Minnesota’s Ron Swanson: Former Minnesota Twin Glen Perkins talks life after baseball at his woodshop and brewery

Former Twins Pitcher Glen Perkins poses for a portrait in Lakeville // Photo by Tj Turner

Former Twins Pitcher Glen Perkins poses for a portrait in Lakeville // Photo by Tj Turner

We pull into a driveway of former Minnesota Twins pitcher Glen Perkins’ 100-acre Lakeville farmstead, Gala Farms, on a crisp December day. He jumps out of his blue Ford Raptor to greet us, sporting a gray, half-zip hunting sweatshirt, khaki-colored winter hat, and a scruffy beard. He looks less like a millionaire former pro athlete than your cousin’s fun husband who you like to drink whiskey with at family holidays. 

He just got back from dropping his kids off at school and is ready to show us where he’s been spending most of his free time now that he’s retired from the game. 

It was back on January 24, 2018, when Perkins, a three-time All-Star pitcher  for the Minnesota Twins, made the announcement that many baseball fans had been expecting. “Let me address the [elephant] in the room,” Perkins wrote in a tweet. “I won’t be playing baseball anymore.” 

The decision came at the end of a battle to bounce back from a torn labrum that ended the Stillwater, Minnesota-native’s 2016 campaign and kept him sidelined for most of the 2017 season. When then-manager Paul Molitor made the call to the bullpen for Perkins with one out left in the penultimate game of the 2017 season, many fans could sense they were witnessing the closer’s last pitches as a Minnesota Twin, and possibly ever. 

Perkins felt it too. After recording the final out of the ninth inning, Perkins asked for the ball, entered the dugout, and sat tearfully reflecting at the end of his 12th season as a Major League Baseball player. 

There’s a prevailing narrative about the top professional athletes, which sports media in the U.S. highlights and which sports fans tend to take as gospel. To be a top athlete—whether in baseball, football, or an Olympic sport—it takes absolute dedication. You have to live and breathe the sport, sacrificing all other pursuits to practice, get stronger, perform better. And if you watched Perkins’ emotional postgame interview after his final outing, you’d be forgiven to think that this was his story too. But that’s not Glen. 

“Baseball to me was always a means to an end,” Perkins explains. “I grew up watching Brad Radke pitch. I watched him and so I got to play with him for two weeks at the end of that 2006 season. And then he retired and I went to his retirement press conference and he said he had made enough money and wanted to go home to be with his kids. It wasn’t his life.”

That message was reinforced every spring training, when Glen remembers meeting with the MLB Players Alumni Association where he heard the same refrain: You’re going to be a former player a lot longer than you’re going to be a current player. “And it kind of hit home. There are so many guys whose whole life revolves around baseball, and they get done and they don’t have anything else to do. […] So I’ve always wanted hobbies, I’ve always had hobbies and just other interests.”

Glen Perkins all-electric, three-vessel homebrewery // Photo by Tj Turner

Since retiring, Perkins has been homebrewing a lot and has occasionally popped up on the social media feeds of local breweries such as Bad Weather, Surly, and Lakeville Brewing where he’s produced commercial collab beers. He also started an Instagram account, Gala Farms Woodshop, to show off his woodshop and woodworking projects. But brewing and woodworking aren’t new hobbies Perkins picked up in retirement. They’re passions he fostered during the past decade while playing baseball. 

He leads us to a squat outbuilding that was formerly used for boarding horses and as a garage, but which he gutted and handbuilt into a miniature tavern and brewery. 

“There’s a beer souring in the kettle right now,” Perkins says as we walk into the brewery equipped with an all-electric three-vessel brewing system. “I got a buddy, he buys all the stuff, I brew it, and we split it. […] I would say we brew probably on average three times a month from September through April, May.”

He says he gets a lot of enjoyment out of trying to match the flavor profiles and consistency of some of his favorite commercial beers, including Summit’s iconic EPA and Bell’s near-legendary Hopslam. But he also pushes his skills with more experimental brews like a kettle-soured peach milkshake IPA or his attempt at a Utopias clone—a 24% ABV, barrel-aged behemoth that took 70 pounds of grain to make two-and-a-half gallons. 

Perkins’ interest in brewing is driven by the same thing that led him to woodworking—the gratification of visualizing a finished product and working backward to deconstruct and master the steps necessary to build it. 

Former Minnesota Twins pitcher Glen Perkins built the Gala Farms Woodshop in the loft of his barn in Lakeville // Photo by Tj Turner

He leads us outside the tavern door and inside the door of the red barn. We walk up a set of stairs into the loft of the barn and enter Perkins’ massive, sprawling woodshop that would elicit a gleeful giggle from Ron Swanson. 

The room is organized into stations—built and laid out by Perkins—that follow the basic workflow for any project. An industrial lift in the far right-hand corner of the room transports raw material from the ground floor up to the loft. To its left is a table saw for ripping material and a chop saw to crosscut to length. Next are a planer, a jointer, and belt sanders to clean the faces of the raw lumber; a router table and drill press; and several workbenches filled with clamps and squares for assembly. 

Perkins leads us to a section where he has several different sized lathes that spin wood for carving. All around the station are piles of short chunks of walnut and other woods that he uses to glue into polygonal rings that then get stacked together into the rough shape of a bowl. “The thing I make the most are bowls. I love turning bowls on that lathe.” 

He shows us one of the bowls he’s most proud of—a large walnut bowl checkered with woodgrain ranging from deep purple, ruby, and light brown hues streaked with veins of cream. “All the different angles you can look at this and it, like, shimmers,” he says effusively. 

Glen Perkins’ Gala Farms Woodshop logo on the bottom of a walnut bowl he made (above) // Photo by Tj Turner

Perkins’ easygoing, mildly gruff demeanor carries over to his woodworking style. Unlike many woodworkers, instead of working to avoid or hide defects like knots, insect damage, or checks in the wood, he seeks them out and accentuates them to add a distinctive character to the finished work. He runs his fingers across an area of the walnut bowl where a patch of tiny rounded channels are burrowed through the wood. “I love these wormholes,” he says. 

Luckily for Perkins, he has a lifetime of walnut, oak, and cherry with the kind of character he is searching for piled in a pole barn behind the woodshop. It’s what he’s used for not just bowls, but also end tables, stools, and even an heirloom liquor cabinet built for a family friend that ranks as one of his favorite projects because of the intricacy of the design. 

Glen Perkins stands by his wood stockpile on his property in Lakeville // Photo by Tj Turner

The plan, which he redrew 12 times, included hinged doors, shelves, drawers, and no screws or metal fasteners. “That was one where you plan it out and think about it, and then plan it out again and think about it more.”

Aside from the enjoyment he got out of the design and build process, the project signifies something of a legacy outside of baseball that Perkins can put his name on (literally, the cabinet and his other projects are marked with a Gala Farms Woodshop branding iron). It’s one in which he can find purpose and enjoyment in and which reaffirms that he’s achieving the goal he set for himself back in 2006—to carve out a life distinct from his career on the mound. 

“I envisioned that cabinet being something in 100 years that still looked the same as it does now,” Perkins says earnestly, before demurely quipping, “It hasn’t fallen apart yet, so…”

 
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Brian Kaufenberg is the editor-in-chief of The Growler Magazine.