Dave Winfield played for six major league teams during his 22-year baseball career, but the uniform he was most proud to wear read “Oxford” across the chest.
To Winfield, it represented family, community and sense of purpose.
“We lived half a block away, and I just remember walking down the street with them on,” Winfield said. “White with stripes, or powder blue as we continued on, and that’s an incredible feeling for a kid. You’re part of a group that has a mission and goals. It was a lot of fun.”
The Oxford playgrounds, on Lexington Parkway across from Central High School, were the starting point for Winfield and Paul Molitor, native sons of St. Paul who both went on to win World Series titles, collect 3,000 hits and earn induction into the Hall of Fame.
Winfield and Molitor were honored by the City of St. Paul and the St. Paul Saints before Thursday’s game at CHS Field. Molitor, who manages the Twins, was scheduled to appear before Wednesday’s rainout at Target Field added a second game against Houston on Thursday.
“It’s really great to share it with Dave,” Molitor said in a videotaped message. “When I think back to my times growing up in St. Paul, they really have an incredible background of loving baseball and showing passion for the game.”
Now living in Los Angeles and serving in the Major League Baseball Players Association as an advisor to executive director Tony Clark, Winfield, 64, clearly enjoyed himself back home in St. Paul.
Winfield posted tweets throughout the afternoon, chronicling his lunch at a food truck in Rice Park, his spotting of an albino squirrel and his appreciation for two-year-old CHS Field. Before the game, he hugged and smiled his way through a reception on a VIP deck above the third-base grandstand.
“St. Paul is like that,” Winfield said. “This is friends, family. This is all great.”
One member of the welcoming committee was Bill Peterson, 75, who has coached baseball at the Oxford playgrounds since the 1960s.
“I always tell people, I just stayed out of their way,” Peterson said. “They just were so good.”
Winfield and Molitor, who were born five years apart and grew up five blocks from each other, shared similar paths to success. Both saw their baseball careers peak in the 1980s and 1990s but never played together.
From the Oxford playgrounds, Winfield starred at Central High School, led the St. Paul-based Attucks-Brooks American Legion team to two state championships and then played baseball and basketball at the University of Minnesota.
He was named MVP of the College World Series in 1973 and was drafted in the first round by the San Diego Padres. The NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, ABA’s Utah Stars, and Minnesota Vikings drafted him, too, but he chose baseball and joined the Padres that same year without spending a day in the minors.
Winfield spent the majority of his big league career with the Padres and Yankees and was a 12-time All-Star, seven-time Gold Glove Award winner and six-time Silver Slugger winner. In his 40s, he won a World Series with the Blue Jays (1992) and got his 3,000th hit with the Twins (1993). He retired in 1996 and went into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
Molitor went to Cretin High School and played on state championship teams in 1973 and ’74 and helped the Attucks-Brooks Legion team to another title before following Winfield’s path to Minnesota, where he was a two-time All-American.
The Brewers chose Molitor in the third round in 1977, beginning a 21-year major league career. A seven-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger winner, he won a World Series with the Blue Jays in 1993, one year after Winfield, and joined the Twins in time to record his 3,000th hit in 1996. Molitor took his place in the Hall of Fame in 2004.
Winfield saw the old-school Oxford style of baseball every time he watched Molitor play, especially when “The Ignitor” was tearing it up with the Brewers.
“He was a big nemesis over at the Brewers,” Winfield said. “When I was with the Yankees and we’d see him and Robin Yount and the rest of them, oh, man, it seemed like the lineup would turn over too quick. Molitor would get a hit, go first to third, and he’d steal on you, he played defense, he’d slide headfirst. I said, ‘I recognize that style of play.’ ”