Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Greg Maddux will be inducted in the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. Here's an interview I did with Twins closer Glen Perkins after he worked with Maddux at the WBC:
Fort Myers, Fla.
Glen Perkins had just arrived at the World Baseball Classic and was eating dinner in the hotel bar when Greg Maddux, the Team USA pitching coach, walked by.
“I told him, ‘I’ll be here a while,” Perkins said, and later that night, Perkins and his favorite pitcher spent 90 minutes talking Zen and beer, Confucius and situational pitching, forever altering the way the Twins closer views his craft.
“He will always have me thinking,” Perkins said. “That is a conversation I will not forget.”
Monday morning, as he prepared to pitch, Perkins spoke of Maddux the way a fledgling guitarist in the 1960s might recall a conversation with Jimi Hendrix.
“I kept thinking, ‘I’m sitting here talking pitching with Greg Maddux,” Perkins said. “That doesn’t seem like real life to me. Not only was he the best pitcher of probably all time, but he was a guy I grew up watching. People talk about Babe Ruth being great. Well, I never saw Babe Ruth. Greg Maddux won four Cy Youngs when I was at my peak of fandom.”
During their conversation, a spring training game played on the TV. Maddux glanced up, saw a groundball single and said, “That was a stupid pitch.”
“I didn’t even know he was watching, but he picked up on everything,” Perkins said. “A guy had swung late at an outside fastball. The pitcher came back with a breaking pitch, and the guy rolled a single through. Maddux was saying that if you throw a fastball and the batter is late, throw another fastball. That’s why he thought it was a stupid pitch.”
During another at-bat, a pitcher threw two fastballs out of the strike zone. Maddux told Perkins the next pitch should be a changeup. Conventional wisdom holds that when you’re behind 2-and-0, the next pitch should be a fastball for a strike, to avoid a walk.
Maddux turned conventional wisdom on its head.
“I said that everything I’d been taught was that you had to have the hitter swing at a harder pitch, then throw the changeup off of that,” Perkins said. “Maddux said that if the hitter was expecting a fastball, you threw a changeup because of the hitter’s expectations. I had never heard that before. It made so much sense.”
Maddux recommended that Perkins begin watching video of himself and opponents.
“He said he threw every pitch of his career with maximum conviction and concentration,” Perkins said. “I think that’s part of why I didn’t succeed as a starter, because I had a hard time concentrating that much. I think even as a reliever there are times I still throw a pitch just to throw a pitch, to get to the next pitch or the next hitter.
“He didn’t do that. And he didn’t do that for 18, 20 years. For 3,500 or 4,000 innings. So he faced 20,000 batters, threw about 60,000 pitches and never let up on a pitch. I think I probably throw about 500 pitches a year now.
“If I break it down like that, I should be able to do all right concentrating on every pitch.”
Perkins kept that in mind Monday, when he struck out the side in a minor league game at the Twins’ complex.
Maddux fared better than that against Perkins, in at least one at-bat. The two faced each other in 2008 in San Diego, when Perkins was still a Twins starter and Maddux was pitching in his final season. Maddux made solid contact once. Perkins admitted he might have let up on that pitch.
“He said, ‘Underestimating your opponent can lead to catastrophe,’ ” Perkins said. “Here’s Greg Maddux quoting Confucius. Later, I said, ‘Underestimating your opponent can lead to disaster,’ and he corrected me.”
Maddux never has worked as a full-time pitching coach. With Team USA, he wound up throwing in the outfield, sometimes licking his middle finger and making the ball swerve like a small bird.
“Maddux said he never did that in a game, but he could make the ball cut any way he wanted,” Perkins said. “I’ve been back from the WBC for two days, and there have already been times when I thought about things he said.
“So yesterday, when we were practicing fielding, I licked my middle finger, and threw a cutter to the catcher.’
I'll co-host Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon on 1500ESPN-AM from Mankato. I'm also on the station at about 12:15 on weekdays.
What a week. I thought Minneapolis and Target Field put on a great show all week, from the Futures Game through Glen Perkins getting the save last night.
All week, Perkins talked about pinching himself, that he wasn't sure this could be real - a local boy pitching at an All-Star game in his home ballpark.
Here's the link to the column I did this spring on the turning point in Perkins' career:
Or, if you prefer text, here's the text:
FORT MYERS, FLA. – Glen Perkins is an All-Star closer who has spent his entire life in Minnesota. He is the rare Twins player who lives in state year-round, has become a centerpiece of the Twins’ marketing campaign and has vowed to play for them as long as they will have him.
It’s easy to forget that three years ago the Twins considered trading him, and only Perkins’ intervention led to what he calls “a great life.”
Perkins butted heads with his coaches at the University of Minnesota, then quarreled with his Twins bosses. He was on his way to becoming another first-round bust when, late in the spring of 2011, he walked up to Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Anderson said. “He came to me right here and said, ‘Can I talk to you? I was born and raised in Minnesota, I’ve spent my entire life in Minnesota, I want to be a Twin. I want to be a better teammate, I want to be a better pitcher, don’t give up on me.’
“There was some talk of making a trade, then all of a sudden he saw the light.”
Perkins remembers traveling from Fort Myers to Clearwater, Fla., with the Twins and not pitching.
“That’s the first time that had ever happened to me,’’ he said. “I was angry.”
He walked into manager Ron Gardenhire’s office and asked why he hadn’t been informed he had made the team.
“I told Gardy, ‘I want to play here, if you’ll have me,” Perkins said.
Gardenhire said he would call Perkins later in the day. Perkins figured that was a brushoff. He picked up his father-in-law and headed to Sanibel to fish.
