Fort Myers, Fla. – Hitting is about timing. For Nelson Cruz, being a 38-year-old hitter is about time, and not just its passage.
Cruz isn’t just organized. He’s organized about the way in which he is organized. Cruz makes appointments to make appointments.
The Twins’ new slugger is known for keeping a meticulous daily schedule in his head. When a Twins official asked him to do a television interview in the upcoming week, he quickly said, “9:20.” He spends most of his waking hours preparing for the microsecond it takes to hit a big-league fastball.
“I like,” he said, “to know my schedule.”
The Twins have shied away from spending on older players. They made Cruz an exception because they could get him on a short-term deal, and he’s a designated hitter valued for his leadership qualities and a work ethic that has enabled him to hit 37 or more home runs each of the past five seasons.
Twins General Manager Thad Levine knew Cruz when they were both with the Texas Rangers.
“We still tried to do as much homework as possible on him,” Levine said. “Talking to people who knew him in Seattle, there were a lot of references to him working out, hitting, watching video, sleeping, watching more video, working out, watching video and then playing a game. There wasn’t a whole lot of variety or distractions.”
The Twins signed Jonathan Schoop to play second base in early December. He immediately began lobbying the team to sign Cruz, and Cruz to take a reasonable deal to join the Twins. The two hail from the Dominican Republic and played together in Baltimore when Schoop was breaking into the majors.
“He bought me two suits,” Schoop said. “I don’t even know why. He just likes to take care of young players. So one day in the clubhouse, he bought me two suits. He knows how to be a leader.
“He’s a great teammate. He’s a good player, too. But the suits are a little tight now.”
So imagine the parties that ensued once Cruz and Schoop hit spring training. Cruz regularly invites Schoop to his house where they … eat healthy food and watch baseball.
Cruz has a personal chef — “Well, my cousin,” he said with a smile. He also watches more video than the staff of Rotten Tomatoes, and there are rumors of a firm bedtime (believed to be 10 p.m.)
“I try to use my time effectively,” Cruz said. “I don’t want time to slip away. I schedule my treatments, my workouts, my meals. I want to stay on my program.”
The Twins hope Cruz will teach Miguel Sano, another powerfully-built slugger from the Dominican Republic, how to be a professional, but you don’t pay a player $14 million to babysit.
“The thing that attracted us the most was his ability to anchor the middle of the lineup,” Levine said. “We feel like we have a bunch of dynamic offensive players, but we didn’t have clear-cut No. 3- and 4-hole hitters. We think he can alleviate pressure on our younger players by handling that role. He’s also the rare breed of player today who hits with prodigious power but doesn’t strike out at an alarming rate. We think that could be a nice example for our younger players.”
Cruz has made six All-Star teams, won an ALCS MVP Award, won gold in the World Baseball Classic and hit 360 career home runs. His favorite achievement?
“Winning,” he said. “The personal accomplishments come and go. When you can collect something positive and big, together, that means the most.”
Spring training predictions are almost as meaningless as spring training statistics, but Cruz has a résumé that makes his sound meaningful:
“We have the tools it takes to go to the playoffs,” Cruz said. “We all have to believe in that as a team. We have to stay healthy, but if we do, we have a chance to go.”
With his ability to organize and defy time, Cruz should help.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org