“Got hit in the shoulder earlier this year,’’ George Tsamis is saying. “Big bruise. So you want to stand … right … here. Don’t move.’’
Tsamis, manager of the St. Paul Saints, is about to pitch batting practice. He has positioned me behind the protective screen.
I met Tsamis when he pitched for the Twins in 1993, the year the Saints started playing at Midway Stadium. On this weeknight at CHS Field, we’re going to talk baseball as he throws baseballs.
“Only been hit that once,’’ he says. “There are times you hear the ball buzz right by your ear. It can scare you when it hits the screen. Kind of like Shark Week, when the great white surges out of the water.’’
Tsamis, 51, pitched in the Little League World Series, winning the U.S. championship game with a three-hitter before his team lost in the final to Taiwan in 1979. “Red Barber and Mel Allen announced those games,’’ Tsamis said. “Can you believe that?’’
After a sterling minor league career, Tsamis made it to the big leagues in 1993. He pitched in 41 games, earning one victory. By 1999, he was managing independent league teams.
In St. Paul, he’s won one championship, surpassed 1,000 career victories (all but 183 are with the Saints) and has his team in contention again.
“Winning is the point here; losing is devastating,’’ he said. “Tell you what I’d like to do — pitch batting practice for a big-league team in spring training. Dude, it’s not that hard to throw strikes. Kevin Millar told me when he played for us, ‘They’re always looking for lefthanded BP pitchers.’ AC/DC! My favorite!’’
Tsamis is a character who values character.
“I thank Tom Kelly, dude,’’ Tsamis said of the former Twins manager. “When I played for him, I didn’t understand why he was tough. Now I do. That’s why he was so successful.’’
Ron Gardenhire was the third-base coach for the Twins in 1993. “I got one win — crazy game in Oakland,’’ Tsamis said. “Gardy made sure he got the lineup card for me.
“I was lucky enough to get to play with Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield, Kent Hrbek. Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani, Scott Erickson. They were all such great guys, and Hrbek is one of the funniest guys you’ll ever meet.’’
Journey now plays, and Tsamis teases another hitter. Like Kelly, he enlivens routines with what a certain generation calls “the needle.’’
“I like to trash-talk them,’’ he said. “Keep them competing.
“Best memory as a Twin? There weren’t many good ones, but the win — yeah, just one — was definitely one. Puck got a huge hit off Dennis Eckersley, who was automatic, and I got out of a jam in the bottom of the ninth.
“Best memory with the Saints? Winning the championship on a walkoff grand slam. One of the greatest things you’ll see next to Joe Carter.’’
A Dylan song starts and Tsamis begins to lather. “Mike Trombley and I, we’d take off during lunch during spring training in Fort Myers and go feed the PBJ sandwiches they gave us to alligators, then get our own food.
“I made $1,700 a month in Triple-A ball. Got a $4,000 signing bonus. Took it. Wanted to play. Got called up to the bigs and the minimum salary was $109,000. I thought I was in heaven.’’
Tsamis insists on classic rock playing during batting practice. He receives another dose of AC/DC.
People like Tsamis are why I love baseball, more than even the game itself. Baseball lifers appreciate their lives, and gather stories like reality-TV hoarders.
We’re safe behind the screen as line drives whiz by, and Tsamis is remembering the good times, all of them.
“It’s great to talk baseball with Bill Murray. What a funny guy. He loves baseball so much. He talks about being in Yankee Stadium when Reggie Jackson hit three home runs to win the World Series. To me, the greatest stadium of all was old Yankee Stadium. I pitched in that stadium — gave up three home runs in six innings.
“I was lucky enough to play in those historic stadiums, you know? I’ve gotten to meet Bill Murray. I got to play in the Little League World Series. I’ve gotten to manage the Saints for 16 seasons. I’ve had some luck, you know?’’