Jim Souhan: Twins' Valencia is fine and dandy

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 26, 2011 - 8:42 AM

The Kangaroo Court nicked the swaggering rookie last year, but make no mistake ... the kid's all right.

FORT MYERS, FLA. — If the Twins were house paint, they'd be beige.

If they were a food, they'd be wild rice soup.

Last year, Danny Valencia strutted into the Twins' understated clubhouse and stood out like a disco ball in a DMV.

"What's the opposite of a chameleon?'' outfielder Michael Cuddyer said. "Whatever the opposite is, that's what Danny was. So if the background was green, he'd be blue.''

Valencia's personality cost him plenty of green last year. Cuddyer and the other veterans fined him constantly for violations of unwritten Twins rules.

In baseball, this justice system is called the Kangaroo Court. You do not have the right to legal representation. You do not get one phone call.

Valencia, who made himself the Twins' third baseman of the present and future last summer, not only had to pay fines, he had to carry the box in which the fine money was kept.

"He got fined for everything,'' Cuddyer said. "From wearing sunglasses at midnight during an interview -- inside! -- to leaving the Kangaroo Court box pretty much everywhere we went. We'd go on the road, and he'd forget it. There were numerous other things along the way.''

Valencia played at the University of Miami. He still wears a T-shirt that brags, "The U Invented Swagger.''

Did he deserve his reputation as a cocky guy? "Oh, yes,'' Cuddyer said.

Last year a funny thing happened while Valencia was trying to put the "fun'' in the Twins' fundamentals and his teammates were trying to deflate his ego from the size of a blimp to that of a balloon animal: He proved true the Dizzy Dean theorem that "It ain't braggin' if you can do it.''

Called up on June 3 as part of the Twins' annual midseason infield restructuring, Valencia hit .311 with a .351 on-base percentage and a .448 slugging percentage, and acquitted himself well in the field. He finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting despite spending the first two months of the season in the minors.

His ability to fill and field a position of need during a pennant race helped the Twins offset the loss of Justin Morneau and became one key to their latest division title.

This spring, Valencia seems less flashy and particularly driven. A mutual friend introduced him to Alex Rodriguez, and he spent the winter working out with Rodriguez in Miami.

"It was great,'' Valencia said. "I was really blown away by the way he works. He works hard. He's one of the best players who ever played the game, and his work ethic is unbelievable.

"Seeing a guy who's an established All-Star at the position I play, to see what he does to prepare to play at the top level, that was great for me.''

Not many Twins make a habit out of working out with Yankees. Valencia often found himself takings swings alongside Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, and sometimes with former Yankee Melky Cabrera.

"If you get to know Alex, he's a really cool guy,'' Valencia said. "A great guy. He's funny. The past few years he's gone through some tough stuff, but he's handled it well. He's really a good role model.''

A Twin with A-Rod as a role model? A Twin driven to gather as many Twitter followers as possible?

Some players shun fame; some crave it.

"I want to be famous for the right reasons,'' Valencia said. "I would like to be famous for my performance on the field and for doing good work in the community.

"Do I want to be famous for doing the wrong things? Obviously not. I think when you're great at your job you're going to get notoriety whether you want it or not.

"Hopefully, I'll handle it the right way.''

If he doesn't, he'll pay. Cuddyer and the Kangaroo Court will see to that.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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