Thursday, September 25, 2014


Grizzled vet Mike Jackson was a huge influence on the bullpen of the 2002 Twins, and one of the unsung heroes of that first post-season team of the decade.  He teamed with Eddie Guardado, LaTroy Hawkins, and J.C. Romero to give the Twins an elite relief corps that season.  (His one-time protege Hawkins is now on the cusp of joining him in the exclusive 1,000 games-pitched club.)  Following that memorable season, Jackson elected to retire.  After a year off, he resurfaced with the White Sox in 2004 for one final big league season.


The Twins' first-round draft pick in 1990, Todd Ritchie struggled mightily for most of seven years in the minors.  In 1997, he was out of minor league options so the Twins decided to give him a shot in the majors.  He appeared in 42 nondescript games that season and split 1998 between the Twins and the Salt Lake Buzz.  Following that season, the Twins cut bait.  He signed a minor league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates and turned his career around with a sparkling 15 win season.  He was never a great pitcher, but Ritchie was able to persevere and carve out a nice, eight-year MLB career.


Danny Santana, an infielder throughout his minor league career, was promoted to the big leagues in May and installed as the Twins regular center fielder.  He has not stopped hitting.  Over his brief big league career, he has been one of the most effective and exciting leadoff batters in the American League.  Although he has logged most of his major league innings in the outfield, he appears to be the Twins' regular shortstop for years to come.


Over 100 cards and autographs into this project, I still had not added any from players on active rosters of the local teams.  Enter Kennys Vargas and Danny Santana.  Two of the few bright spots in another disappointing Twins season, these exciting rookies made an appearance at Fan HQ in Minnetonka on September 20.

Vargas made his Target Field debut at the 2014 All Star Futures Game.  Days later, he leaped from AA to the Twins' everyday lineup.  With his size and smile (and sprinkled with the eternal resentment Twins fans feel over losing David Ortiz for nothing 11 years ago), he was annointed "Little Papi."  Vargas became the third player in MLB history to tally at least 34 hits and at least 24 RBI over his first calendar month in the majors.  The other two: Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Brad Bombardir was an original member of the Minnesota Wild.  He was a steady stay-at-home defenseman for four seasons, including the 2003 Western Conference Finalist club.  At the 2004 trade deadline, he was dealt to Nashville.  He returned to the Wild after his playing career ended in 2005, originally serving as an occasional television commentator and in community and player relations.  Bombardir currently serves as the Wild's Director of Player Development.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Earl Battey was one of the early Twins greats.  In fact, prior to the arrival of Joe Mauer, there was no debate -- Earl Battey was the greatest catcher in Twins history.

Battey won his first Gold Glove award in his first season as an everyday player for the Washington Senators in 1960.  He would three-peat as the AL's Gold Glove catcher over the Twins' first two seasons in 1961-1962.  In 1962, he appeared in both the mid-season and post-season All Star Games -- the first two of his five All Star appearances as a Twin.

Battey passed away in 2003 after a battle with cancer.  The following year, he was posthumously inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Baseball history is full of backup catchers who manage to play forever despite not being able to hit.  Tom Prince is a prime example.  He spent parts of 17 years in the big leagues, but only appeared in 519 games.  And in those games, he put up a .208 career batting average.

Prince signed with the Twins as a 36 year old free agent in 2001.  That was, of course, the pivotal year in Twins history where, in the face of contraction, the young nucleus of Hunter, Mientkiewicz, Jones, Koskie, and Guzman came together to give the Twins their first winning season in nine years (in manager Tom Kelly's final season).  Prince appeared in 64 games as A.J. Pierzynski's backup and mentor.  In his 15th big league season, he established new career highs with 215 plate appearances and seven home runs.


Andre David had the makeup of a pure, professional hitter over his impressive minor league career, but he was only given two big league cups of coffee with the Twins.  He homered in his first major league at bat in 1984 (his only career home run).  After David's playing career ended, he naturally transitioned to coaching.  He has now been a minor league hitting coach or manager for over 20 years, including over 15 with the Royals organization.  He spent 2014 as the hitting coach of the Royals' AA affiliate Northwest Arkansas Naturals.


The 1987 NFL strike produced some fascinating names on the league's all-time rosters.  For three weeks, the league made the decision to play games with replacement ("scab") players.  For the Vikings, that meant their three-headed quarterback monster of Tommy Kramer, Wade Wilson, and Rich Gannon spent three weeks on the picket line, giving way to Tony Adams.

Adams spent four years as a part-time player for the Kansas City Chiefs in the mid 1970s.  His career numbers were unimpressive, and he moved on to the CFL for a couple of years.  There is no documentation of him playing pro ball between 1980 and his three-game stint with the Vikings in 1987.


Luis Tiant was only a Twin for one injury plagued season, and it's not hard to wonder how the fortunes of the Twins, Red Sox, and Tiant himself would have turned out in the '70s if the Twins hadn't released him during spring training in 1971.  During his Red Sox career, El Tiante would post three 20-win seasons, earn an AL ERA title, and become a Boston folk hero with his fu manchu mustache and contortionist wind-up.  He was one of baseball's most charismatic stars.

The 2009 documentary film The Lost Son of Havana chronicles Tiant's return to his native Cuba for the first time in 46 years.  It's one of my absolute favorite baseball films.  Check it out.

Monday, September 8, 2014


The fortunes of the Minnesota Lynx have turned mightily since Katie Smith's heyday -- they have won two of the last three WNBA championships -- but she was the face of the franchise for its first seven seasons.  She appeared in five of her seven WNBA All Star Games while wearing a Lynx uniform.  She led the league in scoring in 2001 and was a two-time member of the All-WNBA First Team while with the Lynx.  After leaving Minnesota, she would add two WNBA championships, a Finals MVP award, and earn a place on the league's All-Decade Team.  Simply put, Katie Smith is one of the greatest players in WNBA history, and her finest statistical seasons were as a one-woman wrecking crew here in Minnesota.