FORT MYERS, Fla. — Since his retirement in 2000, Rick Aguilera has made it a point to stop by Twins camp every spring, just to say hello on his way to play golf somewhere.
This time, he’s staying.
Aguilera’s first day as a spring training instructor went well Thursday, he said, though he admits he’s still figuring out what his duties are. Manager Paul Molitor has an idea: Share your secrets.
“He’s got the résumé to back up knowledge that he might be able to extend to people. He’s had experience as a starter and as a closer,” Molitor said. “Some of the guys who have been working with [bullpen coach] Eddie [Guardado] on a split-finger pitch maybe can get a different voice from a righthanded guy instead of a lefthanded guy.”
Sounds good to “Aggie.”
“I’ll do whatever they ask me to do,” he said. “Talk to pitchers, help them with a split-finger, maybe share some words of wisdom about preparation and your mental approach as a reliever. I’m excited to help.”
Players get to meet, greet Sir Elton John
Elton John is a pop superstar with dozens of hits, an Academy Award winner, and a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, a knighthood conferred by Queen Elizabeth II.
But a baseball fan? Trevor Plouffe wasn’t buying it.
“People were saying, ‘He’s a big baseball fan.’ I was like, ‘C’mon. He’s from England,’ ” said a skeptical Plouffe. But he found out differently Wednesday night.
Plouffe, Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier and Phil Hughes, along with their wives (or in Hughes’ case, his fiancée) and Mauer’s parents and in-laws, were treated to a 15-minute meeting with Sir Elton in his dressing room before his concert at nearby Germain Arena, which they watched from the front row.
“Sure enough, he’s lived in the south for 20 years. He watched the Braves. That’s how he learned about baseball,” Plouffe said. He even has a favorite player: Mark Lemke, the infielder on the 1991 Braves who lost to the Twins in the World Series. “He was really insightful about sports in general.”
The meeting was arranged by D.C. Parmet, John’s tour accountant and a serious Twins fan. Parmet once lived in St. Paul, and now has the team’s logo tattooed on his stomach. “Elton said he can tell how [the Twins] are doing based on DC’s attitude,” Plouffe said.
And he was a great host, the players agreed. “A really nice guy who just wanted to hang out and talk,” Brian Dozier said of the conversation about baseball, family and music.
John, who turns 69 in two weeks, also talked about his two young sons, 5-year-old Zachary and 3-year-old Elijah. “He’s very proud of them,” said Mauer, who met John once before, with Justin Morneau, at another south Florida concert about eight years ago. “He was showing us pictures of them.”
After the private meeting, John put on what all four players describe as a fantastic, two-hours-plus show. “He was incredible,” Plouffe said. “He’s 68 years old and he has more energy than I’ve seen from anyone in a long time.”
He even dedicated one of his numerous hits — “Your Song” — to the Twins during the show.
“Best concert I’ve ever seen,” Dozier said.
Miguel Sano was scratched as the right fielder Thursday, and switched to designated hitter, but don’t worry — it’s only for one day. Sano has been doing so many throwing drills lately, Molitor said, he wanted to give his arm a day off. He’ll be back in right on Friday.
The Miami Marlins trek across the state to Hammond Stadium on Friday, where they will face Kyle Gibson, who didn’t allow a run in his Grapefruit League two-inning debut.