, and Randy Lea is coming up to bat.
"There it goes, a home run."
These are sounds that appeal to Randy Lea, a Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossom who loves baseball and has put together quite a collection of Minnesota Twins and other Major League Baseball artifacts.
The 66-year-old baseball fanatic is always scouring flea markets, antique stores, garage sales or auctions for items to add to his collection.
"I bet I have not paid over $1,000 for these items," says Lea in explaining that his man cave has been built to suit his likings.
He's always looking for that item, especially one with a Minnesota Twins connection.
Lea is different from some other serious sports collectors who dole out lots of cash to obtain an item that they would treasure. "This is my collection, one that gives me lots of enjoyment," Lea said.
As one scans Lea's living quarters, it is clear that it's not just Twins items that stir his fancy. Look at one of his living room walls and you will find lots of artwork created by his six grandchildren.
"My grandchildren are more important than any Twins collection," remarks a proud grandpa. In addition to begging his grandkids for more art for his wall, Lea also is thankful when the grandkids give him a baseball piece for his collection.
"Beckett (son of Collette and Tony Lea) just gave me a Max Kepler baseball card and said I had to have it," said Lea.
It almost seems like one is walking the fields at Metropolitan Stadium, the Metrodome and Target Field when viewing remnants from Twins history. "I'm still looking for a Twins 1991 world championship pennant," said Lea.
There's lots of evidence pointing to the Twins' World Championships won in 1987 and 1991.
"Who's your favorite Twins player?" Lea is asked. It doesn't take him long to answer, "Tony Oliva." Tony played 11 seasons for the Twins and won Rookie of the Year honors and earned a batting title in his first year in Major League Baseball.
"It's not about him, it's about the twins," Lea says in calling Oliva a great ambassador for the Twins.
Lea has gotten to know Tony-0 and other former Twins players by following the Twins at Spring Training in Fort Myers, Fla.
Lea has met Joe Mauer and says he is "so down to earth" as are Torii Hunter and Kent Hrbek.
Who's your favorite former Twins manager? That's another baseball question that Lea quickly answers. "It's Ron Gardenhire," he says, pointing out that Gardenhire is "very good" with young kids and never turns down an autograph request. Gardenhire is currently managing the Detroit Tigers.
Lea says he is impressed thus far with new Twins manager Rocco Baldelli.
Lea began collecting baseball cards in 1971. He said most of his collection is sealed away in a safety deposit box. His collection then began to grow as he wanted to add items to go with his cards.
He married Nancy in 1973 and the couple had two children, Tony of Blooming Prairie and Jamie of New Prague. Randy has six grandchildren: Rachel, 11, of New Prague; Beckett, 9, of Blooming Prairie; Jacob, 9, of New Prague; Brock, 8, of Plainview; Avery, 6, of Plainview and Sailor, 3, of Blooming Prairie.
Lea has always loved baseball. He played baseball, football and basketball at Blooming Prairie High School. He was a pitcher and a catcher in high school. "Teacher/coach George Tashima talked me into being a catcher," Lea says.
"I would pitch the first game and catch the second of a doubleheader," he said. He was a switch hitter when batting.
Lea and his son both excelled in sports, Randy earning basketball's Most Valuable Player in 1971 and Tony earning those honors in 1998. Randy was a center on the basketball team. Tony was a shooting guard.
Randy also played baseball for Austin State Junior College's Blue Devils.
Randy says he still has his Rawlings baseball glove bought for him by his father. "I've had it restrung nine times," he reveals. He purchased it at Ille Hardware. The glove carries the signature of former Major Leaguer Cesar Cedeno.
His first exposure to professional baseball came by golfing in celebrity golf tournaments and also by attending Spring Training.
"I've played golf with Tony-0, with Joe Mauer's grandpa (Jake) and with Tommy Watkins, current first base coach for the Twins,” said Lea, adding he is especially proud of a Watkins jersey he has hanging in his man cave.
Lea attended his first spring training at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers in 2002. He especially looks forward to Minnesota Day, a special day devoted to the Twins fandom from Minnesota. Blooming Prairie business owners Rod and Tess Koster always make it a priority to participate in Minnesota Day.
Mauer Chevrolet circulates the park on this special day and gives out souvenirs including magnets, coolies, t-shirts and calendars. Tony-0 rides around in a golf cart and signs autographs. "I still can't believe he is not in the Hall of Fame," Lea says.
Looking over the many Twins items, one can also find some autographed baseballs inked by Pete Rose, Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn and Nolan Ryan.
Lea has some unique items, some of the most unique being baseball pens made out of broken Twins baseball bats. The pens made by the late Charles Jarvis are shaped like baseball bats. He has pens from the bats of Joe Mauer, Nick Punto, Jason Kubel and Denard Span.
Lea is a collector at heart, collecting old coins, old tools and old toys in addition to baseball items.
Randy encourages youngsters to collect sports items. "Collecting is something for the kids to think about other than school; it's good for their minds," he said.
When not following baseball, Lea worked at Center Valley, CFW, the Bixby Feed Mill and Associated Groceries.
The Minnesota Twins mean a lot to Lea but so do his grandchildren who continue to add color to a living room wall. He's not the only Twins fan in his family. "My mom (Doris) is a bigger Twins fan than me," he confides.