FORT MYERS, FLA. – Jorge Polanco lost a family member with the death of his grandfather, Maximo, at 73 last June. The emotional impact was significant, as Jorge lived in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, with Maximo for 16 years of his youth.
“My father was in New York and working there,’’ Polanco said. “My grandfather was like my father growing up.’’
Polanco gained a family member Oct. 26, when his wife, Lucero, gave birth to Jorge Jr. in New York City. This put him on the opposite side of the emotional scale, the joyful side.
“It is an amazing thing to have a baby in your life,’’ Polanco said. “It changes everything, for the better.’’
Lucero was eight months pregnant when the Twins season ended in New York on Oct. 3, with an 8-4 loss to the Yankees in a wild-card game. The Polancos decided not to have Lucero travel back to the Dominican, so they joined family in New York and Jorge Jr. was born there.
Becoming a father was the peak of an amazing 2017 for Polanco, where the highs and lows were dramatic personally and as a player.
That second part of that drama actually started in 2016. Polanco spent the first two months mostly as a backup infielder for the Twins, then spent June and July at Class AAA Rochester.
He played a total of 75 games, playing second base (All-Star Brian Dozier’s position) and never making a start at shortstop.
Guess what happened next? He was called up to the woebegone Twins at the end of July and was put in the lineup at shortstop. The Twins arrived in 2017 spring training with Polanco as the starting shortstop — although not written in pencil but invisible ink.
Paul Molitor was working with minor leaguers when Polanco came into the system as a 16-year-old in 2010. This week, the Twins manager recalled being in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to watch the low-A Kernels for a week in 2013.
Molitor saw Polanco have a bad week at shortstop at Cedar Rapids.
“It was only six games and I said, ‘Let’s get him on the other side of the base,’ ” he said.
And then Molitor smiled and said, “And he’s still there,’’ meaning shortstop.
Six games in Cedar Rapids and Molitor sided with those in the organization who thought Polanco’s future was at second base. By season three as a big-league manager in March 2017, he found himself being less impulsive.
“I think if you look at Jorge’s overall year in 2017, his first 10 days of games in spring training were concerning,’’ Molitor said.
The Twins didn’t pull the plug on Polanco at shortstop. They had Gene Glynn keep at it with him. Glynn is the Twins’ third base and infield coach, and a baseball man who invariably sees the best in a player.
“I think Gene’s message to Jorge was, ‘Quit trying to do what everybody wants you to do; just start doing what you can do, and what you’re comfortable doing,’ ” Molitor said.
That is a simple notion, but it’s not much different from the mind-clearing that Byron Buxton was able to do as a hitter over the final two months of 2017: Don’t fill your head with suggestions from everybody; make the play, get the bat to the ball, do whatever works.
Polanco has those wide eyes that seem to observe all around him. He seems like a young man who takes things to heart.
He was holding his own last season, and then Grandfather Maximo died, and then he stopped hitting in July, and finally Molitor pulled him out of the lineup for eight of 10 games from July 20 to Aug. 1.
You think baseball is explainable? OK, explain this:
Jorge Polanco, a gifted switch-hitter, was 4-for-51 (. 078) with 14 starts in July. And he was put back in the lineup Aug. 2, and in 55 games (all starts) to the end of the season, he was 65-for-234 (. 316) with 10 home runs and 42 RBI.
To repeat: 10 and 42.
“He went from losing his job temporarily to being a No. 3 hitter down the stretch,’’ Molitor said.
And in the field?
“Long answer,’’ Molitor said. “I’m a lot more at ease about Jorge as our shortstop today than I was throwing him out there as a regular shortstop at the start of last year.’’
As for Polanco, life’s good with the baby, and two great months to end 2017 on his résumé, but he’s also a guy who will try to wear out Glynn on daily infield drills.
“I had to make progress, and I did,’’ Polanco said. “I still am learning more. I can do better.’’