FORT MYERS, FLA. — Nine years after his contentious departure from the Twins, Eddie Guardado has returned to the team as a spring training instructor, giving pep talks and throwing batting practice.
"Of course," he said with a laugh, "my last five years in the big leagues, I was pretty much throwing batting practice."
Guardado, 41, became an All-Star with the Twins but fits the profile of a coach, in that he made the most of modest talent. In his prime, he survived with a fastball and slider that measured at average or below, but he knew where, when and how to throw them. More important, he threw them over the plate, even when that meant risking loud noise and statistical ruination.
"We are so happy to have him here," Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "He can teach the mental side of the game as someone who got the most out of what he had. He was such a tough competitor."
Guardado sees the same tenaciousness in his 6-year-old daughter. Ava Guardado has autism. Eddie Guardado is throwing everything he has at the disease.
He recently held a fundraiser in California's Orange County -- a bowling tournament that drew hundreds of people and raised $130,000. Torii Hunter, Michael Young, LaTroy Hawkins, Adrian Beltre and Vernon Wells were among the current and former big-leaguers who showed up to help the Eddie Guardado Foundation.
"We directly give the money to families who need help because they have a child with autism," Guardado said. "It puts a smile on people's faces. It's time for us to give back.
"I get teary-eyed thinking about it. It's the best feeling. You go into somebody's home and say, 'Here, we're here to help you.' You give hope to people. I tried to give that thought to people at the bowling alley. When you wake up in the morning, you have changed people's lives."
Eddie might have been one of the great overachievers in Twins history. He went from failed starter to lefthanded specialist to All-Star closer for a contender. He says the real fighter in the family is Ava.
"She's the hardest-working 6-year-old I know," he said. "She works at it 40 hours a week. I've got four therapists coming in every day, and she goes to school every day with a shadow. She's a busy girl. She's made some big strides."
He's still Everyday Eddie, but for different reasons. "Now, every day, I'm a taxi driver," he said. "I've got three kids. That's what I do -- drive them around."
Road noise does not replace baseball's rattle and hum. "Baseball's in your blood, bro," Guardado said. "I played a long time. I was fortunate. I was able to do a lot in the game. Hopefully, maybe someday I'll come out here and spend the whole spring and do something with this organization.
"I always say they gave me the opportunity and I owe them. They opened the doors, and I just closed 'em."
Guardado's ascension to closer was emblematic of the rise of the Twins in the early 2000s. Ron Gardenhire named Guardado his closer the day Gardenhire was hired as manager in 2002, and in their first year in their new roles they helped the Twins return to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.
During the 2003 season, with Guardado approaching free agency, Guardado and General Manager Terry Ryan held contentious talks that became public. That winter, Guardado signed with Seattle.
"At the time, there was anger on both sides," Guardado said. "That gets you nowhere. Days go by, and you learn. I always tell the guys now, 'Don't take it personal.'
"The day Terry retired, I gave him a call and left a message and said, 'I know we had our differences, but I think you did a hell of a job and I hope you enjoy the next chapter in your life.' He called me back and said, 'Eddie, that was the best damned phone call I've ever gotten.'
"Now here I am, and here he is."
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • email@example.com