Johan Santana was acquired by the Twins in a trade on the day of the 1999 Rule 5 draft, and shortly after arrived at spring training at Fort Myers, Fla., in 2000 to begin his career.
In order to get off on the right foot with their new pitcher, then-Twins General Manager Terry Ryan and assistant GM Bill Smith went to Southwest Florida International Airport to pick him up.
“He had something like a carry-on with him,” Ryan said Friday as he remembered the story. “I asked, ‘Where’s your suitcase?’ No suitcase. ‘Where’s your equipment bag?’ No equipment bag.”
Santana said he was told by his agent that his equipment would be at the ballpark, but they found nothing there.
“I wasn’t sure how Mr. [Tom] Kelly would respond to this,” Ryan said.
They dug up some equipment for Santana to start his Twins career with.
Santana proceeded to pay them back with his performance.
“I would say about 25 fold,” Ryan said.
Santana on Friday was announced as the 31st member of the Twins Hall of Fame. He went from a 21-year-old rookie with the Twins in 2000 to become one of the dominant lefthanders in the game.
Santana made his Twins debut in that 2000 spring training, facing Ken Griffey Jr. and the Cincinnati Reds. When asked about his first matchup being against the great Griffey, Santana simply said, “I am ready to rock and roll.”
He was a swingman his first three-plus seasons, bouncing between the bullpen and rotation. As he gained experience and perfected his changeup, he became a force.
Santana broke through in 2004, going 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA and winning the AL Cy Young Award. That was the start of his dominant four-year run, which also included his second Cy Young season, 2006, in which he won the pitching triple crown, leading the AL in wins (19), ERA (2.77) and strikeouts (245).
Santana was 139-78 with a 3.20 ERA in his career, including 15 complete games and 10 shutouts. With the Twins, Santana was 93-44 with a 3.22 ERA before they traded him to the New York Mets following the 2007 season. Against Texas on Aug. 18, 2007, he set a team record with 17 strikeouts.
He certainly made up for not bringing any equipment with him that day in Fort Myers.
“Terry was saying, ‘What are we getting into?’ ” Santana said during a conference call Friday. “Those are memories I’ll always have.
“I know I had that opportunity, but I was always willing to learn. If you ask me back then if I would be speaking to you right now 17, 18 years later, I would say no way. But to have the opportunity to talk to you guys about this makes me feel really, really good. Because everything paid off. All the work, everything through the years, the good and the bad times.”
Santana, 38, becomes the fourth member of the Twins teams of the 2000s to land in the club’s Hall of Fame, joining Eddie Guardado (Class of 2014), Torii Hunter (2016) and Michael Cuddyer (2017).
• Twins President Dave St. Peter said the club hopes to sell 2.25 million tickets this season. Tickets for the April 5 home opener vs. Seattle went on sale Friday, with the rest of the single-game tickets becoming available Feb. 17. The season ticket renewal rate is running at 90 percent.
• Righthander Phil Hughes, coming off thoracic outlet surgery for the second consecutive offseason, will miss TwinsFest because he is dealing with kidney stones. He went to Twitter to apologize for his absence, offering an autographed game-worn jersey to one fan and pledging a $10,000 donation to the Twins Community Fund. A huge Tampa Bay Lightning fan, Hughes had been looking forward to attending Saturday’s game against the Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
• The official renaming of Field 5 at the Century Link Sports Complex in Fort Myers to “Stelly” Field will be before the Twins’ first full-squad workout Feb. 19. Rick Stelmaszek, the longtime Twins bullpen coach, died Nov. 6 after a battle with cancer. He was posthumously presented the Herb Carneal Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Diamond Awards on Thursday.