DENVER – In retrospect, the worst part of Eduardo Escobar's tenure with the Twins was when Kurt Suzuki and Brian Dozier tormented him by planting stuffed cats in his locker, revealing to the world his sheer terror of the household pets.
"Everyone knows now. So this year, Davey [Peralta] and Ildemaro [Vargas] brought a real cat in the clubhouse. A real one!" Escobar said, his eyes growing wide at the thought. "I was running. No, no, no."
Other than that, though, Escobar said he considers his six-year stay in Minnesota one of the primary reasons that he is representing the Diamondbacks at the All-Star Game in Coors Field this year. "They were the ones who started to play me every day. And that's the best thing, because I know I belong," said Escobar, who was dealt to Arizona at the trade deadline in 2018. "They push me by showing me my work pays off."
And now that his 20-homer season has earned him All-Star status, he has noticed something else. "There's a lot of those guys here," Escobar said. "I see a lot of Minnesota here." Yes, while Taylor Rogers and Nelson Cruz wore ersatz Twins All-Star uniforms in Tuesday's game, they were outnumbered by former Twins. Escobar and four of his former teammates were selected to the All-Star teams, making Denver an unlikely spot for a Target Field reunion.
Even more odd for a franchise so frequently looking for pitching: The other four ex-Twins are all pitchers. Kyle Gibson, who spent eight seasons with the Twins, represented the Rangers, while Lance Lynn, whose Minnesota tenure lasted four months in 2018, and Liam Hendriks, 2-13 with a 6.06 ERA in 30 games from 2011 to 2013, wore White Sox uniforms. Ryan Pressly, dealt to Houston after six Twins seasons on the same day that Escobar departed, was also chosen an All-Star, but his wife is due to deliver their first child any day, so he was excused.
"So many familiar faces. It's crazy," said Gibson, who pitched a scoreless third inning Tuesday night in relief of Lynn. "That was a great time of my life. I saw Esky this morning, and my gosh, I'm so happy for him."
In fact, all four ex-Twins at the game regard their time in Minnesota positively, even though none reached these heights while there. Lynn, for instance, suffered through the worst stretch of his career after signing as a free agent during spring training in 2018; his 5.10 ERA is, by an entire run, the worst of his career.
"That year wasn't much fun. I had a new team, a new way to do things, and hardly no spring training. I was behind from the start and couldn't catch up," said Lynn, traded to the Yankees that July. "But it made me reassert myself, and I did. It kind of pushed me to where I am now."
Hendriks was a starting pitcher, a failed one, in Minnesota, and bounced around five organizations before realizing he was better suited for the bullpen. Now he is one of the most dominant closers in the game, with 62 saves in the past three seasons.
Could it have happened in Minnesota?
"I don't know. It took a long time after I left the Twins to really figure it out what works for me, that I need to pitch angry, with an edge," the Australian righthander said before earning the save in Tuesday night's 5-2 American League victory. "It feels like all that was a necessary evil, I needed to go through all that to get it in my head that I needed to break out of the cookie-cutter mold."
Gibson, though, believes he could have been this pitcher, the one who owns a career-best 2.29 ERA — and it's 1.86 if you remove his disastrous five-runs-in-a-third-of-an-inning on Opening Day — in a Twins uniform, if not for the stomach problems and lingering illness that disrupted his 2018 season, and beyond, after a humanitarian offseason project in Haiti.
"This last offseason was the first one where I got to work out the way I wanted to, got stronger and went down to Florida to see Randy [Sullivan, a pitching-mechanics specialist] to clean up my delivery," Gibson said.
"My sinker was terrible last year, flattened out the worst it had ever been. I got it back to breaking the way it did in 2017, and it's made a world of difference."
All of the ex-Twins say they were grateful for their time with them, and still stay in touch with teammates and staff members they met there. "My phone just blew up with texts, a ton of them from Minnesota, when I got the news," Gibson said. "I would have loved to stay, but I respect the decision they made."
Said Lynn, who was Gibson's Rangers teammate last year: "I look back and think, I wish I had been better in Minnesota, because I enjoyed my time there. People were great to me, but I just couldn't get it going."
Escobar, in fact, said he would come back someday, if the opportunity arises. He rattled off a bunch of favorite memories, of walkoff wins and division championships, and meeting actor Nicholas Cage at the Twins' hotel during their 2018 two-game series in Puerto Rico.
Would Cage be happy to know he's an All-Star?
"One million percent, he's proud of me," Escobar said with a big laugh. "For sure."