LaTroy Hawkins was appointed as the Twins closer for the 2001 season. Todd Jones was acquired from Detroit on July 28 as an option for that role. It was Sept. 8 when manager Tom Kelly went to Eddie Guardado for the final four outs in a 6-4 victory over the Angels.
“TK never said anything about it; he just kept using me in save situations for that last month,” Guardado said. “Then, TK quit and Gardy [Ron Gardenhire] got the job, and one of the first things he said was that I would be a closer.
“I don’t think I’d be here if that hadn’t happened.”
On Wednesday morning, “here’’ was the shore of Lake Minnetonka, waiting to do some fishing with Rod McCormick, the Twins equipment manager, and known as “Hot Rod” to all players of Guardado’s generation.
Guardado will be the 18th player inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame on Friday night. He arrived early from his home in California’s Orange County, to get in some Minnesota fishing.
“My first fishing partner here was Puck [Kirby Puckett],” Guardado said. “First time we went, he said, ‘Meet me at 5 a.m. at Perkins.’ I figured, ‘There’s no way Puck is going to be there at 5 o’clock,’ but he was waiting for me, eating a cheeseburger.”
Guardado is the Twins’ career leader in appearances with 648. That’s 158 more games than Rick Aguilera, second on the list. He earned the nickname “Everyday Eddie” when leading the major leagues with 83 appearances in 1996.
Even with that, it wasn’t until April 12, 2002, that Guardado gained folk-hero status in the Metrodome. The Twins were 5-5 on an opening road trip in 2002, with Guardado getting four saves.
There was a cheer from the Opening Night crowd of 48,000 when he started warming up to protect a 4-2 lead over Detroit. There was an “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie” chant when he raced to the mound for the top of the ninth. And then the lefthander struck out the side, and the Dome rocked with the “Eddie” chant each time, and for the remainder of that season.
In October, with the Twins in the playoffs, Guardado relayed this tale: “I was renting movies at Blockbuster, gave the kid behind the counter my card, and he gave me this look and said, ‘Hey, you’re that Everyday guy.’ ”
His son Niko was 5 and his father’s constant companion as Eddie ran errands before heading to the ballpark. “Niko walks up to strangers and says, ‘Do you know my dad is Eddie Guardado?’ ” Guardado said in that 2002 interview. “... He’s proud of his dad. That’s good, huh?”
Years later, that Everyday guy is extra proud of Niko, now 16, and the rest of his family: wife Lisa, son Jakob (11) and daughter Ava (8), who has a severe form of autism.
“Niko and Jakob are amazing with her,” Guardado said. “They would do anything for Ava. She has made them better people.”
Guardado earned $29 million during his career — most of it on a free-agent contract signed with Seattle after the 2003 season.
“Yeah, we’re good,” Eddie said. “I never had an entourage. I never was throwing money around. I might like to get back in the game eventually, work with young players, but right now … it’s all about family.”
Lisa and the three kids were flying to town on Wednesday afternoon. There will be more family and friends. The invitees include Pat Doyle, Guardado’s coach at San Joaquin Delta, a junior college in his hometown of Stockton, Calif.
“He did a lot for me, to get a chance in the pros,” Guardado said.
Once he got the chance, Eddie did a lot without an enviable pitching assortment. A decade ago, he was talking about his 90-miles-per-hour fastball, little slider and his “splitty” (a split-fingered pitch picked up from Aguilera), and said: “I’ve watched Eric Gagne finish a few games for the Dodgers. Ninety-eight with the fastball, hammer curve, changeup. I shake my head and say, ‘Look at this cat.’ ”