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The night Frank Quilici came to town

Photo by Zach Kayser Former Twins player and manager Frank Quilici signs autographs and chats with fans Monday inside Wade-na-Deer Creek Elementary. Quilici was there as keynote speaker for 2013 Men’s Night Out put on by Tri-County Health Care, an annual event designed to increase awareness of men’s health.

Although he lives in Burnsville now, Frank Quilici’s Chicago accent still poked through occasionally as he regaled a capacity-crowd at Wadena Memorial Auditorium Monday night with stories of his time playing with the Minnesota Twins during the team’s formative years in the 1960s.

Quilici was there as keynote speaker for the 2013 Men’s Night Out put on by Tri-County Health Care, an annual event designed to increase awareness of men’s health. Fittingly, Quilici mixed in stories about his own experience of undergoing a kidney transplant with tales of Harmon Killebrew and playing in the ’65 World Series.  His talk managed to cover thoughts on the evolution of baseball, growing older, and family, with plenty of ideas and memories in between.

As the man himself tells it, Frank Quilici’s life story begins with his boyhood in an Italian section of inner-city Chicago. Countless rounds of catch with his father and games at  Harrison Park with fellow kids helped establish a love of baseball in Quilici. However, his initiation into America’s National Pastime almost hit a snag when the success of his neighborhood team forced the young White Sox fan from the South Side into an impossible dilemma: either go to Wrigley Field, home of the dreaded Cubs, or miss out on the playoffs.

“We almost didn’t go,” he remembered. “(But) we did, and we won the city championship.”

  Quilici was the only member of his high school graduating class who went to college. At Western Michigan University, he got his shot at playing college ball when a rival shortstop committed the unpardonable offense of talking to a scout without the coach present. Quilici replaced him in the lineup, and went on to become second-league All-American his during junior year and All-American his senior year.

After college, Quilici began the odyssey of working his way up the various basement leagues to the majors.

After he finally made it to the Twins, Quilici got to play alongside some of the biggest names in the game, like Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew. Quilici also recalled getting hits off of two legendary pitchers for the L.A. Dodgers when the Twins played them in the 1965 World Series: Don Drysdale and Sandy Kaufax. His secret for matching Kaufax’s lightning arm?

“I swung before he threw the ball,” Quilici joked.

  In addition to playing for the Twins, Quilici later coached the team briefly in the 1970s, and became their manager after that. Although he loved heading up the team, the stress of the job posed a bit of a drawback.

“If you’d have seen me without a hat on back then, I had really nice black hair,” he said.

Then he grinned and pointed to the cue ball-like appearance his head has now.

“This is the result of managing,” he said.

Amidst all the wisecracks, Quilici also talked about the serious health problems he suffered from later on in life. When he was older, Quilici found out he had high blood pressure, but didn’t do much about it at first. In 2004, though, his doctors gave him some news that he couldn’t ignore.

“They did a few more tests and found out it had killed off one of my kidneys,” he said. “I was working on one kidney all the time, and that’s the reason the blood pressure was jumping on me.”

Quilici was told he would likely have to go on a dialysis regimen should the other kidney fail and a donor kidney wasn’t available. He was lucky enough to receive a kidney from a close family friend. The transplant itself was successful, but Quilici said he recently had a complications-scare that served as yet another wakeup call about his health. He’s not completely out of the woods yet with his kidney problems, but while he recovers, Quilici has become an advocate for organ donation. If everyone in the United States who drives put the “D” indicating they were donors on their license, Quilici said, the wait for donations would disappear.