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'Miracle' Mike's tale

  • Article by: Joe Christensen
  • Star Tribune
  • March 17, 2007 - 7:02 PM

FORT MYERS, FLA. - Spring training is winding down, and all across baseball, dreams are dying again.

Somewhere, there's a young man who never wanted anything but to play big league baseball. He's been summoned to the manager's office. Soon, he'll be packing his bags.

At times like this, there are no easy words. But for those who know it, it's a good time for The Mike Redmond Story.

Yes, the Twins backup catcher has an inspirational tale, all his own. Back in 1998, then-Florida Marlins manager Jim Leyland called it The Miracle on 199th Street.

"I tell these guys that story all the time," said Rich Donnelly, a longtime coach under Leyland who now coaches third base for the Dodgers. "If you don't think you can make it, look at Mike Redmond. ... I mean, look at him now. He's a legend."

Redmond, 35, is entering his 10th major league season. Last year, the Twins gave him a two-year, $2 million contract extension -- with an option for 2009 -- recognizing his ability on and off the field.

"He has an impact on everybody," said Twins third baseman Nick Punto. "He doesn't have the most talent in the world, but there's nobody with more heart. ... It's hard to have a bad day when he's around."

By 1998, Redmond knew he was going to stick around baseball. The question was, in what role? Soon to be 27 years old, he had been in the minor leagues since 1993 and never had been called up.

The Marlins thought he was finished as a player, but they offered to keep him around as a minor league coach.

Redmond, who had signed as an undrafted free agent out of Gonzaga, spent 1997 at Class AA, limited by an injured shoulder, while Leyland led the Marlins to their first World Series title.

"If I'm meant to be a coach, I'm meant to be a coach," Redmond said. "I would have been perfectly happy with that. But I just wanted one more shot as a player."

Sure enough, Redmond returned to Class AA and a series of opportunities started unfolding.

First, the starting catcher at Class AAA got hurt, giving Redmond that long-awaited promotion.

Then the Marlins continued a fire sale that dismantled their World Series roster. In May 1998, they traded catcher Charles Johnson to the Dodgers in deal that brought Mike Piazza. A week later, they shipped Piazza to the Mets.

Suddenly, the Marlins needed a backup for catcher Gregg Zaun. In stepped Redmond.

He spent the first week on the bench. One night, Leyland told Redmond he'd be pinch hitting fourth in the ninth inning. But the Marlins went down 1-2-3, leaving Redmond in the on-deck circle.

"I just wanted one at-bat," Redmond said. "I'm dead serious. I just wanted to get in the books so I could tell everybody I played in the big leagues. So after the game, Leyland came over to me, and I was like, 'Oh Geez. Here we go. I'm going to get sent down.' And he goes, 'Red, you're playing tomorrow.' "

Donnelly was stunned. He remembers Leyland saying, "He's in the big leagues, isn't he?"

So on May 31, 1998, Redmond started at catcher against the Brewers.

First at-bat against Scott Karl? Single.

Second at-bat? Single.

Third at-bat? Home run.

Said Redmond: "I remember sitting in the tunnel at County Stadium, going, 'Did that just happen? Did I just go 3-for-3 in my major league debut?'"

He finished the year batting .331, and Leyland made the "Miracle on 199th Street" comment, referring to the address at the Marlins' home field, then named Pro Player Stadium.

Baseball insiders still refer to Redmond as a future manager. But after hitting .311 and .341 his first two seasons with the Twins, he continues to prove that his post-playing career can wait.

He won a World Series with the Marlins in 2003. He returned to the playoffs last year with the Twins. And his story continues to inspire players all across the sport.

"I've told many guys, this is why you don't give up this game until they pull the jersey off your back," he said. "Because you never know what can happen."

Joe Christensen • jchristensen@startribune.com

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