Butera recalls ‘epiphany moment’ before World Series win with Twins

| October 31, 2017 | 0 Comments

Before her death in February 1987, Sal Butera’s mother-in-law told his wife, Gina, that he would play in the World Series that year.

“It came to fruition, albeit it was with a different team,” said Butera, who had been playing for the Cincinnati Reds going into the 1987 season.

A veteran catcher at the time, Butera wound up with the Minnesota Twins through waivers in May. As a result, he became part of the 1987 Twins World Series championship team.

“To me, it was another ‘epiphany’ moment that I had,” said Butera, a lifelong Catholic.

Butera sees his faith as central to how he lives his life on and off the diamond. He put it into practice as a player and now as a scout in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

Sal Butera played back-up catcher for the 1987 Minnesota Twins World Series championship team. Courtesy Minnesota Twins

“Everything I do evolves from my faith, primarily because I’m not in control of my life,” Butera told The Catholic Spirit. “I believe the Lord has a plan for me, and I’m just operating in his plan.”

Butera makes daily prayer and Sunday Mass priorities in his life and also prays before games. Favorite prayers include the rosary and those from The Word Among Us, a Catholic devotional magazine.

He said faith gets him through the highs and lows of playing baseball.

“That allows you to keep an even keel to know that it is the nature of the game — even the best players struggle seven out of 10 times,” Butera said.

Minnesota navigated its ups and downs in an 85-77 season on the way to the World Series. Butera said the Twins were hovering around .500 when he arrived in May, but they had some solid pitching, defense and a young lineup with players Kent Hrbek, Greg Gagne, Gary Gaetti and Kirby Puckett.

“They were all young, budding players coming into their best years,” Butera said. “We just gelled as a team.”

The Twins’ improvement in August and September led to American League West Division pennant followed by a 4-1 league championship series victory over the Detroit Tigers. The Twins then beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 for the World Series title.

“It was spectacular. It’s everything you see and then some from the moment you step on the field for that first game,” Butera said of being in the World Series. “Of course, the hype then is nowhere near what it is today. It’s a media circus because of all the cell phones and the iPads, all the Internet scenarios that are out there right now.”

Butera, a backup catcher for the Twins, had some extra assurance of prayers going into the seventh and decisive game, which the Twins won 4-2 in Minneapolis at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. He and his family arrived slightly late to Sunday Mass that morning and stood in the back of the church.

Butera recalled: “The priest saw me in the background and acknowledged and said, ‘I think we should say a prayer for the Twins, so hopefully they’ll pull it out’” for game seven.

“It was one of those nice moments that you want to be humbled by more than anything else,” Butera said.

Like his playing days, finding an early Sunday Mass while on the road remains a priority.

“It wasn’t difficult at all,” Butera said. “I would always find a church in the town I was at and go to the earliest [Mass] usually — it was either 7 or 8 o’clock Mass.”

Butera experienced the challenges of life on the road throughout his playing, coaching and scouting career. Missing his family and being on his own has been commonplace for many a business trip.

“My faith keeps me grounded,” Butera said. “I don’t go out. I stay to myself. I try to do all the right things and to resist the temptations that are out there. I’ve always maintained that throughout my career.”

Besides his personal faith, Butera and his wife have raised their two children in the Catholic faith, in part by sending them to Catholic schools.

“We’ve tried to give them the moral and spiritual guidance that any parent would,” Butera said. “Both of my children have always been very strong Catholics and have used the guidelines the same way we have, and we’re very proud of that.”

In addition to their faith lives, both of Butera’s children have had successful athletic careers. His daughter, Alex, played NCAA Division I soccer at the University of Alabama. His son, Drew, plays for the Kansas City Royals and won a World Series crown in 2015.

“Just to see him succeed at the highest level was tremendously gratifying as it was seeing him play in the highest point,” Butera said of his son’s World Series appearance.

The older Butera maintains strong ties to his World Series team 30 years later. This past season, the Twins franchise honored the team at Target Field in Minneapolis.

Butera said he prays for the three deceased members of the 1987 squad — Puckett, Don Baylor and Joe Niekro.

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