FORT MYERS, FLA. – Tony Oliva has gone from a father confessor to a grandfatherly presence with the Twins’ young players from the Caribbean. This is particularly true with position players, with whom Tony can talk both about life and his other favorite subject, hitting.
“What’s with Oswaldo Arcia?” Tony was asked early Wednesday morning, as the Twins’ greatest all-around hitter made his way through the home clubhouse at Hammond Stadium.
This search for insight was based on Arcia having been out of the Twins exhibition lineup since March 4, because of what the 22-year-old Venezuelan had self-diagnosed as complications from food poisoning.
“He’s feeling fine,” Oliva said. “He might be in the lineup today.”
Arcia happened to be walking in the same direction, and Tony asked him the lineup question in Spanish. Arcia shrugged, then both men stepped over to a board where the lineup is posted as soon as manager Ron Gardenhire has it finalized.
It wasn’t yet there. Oliva and Arcia talked more in Spanish — causing a sportswriter to again regret the long-ago decision to take German as a required foreign language over the mellifluous communication now heard throughout a baseball clubhouse.
On the plus side, if Max Kepler makes it big and he’s overheard saying, “Ein glas milch,” I’ll know he’s asking for a glass of milk.
Wednesday, the Oliva-Arcia conversation continued for a few minutes, and finished with an assuring nod from Grandpa Tony. Arcia walked away, his wide shoulders announcing, “This kid is strong.”
Oliva started praising Arcia for the work that he put in with a trainer over the offseason. “He lost a few pounds,” Tony said. “He’s in better shape. He’s more confident. There are not going to be as many wild swings. He’s going to be more calm as a hitter.”
Arcia arrived with the Twins as 21-year-old last April 15. He bounced from the Twins to Class AAA Rochester twice more after that, finishing with 97 games played in the major leagues and 38 for manager Gene Glynn in Rochester.
Glynn said Wednesday: “When he was with us in Rochester, I kept saying, ‘Oswaldo, you’re a good hitter who hits home runs. You’re not a home run hitter.’
“There’s a difference. All he has to do is to stay on the pitches. His bat speed and strength will take care of the home runs.
“You might not think this with the number of strikeouts, but Oswaldo’s pitch recognition is excellent for a young hitter. I’d say the strikeouts will go down considerably over the next couple of years.”
Those comments put Glynn on precisely the same wave length as Oliva.
“He had a few home runs  last year, and when he hit one, he would try to hit one farther the next at-bat,” Tony said. “I tell him, ‘420 feet is long enough. You don’t have to hit it 450. They count the same.’ ”
Arcia had 117 strikeouts in 351 at-bats … precisely one-third of his rookie ABs. He batted .251 and, with a modest 23 walks, his on-base percentage was .304.
“Last year, I had too much swinging at balls — pitches up, down, I would swing,” Arcia said. “I will not do that so much this season. I will not be as excited.”
The excitement remained when Arcia returned to the lineup Wednesday against Pittsburgh. Three at-bats, three strikeouts.
Gardenhire continued to put him in right field. Last year, Arcia started 54 games in left field and 21 in right for the Twins.
“I think right is better for me than left,” he said, then shrugged. “Either place, to [be able to] play every day.”
Arcia played mostly right field (when healthy) at Rochester. “His arm plays in right; Oswaldo can throw,” Glynn said. “He’s an athlete. He made some great catches for us. He’s going to turn into a good outfielder.”
Like he’s going to be a good hitter? “No, when I say, ‘Good hitter,’ I mean a really good hitter … a guy who is not only dangerous every time he comes to the plate but a tough out,” Glynn said.
Grandpa Tony put it this way: “Oswaldo has to be a good hitter for us. Look at our lineup. We need him.”
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays at AM-1500. email@example.com