MLB Insider: New season, new team for the venerable Punto

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 13, 2014 - 8:04 AM

Oakland infielder Nick Punto is on his fourth team since leaving the Twins after the 2010 season. At 36, he’s still a valuable contributor off the bench.

Photo: Jeff Chiu • Associated Press,

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He’s won a world championship, changed teams in the biggest trade in baseball history, and yucked it up with Danny DeVito. And now in the 11th year of an unlikely major league career, Nick Punto feels like he’s back where he started.

“This team reminds me of my early days in Minnesota,” Punto said last week from the visiting clubhouse at Target Field, where he was putting on his new Oakland A’s uniform. “There are a lot of young guys who played together in the minor leagues, then got up here together and were really good. When I got here in ’04, [the Twins] were like that — Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, [Doug] Mientkiewicz, Corey Koskie, all had been together awhile.”

Then they added Punto, a sure-handed infielder who slowly, quietly developed into a clubhouse leader, just as he anticipates becoming in Oakland. Now 36, he’s the ultimate utility player and a baseball oracle, willing to dispense wisdom to any who ask. “He’s a winner. He knows how to win,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s a great fielder, he can handle the bat, and he’s a leader, a guy who’s been there before. ... He’s seen it all.”

Punto earned a World Series ring with the Cardinals in 2011, was included by Boston in the trade that sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to Los Angeles, and was surprised when Danny DeVito, wearing a Punto jersey, interrupted a postgame interview after he homered last summer, a story that went viral.

“It’s crazy how fast the years have gone. It feels like I was playing here just yesterday,” Punto said. “I tell guys, you’ve got to remember to enjoy it all, because it goes fast.”

Gardenhire cited Punto as an example of the clubhouse leader he was looking for when the Twins added Jason Bartlett to the roster last month, and Punto said he’s willing to fill that role with his new team, though “it has to come natural.” He’s new to the A’s, having signed a $3 million contract with an option for 2015, so “I’m not coming in here throwing my weight around. You’ve got to get to know them first.”

But he’s a storehouse of experience, he realizes, “and I enjoy sharing those things. [A’s third baseman] Josh Donaldson might want to talk hitting, talk tendencies of pitchers. I learned how to watch those things, and it’s being able and willing to do whatever I can to help.”

Former Twins in the majors

Grant Balfour, TB

Joe Beimel, Sea

Craig Breslow, Bos

Drew Butera, LAD

Jesse Crain, Hou*

Michael Cuddyer, Col

R.A. Dickey, Tor

Ryan Doumit, Atl

Matt Garza, Mil

Carlos Gomez, Mil

J.J. Hardy, Balt

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