Jason Bartlett was asked if spring training has a different feel for him now that he's certain he will be the Twins' Opening Day shortstop.
Bartlett offered the slight smile that you see from him frequently and said: "Not really, because I thought I was in the driver's chair last spring. It was a surprise to be sent back."
The Twins getting ready to head to Toronto to open the season and the fans back in Minnesota shared this surprise. Bartlett had batted .362 in 14 exhibition games compared to .176 in six games for Juan Castro, the veteran who was given the job by manager Ron Gardenhire.
Without this decision, it's unlikely the Twins would have started last season 25-33. And it's also unlikely they would have finished 71-33, since Bartlett was a better shortstop when he arrived in Minnesota in mid-June than he had been when the Twins left him behind in early April.
"It was a blessing in disguise to go back to [Class AAA] Rochester," Bartlett said. "I went down there, played aggressive baseball and brought that approach with me to Minnesota."
The attitude that changed the most on Bartlett was Gardenhire's. The manager wouldn't trust him to be his shortstop at season's start. He wouldn't trust anyone else to be his shortstop after Bartlett joined the Twins on June 14.
He started the season's final 99 games and then the three against Oakland in the playoffs. If Gardenhire wants an ironman shortstop again in 2007, Bartlett should be ready.
"I bought a condo down here," Bartlett said. "I've been working out at the facility since November. Most mornings, I rode my bike over. Perry [Castellano] kept saying, 'Get a helmet. You have to wear a helmet.' Never did get one."
The Lee County Sports Complex basically has become the focal point of the Twins' baseball operation. The minor league buildings now include a first-class workout and rehabilitation facility that's open year-round to the organization's players.
Castellano had been the strength and conditioning coach at the facility. This season, he will be traveling with the Twins.
"Perry has a yoga program that's unbelievable," Bartlett said. "The full workout is 90 minutes in a 105-degree room. I only stayed in there for 30 minutes. That was enough. Put that with the daily running and regular lifting, and this is the best I've ever felt going into a season."
Bartlett's main workout partner was Colby Miller, a minor league pitcher who needs a strong spring to stay in the organization.
Back in 2000, Bartlett was playing for Oklahoma. The Sooners were trying to recruit Miller, who was Oklahoma's High School Player of the Year.
Miller signed with the Twins that year as a third-round draft choice.
Bartlett ran into him again in the Twins' minor league camp in 2003.
"You could tell the Twins were high on Colby," he said. "It looked like he might get to the big leagues in a hurry. He ran into injuries.
"He wanted to work out in Fort Myers this winter but didn't have the money to get a place. I invited him to stay at the condo. Hopefully, he can get his career back on track. He's a good guy."
Bartlett was the minor leaguer -- not Miller -- in another offseason activity.
"Colby taught me how to fish," Bartlett said. "We even went to the Everglades one day to fish for snook. I had never fished, but I'm kind of into it now."
The resumption of baseball means Bartlett has a new compadre for much of his day: second baseman Luis Castillo.
Bartlett is the 27-year-old Californian who tells you how great he feels. Castillo is the 31-year-old Dominican who shuffles around as if every step might be his last. Together, they did some remarkable things around second during the stretch drive and gained a grand appreciation for one another.
"Bartlett is a very good player," Castillo said. "We will have a full season now, and it will be good."
Bartlett said: "He'll be limping around, then he makes a dive and comes up with an unbelievable play. The thing I love about Luis is how much he wants to win."
Ron Gardenhire is another guy who wants to win -- especially in the first two months of this new season. And this time, Jason Bartlett positively will be at shortstop to assist in the effort.