Tom Pressly wasn’t sure what he would do if and when his son, Ryan, took the mound for the Twins this weekend. At home just north of Dallas, watching on TV, he could comfortably enjoy the early innings, then jump out of his chair when his son was called out of the bullpen.
“I can’t watch sometimes,” the 60-year-old Pressly said. “I watch the game, then go in the other room. But I’m getting better about it.”
Just in time, too. Pressly and his wife Jan are at Target Field this weekend, just as they traveled to Lowell, Mass., Greenville, N.C., and Salem, Mass., when Ryan pitched there.
So what does it mean to see him in a major league stadium, pitching to major league hitters? Pressly welled up with emotion, his silence answer enough.
The couple’s son was equally proud. “They’ve seen me play T-ball, high school, and now all the way up to the majors,” said Ryan Pressly, whose selection by the Twins in the Rule 5 draft last December gave him this chance to keep a roster spot. “It’s great having them here.”
An only child, Pressly has always had the unconditional support of his family. His 93-year-old grandmother, who also watches every game, paid for his apartment at spring training last year, Pressly said.
But there’s a poignancy about it now. Tom Pressly was diagnosed with kidney cancer more than a year ago, and when Ryan heard the news, it triggered the worst season of his career. “I probably shouldn’t have told him during the season. He kind of blew up,” Tom Pressly said. “But he came out of it OK. I told him, ‘You’ve got to do your job. You’ve got to go on, no matter what.’ ”
He delivers similar advice every day via text message, at least once a day, so often that Ryan rolls his eyes at the question. “What were you thinking?” is a frequent one, Tom Pressly says with a laugh. “Or mostly, ‘Throw strikes!’ ”
Ryan does, and it has propelled him to the majors. “You always imagine [he can make it], but when it comes true, I don’t know if you believe it,” the father said. “This was always his dream.”
Josh Willingham hasn’t hit a home run in May, and his batting average has slowly slipped under .200. But his manager hasn’t lost any faith in the Alabama slugger; Ron Gardenhire had him in the cleanup spot Saturday, hoping for the eruption he is certain is coming any day.
“It’s just a matter of a couple of breaks going his way, a ball trickling down the line or something, and he’ll take off,” Gardenhire said of Willingham, who smashed 35 home runs last year. “He won’t miss those pitches for long. I’ve seen him do it.”
He’s been convinced a few times already that a turnaround was coming, because the 34-year-old outfielder hasn’t hit below .250 since 2004. “The balls that last year he was driving, he’s popping them straight up right now,” Gardenhire said. “You’ve been seeing the starry-eyed look up in the sky when he misses a ball. But it won’t take long when he gets it back.”
• Righthander Cole De Vries was activated from the disabled list on Saturday, and optioned to Class AAA Rochester, where he has been serving a rehab assignment for the past week. De Vries was going to make the Twins out of spring training, but a forearm strain, and several weeks of recovery, changed the team’s plans.
• An MRI found nothing but minor inflammation in reliever Tim Wood’s shoulder, so the righthander will remain in Minneapolis while the Twins are on the road next week, and will be re-examined once they return.