FORT MYERS, FLA. -- Tom Kelly walked onto Field 5 and spotted Glen Perkins surrounded by a group of reporters.
"What," the former Twins manager said, "did Perkins make the All-Star team?"
Ron Gardenhire couldn't resist a friendly jab either. He bellowed to a long line of fans that Perkins had time to sign autographs for everyone to celebrate his signing a three-year contract extension worth $10.3 million Thursday.
Perkins' payday provided another reminder of just how quickly things can change in professional sports.
Two years ago, Perkins' status within the organization appeared tenuous at best. He had filed a grievance against the organization over lost service time and was viewed as a brash, headstrong young player.
Today, he's considered a respected clubhouse leader, trusted setup man and quite possibly the team's future closer.
"I'm glad with all the stuff we've been through, the ups and downs, to keep those relationships intact and strong enough that they wanted to do something like this," Perkins said. "It's exciting for me that we were able to overcome some things and stay here because I'm a Minnesota guy."
Perkins' issues with the team are well-documented and old news now. Luckily for both sides, any tension or disagreements never became so serious that it reached a point of no return. The relationship didn't have to end in divorce. Instead, they worked it out, Perkins matured and learned about the business side of baseball and now he's living proof that business is good.
"Everyone rolled their eyes when we went through everything a few years ago, thinking this guy was buried, he was in the doghouse, this guy's gone," said assistant general manager Rob Antony. "We kept saying, you know what, this guy's a member of our organization. We want him to become what we thought he could become."
Perkins has found that place. His emergence last season served as a turning point in his career and was one of the few bright spots in a 99-loss campaign. He became the Twins' most reliable reliever in posting a 2.48 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 612/3 innings.
The Twins opted to re-sign Matt Capps as their closer and leave Perkins in the top setup role. Perkins maintains that he's happy with his role and focused on nothing more than doing his job effectively. But he provides the Twins insurance -- thanks largely to a mid-90s fastball and bulldog mentality -- in case Capps falters again or gets injured.
Perkins' new contract, which starts in 2013, includes an incentive clause for games finished, meaning his salary would increase if he slides into the closer's role at some point. Perkins downplayed that provision, but he'd at least be rewarded in the event of a promotion.
"You want to be able to protect yourself a little bit, [but] that wasn't the focus," he said.
Perkins would have been eligible for free agency after the 2013 season, and a repeat of last season certainly would have increased his value. He preferred the security of getting a deal done now, even if it potentially costs him some money if his career arc continues on this trajectory. Not that $10 million is chump change.
"That's enough for me to be able to just go play baseball," he said.
That's what he can do now. He doesn't have to worry about contracts or service time or what the team thinks of him. Just pitch and concentrate on getting hitters out late in games. Gardenhire saw that approach from Perkins last season.
"He quit worrying about all these different things you can't control," he said. "You get the ball and you do the best you can and walk off the mound, win, lose or draw. He's very competitive, and he just started letting it fly."
Perkins, who turned 29 last week, carries himself differently in the clubhouse, too. He's one of the veterans and the team's player representative. Younger players come to him for advice now.
"I think it's something that I really worked on," he said. "I worked hard on being respectful and things like that in the clubhouse to teammates. I know what that's like to be a young guy and to have to learn your way."
He learned the hard way in some instances but believes he's a better person because of it. Once at odds with the club, he told management during contract negotiations that he wants to contribute to the Twins Community Fund. He already has donated money to the Gophers new baseball stadium and has plans to endow a scholarship at his alma mater.
"I want to be able to help out in multiple ways," he said.
His teammates shouldn't expect him to pick up the tab at dinner any time soon, though.
"My salary this year didn't change," he joked.
True, but his status has.
Chip Scoggins • email@example.com