From collector to curator: No one loves Twins history more than Clyde Doepner

Top: Minnesota Twins curator Clyde Doepner showcases a signed base stored inside the Target Field memorabilia vault. Middle: Rod Carew is one of several Twins Hall of Famers with his own historic display inside Target Field. Bottom: Think Twins catcher Joe Mauer misses his pants from the World Baseball Classic?
Photo By: Staff
“It’s not my stuff, and it’s not even the Twins’ stuff. It’s your stuff, the fans’ stuff." -- Clyde Doepner

Rows upon rows of baseballs, bats, bases, gloves, cleats, uniforms and other memorabilia crowd a tiny Target Field room that resembles a secret vault.

Everything from the pants Joe Mauer wore in this year’s World Baseball Classic to the bat Kirby Puckett used to hit his game-winning homerun in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series to books containing pictures of baseball players from the 1890’s are carefully organized, catalogued in computers and displayed by one man — Clyde Doepner.

These artifacts not only speak to the history of the proud Minnesota Twins organization. They actually show it, said Doepner, affectionately known as “Clyde the Curator” by fans, players and staff.

Doepner’s passion for showing history, rather than simply telling it, dates back to his days as a history teacher at Tartan High School in Oakdale. Ever since he was a teenager, the 68-year-old Doepner has accumulated Twins memorabilia—more than 7,000 items, all but transforming his St. Paul home into a museum. He even boasts a complete collection of United States Presidential autographs, which he would share with his high school students so that history lessons could “come alive.”

Doepner’s collection of Twins memorabilia dramatically increased by the mid-’90s, coinciding nicely with the organization hiring him to work summers starting in 1998. Five years ago, he transitioned into a full-time role collecting, organizing, cataloguing, educating and displaying the items — a move that has turned Target Field into his personal playground.

However, Doepner says that the money he gets as the Twins full-time curator is irrelevant. He would continue in his role without pay, and above all, is fueled by passion.

“When I go to work every day, my wife says, ‘Have fun!’” Doepner said. “And I do.”

HISTORY ON DISPLAY

Before he started working with the Twins, the team didn’t emphasize or promote any of its memorabilia, Doepner said. Now, thanks to a stellar new ballpark that opened in 2010, the Twins are one of the few clubs to gather and display its history in an organized fashion.

Doepner’s collection dots all the rooms and atriums of Target Field, illuminating the stadium for thousands of fans every day. It has allowed Target Field to “merge the past with the present,” Doepner said, and that same year it opened, ESPN Magazine named the ballpark the “best baseball stadium experience in North America.”

Doepner divides the job of curator into three distinct responsibilities: learning about memorabilia, identifying and maintaining the condition of items, and finding an enthusiastic and passionate lover of Twins history to one day be his successor.

“The number one responsibility of a curator is to learn as much as you can about everything you have, either past, present or looking into the future,” Doepner said.

For example, centerfielder Aaron Hicks is one of the Twins’ top prospects. Because Doepner expects him to become a superstar, he has kept Hicks’ first jersey and the bat which he had his first three home run game with.

Paying attention to milestones, however small they might seem at the time, will only help the collection down the road.

“Part of our job is to learn what we can and make some wise predictions about what we should and shouldn’t keep,” he said.

FOR THE FANS

Doepner does all the curating himself, mainly because he wants to avoid a situation where items have been compromised or end up missing, especially considering how valuable the objects are. Every piece is stamped with a hologram, which contains a number that tracks it as “authentic” on a computer. Asked about the monetary value of certain items, Doepner politely emphasizes that the collection is not about a price tag.

“It’s not my stuff, and it’s not even the Twins’ stuff,” Doepner said. “It’s your stuff, the fans’ stuff.”

Most of the displays inside Target Field are changed two or three times a year, Doepner said, although some — like the glass case filled with “Target Field firsts” — are permanent. The history doesn’t stop with display cases, either. The stadium walls are dotted with 1,264 pictures of all the great Twins moments, from walk-off postseason wins to no-hitters. Everywhere fans look, there’s a moment of Twins lore to gaze upon and fondly remember.

Doepner also serves as an ambassador and public face for Twins history. Last year, he gave 42 off-site talks and 96 on-site talks. That doesn’t include chatting with fans nearly every game day or changing gears as various tour groups enter and exit the corridors of Target Field.

While walking throughout the stadium in early April, Doepner spotted a high school tour and slid into storyteller mode about Twins legend Harmon Killebrew. Many of Doepner’s anecdotes are personal in nature due to friendships he’s made while collecting items on behalf of the Twins.

As Target Field’s artifacts continue to impress fans, Doepner hopes that sometime in the near future, the Twins can open a museum to display everything he’s acquired. He has his sights on the Ford Building, across from the stadium, as a possible destination.

“I have the whole blueprint — to scale — in my head,” Doepner said.

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