"El Gasolino" pumps up Mid-State Auto Auction
Juan Berenguer has gone from saving baseball games to saving customers prices on their next car purchase.
He was on hand Friday morning promoting Mid-State Auto Auction in New York Mills.
Berenguer has sold cars for the past nine years at Freeway Ford in Bloomington. Being a World Series champion has its perks when it comes to making the next sale.
"I like to say hi to all the customers," he said. "I let them shop a little bit; tell them a little story, they like that."
It's not difficult to get Juan talking, but he has a knack for closing the deal as efficiently as he did baseball games.
"I tell the customer, 'you don't buy the car, I'm not going to sign the picture.'"
Having a celebrity promotion at Mid-State Auto Auction was a first for the company. A business associate recommended Berenguer and with the opening week of baseball at hand it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
"He's a great guy," owner Rob Thompson said.
A friend of Berenguer's got him into the business.
"He said, 'you're not doing anything. Come to work.' I'm glad I did."
Local fans enjoyed Berenguer's big grin and amusing anecdotes. Many fans brought in balls, homer hankies and posters for the reliever to autograph.
Winning auction bidders on cars all received an autographed baseball throw to them on the auction floor by "Senor Smoke."
Mid-State Auto Auction also gave away four tickets behind home plate to the May 6 Twins game against the Orioles at Target Field.
"Target Field is nice," Berenguer said. "Last Friday, it was windy like in Chicago."
Berenguer related stories from 1987, along with tales from the end of his career. He still plays town ball in the cities, running into former teammates and Twins, like Terry Steinbach and Dan Gladden.
"There was a young kid from the Mexican League up last year and he said, 'I'm going to take the old man deep.' Well, I threw that kid three fastballs and he sat down. The old man still has it."
After Berenguer left the Twins in 1990 he played in Atlanta and Kansas City. While with Atlanta, he broke his pitching arm wrestling with one of his children missing the Braves run to the Series where they lost to the Twins in 1991.
The travel needed to remain in the big leagues or just make the team combined with being away from his family began to wear on him. It did not, however, wear on his arm.
"Atlanta sent me in spring training to Cuba. I prepared myself, talked to Tony Oliva. I pitched 13 of 14 games. They wanted to see if I could make the team. The last game they asked me to pitch two innings, because I had been pitching one most games. They said I would be fighting to be the closer. I blew away those Cubans 1-2-3, 1-2-3. The whole Cuban crowd was chanting, 'He still have it!'" Berenguer laughed.
Berenguer went to Mexico after that performance still throwing 95 mph. But baseball was in a sticky predicament after the 1993 season.
Former teammate Kent Hrbek had expressed his frustrations about the looming 1994 lock out. Berenguer shared these frustrations about the strike that cancelled the World Series for the first time since 1904.
"I called them back and said, 'I can't take it no more.'"
Berenguer pitched his final professional games with the Duluth-Superior Dukes of the Northern League.
Berenguer decided to stay in Minnesota after his playing career. Aside from working in Bloomington, he makes his home in Chanhassen.