FORT MYERS, FLA.
Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson walked through the clubhouse on Friday morning and smiled when he found righthander Sidney Ponson's stall.
Ponson's stall at the Twins' spring training facility is located next to those of Carlos Silva and Johan Santana -- two hard-working pitchers who manage to have fun on the job.
It's exactly where Anderson wanted Ponson's locker situated. It's a little thing, but part of his plan to turn around the wayward pitcher, who has been arrested in separate incidents for drunk driving and shoving an Aruban official. Anderson, 50, is also eager to see righthander Ramon Ortiz, who is coming off a disappointing season.
Trying to reverse the fortunes of Ponson and Ortiz -- and piecing together a rotation behind Santana -- makes Anderson one of the most important figures in this year's spring camp. On paper, he might be facing his biggest challenge since becoming Twins pitching coach in 2002. He's being asked not only to fix what's wrong with Ortiz and Ponson but to speed up the development of several top prospects.
Anderson's track record offers reason for optimism. The Twins pitching staff has consistently been among the best in the American League since he arrived.
Ask Anderson the secret to his success, and he will point to lessons learned as a Mets prospect and a member of the organization's 1986 World Series-winning team.
"It's like when you are in school and there are some classes you can't wait to get to because the professor is fun and makes it interesting," Anderson said. "They are the ones who relate with you and talk to you on your level."
Anderson's major league pitching career was brief. He threw four pitches, including a nice slider. He appeared in 15 games for the 1986 Mets, going 2-1 with a 2.72 ERA.
"He could locate the ball with the best of them," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, Anderson's minor league roommate. "He threw 86 [miles per hour] to 90. He came up with the Mets at the wrong time. They had a bunch of power pitchers and he wasn't one of them, and that ended up knocking him back. He got stuck at Triple-A more than he should have."
Anderson appeared in only 13 games with Kansas City over the next two seasons. His career was over in 1988, and he turned to coaching.
Gardenhire saw the future as far back as 1984.
"I have an article from when I was in Triple-A and had just been sent back from the majors," Gardenhire said. "The reporter asked me, 'How long are you going to play? What are you going to do after baseball?'
"I said, 'Someday, I'm going to be managing in the major leagues and Rick Anderson is going to be my pitching coach.' "
The early years
Anderson started out as a pitching coach for the Twins' rookie league team in Sarasota, Fla., in 1989. The short season began with a six-man pitching staff (it increased as the season advanced), including eventual major leaguer Carlos Pulido.
"I guess it was a learning process for both of us," said Joel Lepel, the Twins minor league field coordinator who was a first-year manager then. "I'm not saying we had different ideas and opinions. We worked together.
"With Andy, his biggest attribute is that he knows how to get the most out of a pitcher. His personality brings it out. He knows when to pat them on the back and knows when to jump 'em."
Anderson was able to watch Mets pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre as he worked with New York pitchers. Anderson noticed they had similar personalities and took that approach through the Twins organization.