Reusse blog: Hicks brings back visions of Rick Sofield
- Blog Post by: Patrick Reusse
- April 7, 2013 - 8:19 AM
Rick Sofield was the Twins' No. 1 draft choice and 13th overall selection in 1975. He was an outfielder and a left-handed hitter. He also had a big personality and good looks and had picked up the nickname "Hollywood,'' even though he was a native of Wyoming.
The Twins had lost outfielders Lyman Bostock and Larry Hisle to free agency after the 1977 season. They had traded Disco Dan Ford after the 1978 season. Replacements such as Willie Norwood and Hosken Powell had been found wanting.
Sofield had played 65 games in Class AA, batting .281, and 22 games in Class AAA, batting .164, in 1978. Yet, the shortage of outfielders gave him a chance to make the Twins in the spring of 1979. He did so and at age 22, he was in the Opening Day lineup in right field.
He lasted until May 14. He was batting .241 when sent back to Class AAA Toledo. He returned in September, then came to spring training in 1980 and played great. The Twins gave Sofield a fulll shot that season. He batted .247 with nine home runs and 49 RBI.
Early on, Sofield did some mashing against breaking pitches. What you noticed was that he was often late on the fastball. Scouting wasn't what it is today, but there were advance scouts, and the word got around -- throw Solfield a good big-league fastball and he was in trouble.
Sofield was overmatched in a brief stay with the Twins in 1981. He had some injuries to deal with and was out of the pro game after 1982.
He was a great kid and one of the funniest people on the planet. A couple of decades back, he was managing Class AAA Colorado Springs for the Rockies. I was in Tucson and the Rockies' minor leaguers had not yet reported. Sofield was in big-league camp, helping with the coaching staff.
My friend Tracy Ringolsby (then of the Rockey Mountain News) and I tracked down Sofield in the minor league clubhouse. He started telling stories of Gene Mauch, his first Twins' manager. I laughed as hard and as long as ever in my life.
The best involved the night that Mauch had decided to reset everything for the start of a series in Fenway Park -- to declare a fresh start to the season. The big move was to put Sofield in center field. Mauch gave him a large buildup as the player who was going to take charge and bring consistency to the Twins' outfield play.
"First ball hit to me, I lost it a little in the light and it went through me,'' Sofield said. "And when I got to the dugout, Gene was fuming.''
Sofield had a well-earned reputation as a ladies man. The manager was aware of this. And Mauch addressed the issue loudly to Sofield in that cramped Fenway Park dugout .... suggesting that if Sofield's head was split open with an axe, it would not be thoughts of baseball that were allowed to escape, but rather of young ladies.
"Hollywood'' has had a long post-playing career in baseball, as a minor league manager and a college coach, as an instructor, and now as the third base coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I've been reminded of Sofield while watching center fielder Aaron Hicks struggle in the earliest days of his big-league career. He was the 14th overall selection for the Twins in 2008. His minor league numbers during five seasons were good but not great -- peaking with the .286, 13 home runs and 61 RBI that he put up last season in Class AA New Britain.
The Twins traded both Denard Span and Ben Revere after last season, creating an outfield vacuum similar to what gave Sofield his first chance in 1979.
Hicks is a switch-hitter and clearly a more-talented player than Sofield. But what you worry about is the same thing that you worried about with Sofield: a left-handed swing that is a bit long and, so far, late against a good big-league fastball.
If Hicks and batting coach Tom Brunansky can't figure out how to get the trigger pulled faster in Aaron's left-handed swing, he might find himself back in the minors sooner than later, as was the case with "Hollywood'' as a rookie in 1979.
© 2014 Star Tribune