MINNEAPOLIS -- When Terry Crowley walked off the field at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore two days ago, he couldn't help but feel his emotions had been given a jump start.
For the man they used to call the "King Of Swing," Sunday's emotional return to his old stomping ground served as a preparation for the next significant step in his career.
Tonight, when the Minnesota Twins host the Toronto Blue Jays in the opening game of the American League Championship Series (8:30, Ch. 11), Crowley will be in the home team dugout. He's completing his first year as the batting coach for the Twins, a team that went from last place to a division title and the second best record in baseball.
Three years after being fired by his former team, Crowley once again is on The Show's center stage and his weekend visit home (he still lives in Baltimore County) served as an appropriate warmup.
"It did have somewhat of a postseason feel to it," Crowley said of the ceremonies that pulled the plug on Memorial Stadium's baseball history. "It was special to see great people and players tie in with the young guys -- to give them the feeling they can add on to the tradition built years ago."
That tradition, of course, centers around winning -- seven division titles, five pennants, three World Series championships and numerous contenders in the last 25 years.
"There's a certain amount of pride there," Crowley said about the feelings ex-Orioles have for their former team. "Not many teams could call on the greatness of their past to help the present.
"Not many teams could call on that kind of talent as an example," said Crowley.
It's something he would like to be part of again -- this time on the developing end. The Twins have had success in the past, but it has been sporadic over the years.
The Twins caught almost everybody by surprise, but this team has an interesting blend of youth and experience and gave signs early that it could be a factor in the division race. "Even when we lost nine of the first 11, I never lost the feeling of how I felt about this team in spring training," said Crowley. "I know you can't always rely on what you see in spring training, but I honestly felt you could see things that could lead to a great season.
"I've been around long enough to know the difference between someone who might do it once and someone who can do it consistently."
The Twins had established quality regulars in Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and Greg Gagne. They added veterans like Jack Morris, a needed workhorse for the pitching staff, Chili Davis, who supplied additional punch, and Mike Pagliarulo, who helped plug an already outstanding defense.
But it was the development of others like Rookie of the Year favorite Chuck Knoblauch, Shane Mack and pitchers Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani that put the Twins over the hump.
Crowley calls Mack's emergence as a solid hitter and home run threat "the thing I'm proudest of this year."
Despite losing eight of 12 to the Blue Jays during the regular season, the Twins have been installed as a strong favorite over the Blue Jays, possibly because the oddsmakers are aware of some hidden factors and place a lot of emphasis on the home-field advantage.
"I don't think we ever played these guys when we had our top pitchers set up to face them," said Crowley. "And you can throw out the last three games [here over the weekend].
"That's never happened before [division winners finishing the season against each other] and hopefully it'll never happen again. It's not very good. You always want to win, but at the same time you don't want to give anything away either," said Crowley. "It wasn't a very good situation."
Morris draws the opening game assignment for the Twins for many obvious reasons, not the least of which is his durability. "One thing about Jack that's amazing," said Crowley, "is that he's throwing as hard now as he was on the first pitch of the year. And that's amazing, especially for somebody who is not a youngster."
Minnesota's second game pitcher, according to Crowley, is baseball's best-kept secret. "Kevin Tapani is the best pitcher in the major leagues," he said, "and people don't even know how to pronounce his name [tap-n-e]."
Upon reflection, Crowley admits he could be guilty of slight exaggeration -- but only slight. "Let's put it this way," he said, "Tapani is definitely one of the top five pitchers in the [American] league. I'll stake my reputation on that."
If the Twins are going to complete a dream "worst-to-first" season by going to the World Series, Crowley thinks early offense could be the key. "You don't want to play catch-up against them," he said of the Blue Jays. "I think it's important that we get some runs early. They have great pitching -- they don't throw anybody out there who isn't super.
"But this team [the Twins] has real good pitching too and one thing people outside of Minnesota don't realize is what great defense we play. If Gagne played in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia they'd give him a Gold Glove every year. And Pags [Pagliarulo] has been super at third."
Minnesota has four of the seven possible games at home, but in this series that doesn't figure to be an advantage -- especially on defense. Both the Metrodome and the SkyDome have artificial surfaces and, barring unseasonable weather in Toronto, all games will be indoors.