“The phone rang before we got to the causeway,” Perkins said. “Gardy said, ‘Pack your bags, you’re going north with us.’ ”
Perkins had a similar experience with the Gophers. The Stillwater High School product made lousy grades during his first semester in college. The Gophers redshirted him, and he spent his second semester “figuring out how to be a college student.” One day, Gophers pitching coach Todd Oakes called him about a rumor that Perkins wanted to transfer.
Perkins said that if he was going to leave, he already would be gone.
“I think that was the moment for Todd where he said, ‘OK, he’s committed, he just needs to figure out how to do it.’ I never had any more trouble.”
Why so much conflict? “I guess it’s a character flaw of mine,” Perkins said.
Now he’s Mr. Minnesota, or at least hangs out with someone vying for that title.
Perkins and Joe Mauer played for the USA in the World Baseball Classic and for the American League in the All-Star Game last year. They could play in the next All-Star Game, at Target Field.
With Mauer having twin daughters and wintering in Minnesota instead of Fort Myers, the two were able to enjoy the Polar Vortex together. “We played hockey,” Perkins said. “Well, it was more like ice dancing. No sequins, though.”
They talked about their kids. They talked about their futures, with Perkins signed through 2016 and Mauer through 2018. They talked about how losing feels, and what winning at home would mean.
“We agreed that if we had crappy season after crappy season it would be worth it if just once we could win it all here,” Perkins said. “That’s the carrot dangling in front of us. The experience of winning a World Series in your hometown — what Kent Hrbek did — makes it all worth it.
“I want to be the closer of this team when we get to the playoffs. I got to see Joe Nathan do that a whole bunch.”
In the last few days, Perkins became the centerpiece for Twins television and radio commercials, and has dined with the Gophers baseball staff, with the team playing in Florida. One conversation changed him from an anti-authoritarian trade chip into a representative of all that is right in Minnesota sports.
“Either I hinted to them that I didn’t want to be here, or they got that impression,” Perkins said. “I think they appreciated what I had to say. For a guy to say, ‘This is where I still want to be,’ no matter how rough the going was, I think they respected that.”
The Twins reached the All-Star break at 44-50 after beating Colorado on Sunday.
Here's how that compares to their record at the three previous All-Star breaks:
Slightly better starting pitching, due mostly to Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson, has made the Twins a little better this season despite vital injuries to key hitters, like Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham, and the failure of Aaron Hicks to become a useful big-league hitter.
But the Twins' chances to finish strong could be handicapped by the innings limit on AAA pitcher Alex Meyer, and the expectation that the Twins will trade away a few valuable players as the trade deadline approaches.
Spent a few days in Fort Myers with the Class A Miracle last week. The Miracle is the Twins' high-Class A affiliate.
Wrote about ace Jose Berrios, one of the most promising players in the farm system.
The position players who jumped out at me were shortstop Jorge Polanco, and infielder/outfielder Eddie Rosario.
Polanco played mostly second base last year at low-A Cedar Rapids, but with Brian Dozier looking like a long-term keeper in the majors at second, the Twins are trying out players at other positions. Polanco has made too many errors at short, but when I was in town he made spectacular plays, displaying great range and plenty of arm. He can hit, too.
But the best player on the field was Rosario, recently reinstated after a 50-game drug violation.
Rosario looks smooth at second, and the Miracle also played him in left and center. Again, this is due to Dozier's presence.
Rosario might be a wonderful big-league second baseman. He also looks comfortable in the outfield, and can throw well enough to play out there.
But what really jumps out at you is his bat. He has an unconventional swing. He looks like he's throwing the bat-head at the ball. He has an uncanny knack for hitting the ball hard to all fields, and for serving tough pitches on a line to centerfield.
Rosario could be the Twins' future leftfielder. He's insurance in case Dozier doesn't hold up. But with his talent and the trouble he's caused, he also might be a prime candidate to be traded if the Twins can drum up a market.
Personally, I'd keep him.
Again, here's my future Twins dream lineup: Buxton CF, Mauer 1b (if he regains his form and usual on-base percentage), Sano 3b, Arcia RF, Pinto C, Vargys DH, Rosario LF, Dozier 2b, Santana SS.
That's 7 guys who could hit 20 homers, three or four guys who could steal 30 bases, and three or four guys who could win Gold Gloves.
Earlier thsi spring, I wrote about Glen Perkins' transformation from problematic probable first-round bust to Everybody's Favorite Twin. Then, yesterday, he signed a contract extension for far less than his market value to remain with the Twins through 2017 or 2018.
What I love most about the story is that Perkins approached the Twins with the bargain. So many athletes are insulted if they aren't paid what their comparable peers are paid. Perkins begged to be underpaid.
I've been around him since the start of his career and these two things are true:
-I've never seen a local athlete so completely transform his personality and career path.
-Perkins is genuine. He lives in Lakeville year round. He wants to play for the Twins his entire career. He recognizes that he's lucky to be playing a game making tens of millions of dollars. He recognizes that if he isn't stupid with the money he and his family will always have more than they need.
Perkins is good with his teammates. He's good with Twins employees. He's good with writers. He kills time in the offseason hanging out with his old coaches at the University of Minnesota, and by dropping by Target Field to hang out with the media relations department.
He's also the latest prominent Twin to defy the beach-body ethic of modern sports. Perkins has a gut. So did Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek. Perkins is in pretty good company in all kinds of ways.
I'll be doing Sunday Sports Talk on 1500ESPN from 10-noon from Fort Myers while Scott Korzenowski hosts from the Twin Cities.
I'm also on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 every weekday morning, and on 1500ESPN (1500 AM) in the Twin Cities at about 12:15 every weekday. You can follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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