The minor league staff of the San Diego Padres was meeting at the end of spring training in 2006. There were some cuts that had to be made with the players at the Class A level.
Brandon Kintzler had spent two years in the organization as a righthanded relief pitcher. This was the report he received as to what went on inside the cutdown meeting:
“They brought up my name and a trainer said, ‘He’s going to need shoulder surgery.’ Then they asked if anyone in the room thought I was going to be a big-leaguer. Nobody stood up for me.’’
Kintzler paused and said: “That’s understandable, I guess. Why would they keep a 5-10 pitcher who needed shoulder surgery that none of their people thought was going to be a big-leaguer when healthy?’’
Kintzler was released from the Padres organization at age 21. He underwent the labrum surgery. He was unable to pitch in the 2006 season and went home to Las Vegas.
“My sister and her husband gave me a job working at the Cold Stone [Creamery] store,’’ Kintzler said. “Gives you a strong wrist, scooping out that ice cream.’’
Rick Forney from the Winnipeg Goldeyes contacted Kintzler to pitch in the independent Northern League. “My shoulder wasn’t that strong yet,’’ Kintzler said. “I wasn’t going to get out hitters throwing a straight four-seam fastball at 86 [miles per hour].’’
He decided to start working on a two-seam sinker. The question was how to get it to move around the strike zone.
Kintzler had met Greg Maddux, another Las Vegas resident, at a workout facility earlier. He asked Maddux about his amazing talent for hitting corners.
“He said it was simple,’’ Kintzler said. “He threw the same pitch. He just lined up in a different place on the rubber.’’
Kintzler had reasonable success with the self-taught sinker combined with the tip from Maddux. He was 5-2 with a 4.07 in 77 innings at Winnipeg in 2007.
When he went back to Vegas this time, he landed a job in transportation for the Wynn hotel.
“I drove the Escalade that would follow the Rolls-Royce that went to airport to pick up the celebrities and the big hitters,’’ Kintzler said. “Usually, the stars would take the Rolls and I’d get the rest of the entourage. Garth Brooks, he didn’t want the Rolls; he’d take the Escalade.’’
Kintzler agreed to come back to Winnipeg if Forney would use him as a starter. He made 19 starts, pitched 112 ⅓ innings and started reclaiming his velocity. He also met Melissa Elgert, now his wife, then a novice when it came to the economics of playing independent baseball.
“She thought I was making money, since I was a ballplayer,’’ Kintzler said. “I let her believe that for a while, even though I was clearing about 200 bucks a week.’’
Kintzler spent the winter of 2008-09 in Winnipeg with Melissa. Winter on the Canadian prairie was a shock for a born-and-raised Las Vegan.
“Unbelievable,’’ he said. “I worked for the front office on a commission, trying to sell season tickets. I also gave pitching lessons — in a tunnel at the stadium.
“We hooked up a space heater. The kids would go over, loosen up in front of the space heater, and then they would throw. They did great, considering how cold it was in there.’’
Kintzler asked to be traded to the St. Paul Saints, now in the American Association. “My shoulder was healthy and I felt there was a better chance to get signed out of St. Paul,’’ he said. “My goal when I got there in 2009 was actually to be a starting pitcher in the league’s All-Star Game.’’
He was that. And Tim Collinsworth, a scout for the Brewers, watched the game and called Milwaukee to say, “I got a pitcher here who can go right to Class AA.’’
The Brewers signed Kintzler on July 24, 2009, and sent him to Class AA Huntsville. He earned a minor league contract for 2010.
Kintzler and Melissa had moved to Las Vegas. At a family gathering, his stepfather, Mark Jacobs, said to Kintzler: “When are you going to stop playing games and go get a real job?’’
Kintzler was 25 and said: “Not yet. I’m chasing my dream.’’
He went back to the bullpen in 2010 and had a combined 1.47 ERA at Huntsville and Class AAA Nashville. He was called up to the Brewers in September.
Obstacles remained. A stress fracture was found in his right elbow in 2011. He was designated for assignment by the Brewers in 2012. He went unclaimed and returned to the Brewers’ minor leagues.
Finally came the breakthrough: 135 appearances for the Brewers in 2013 and 2014, although many of those came with pain in his left knee.
It turned out to be a torn tendon and required surgery. He pitched in only seven games for the Brewers in 2015. He was a free agent last winter and signed with the Twins, on the recommendation of special scout Wayne Krivsky.
Kintzler, 31, was sent to Class AAA Rochester at the end of spring training. He was recalled by the Twins on May 7, and had his first big-league save a month later.
“Did you keep the ball?’’ he was asked.
Kintzler was sitting in the Twins dugout before Wednesday’s game. “I’m keeping the ball for all the saves … four so far,’’ he said. “Hopefully, there will be more.’’
Those baseballs can be kept as keepsakes for 8-month-old son, Knox, to show dreams are worth holding on to.