FORT MYERS, FLA. – Catcher Dan Rohlfing was the 14th-round selection and pitcher Lee Martin was the 18th-rounder for the Twins in the 2007 draft. Mark Hamburger was signed out of the annual tryout camp that took place at the Metrodome.
They wound up together here at the Twins minor league complex that summer and played for the rookie team in the Gulf Coast League.
“You get close to the guys you start with,” Hamburger said. “Lee, Dan and I became very good friends.”
Hamburger, now 28, left his Shoreview residence for Twins big-league spring training last month. He knew Rohlfing would be there, with both being among the 21 invitees joining the 40 players on the major league roster.
On the way to Florida, Hamburger detoured to visit Martin, in a much unhappier circumstance.
Martin was found dead from a drug overdose in mid-December of 2009, in Bates, Ark. He was buried across the state, in his home area in north central Arkansas.
“I went to the cemetery near his little town on my way down here,” Hamburger said Wednesday. “I sat at Lee’s grave and visited for a while.”
Martin and Hamburger had been teammates again in 2008 for the Elizabethton Twins. Martin was released the next offseason. Hamburger had been traded Aug. 25 to Texas for reliever Eddie Guardado.
Everyday Eddie’s retort was: “Wait. I was traded for a Hamburger?”
Hamburger had a forgettable season at Class A Hickory in 2009. Rohlfing was a backup catcher in Elizabethton.
Then came the sad news on their friend Martin. Rohlfing was living in St. Louis and made it to the funeral. Hamburger did not get his chance to say a proper goodbye to Martin until last month.
Graveside conversations are private. The guess would be Hamburger mentioned his personal struggle with addiction — to marijuana, not the hard drug that took Lee Martin at age 23.
Hamburger’s fondness for pot caught up with him in a public way on Feb. 26, 2013, when it was announced that he would be required to serve a 50-game suspension in professional baseball for a second failed test for a “drug of abuse.”
Before that, Hamburger had made it to Texas for five appearances in the final month of 2011, a World Series year for the Rangers.
Things were looking up for the former righthanded ace of the Mesabi Range (junior college) Norsemen.
And soon they were looking down.
He pitched in Class AAA for Texas, San Diego and Houston in 2012. The numbers weren’t good. He was released by the Rangers and the Padres in-season, and then by the Astros shortly before the drug suspension was announced.
By then, Hamburger had a new location: Hazelden.
“You go through things, and you come out a better person,” Hamburger said. “That’s the way I see it.”
Post-treatment for chemical dependency, he had a conversation with Mark Wilson, the Twins scout who always had been a believer in Hamburger’s talent.
Wilson told Hamburger the best move was to take an offer to pitch for the independent St. Paul Saints (where the suspension wasn’t in force), and the Twins would follow his progress.
He spent the 2013 season making $400 a week and pitching for the Saints, in the humble surroundings of Midway Stadium.
“Once you’ve been in the clubhouse in Bakersfield, California, that Saints clubhouse seemed luxurious,” Hamburger said. “I loved it. George Tsamis, the manager … he’s one of the underrated characters in baseball.”
Hamburger had a strong finish in St. Paul, and Wilson went back to his Twins bosses and said: “We should sign Hamburger.”
They did. Hamburger sat out the 50-game suspension to start 2014, pitched well in Class AA, then in Class AAA, and here he is, in a Twins major league camp for the first time … across the room from Rohlfing, here on his fourth invite.
“Mark throws an easy 95 with the fastball, but he has more than that,” Rohlfing said. “He has four good pitches.”
What about the new look, from Hamburger’s flowing hair to the extra-short cut that he gave himself Tuesday night?
Rohlfing smiled and said: “It looks like he’s serious about being on the club.”
If that were to happen, Hamburger would be in the bullpen, with Guardado in charge as the new Twins bullpen coach.
“I met him when I was at a Rangers function in 2011, after he was called up,” Guardado said. “We joked about the trade. When I saw him come in the clubhouse here this spring, I said, ‘Hey, Ham, where’s my Big Mac?’
“This is no joke, though: That guy has a good arm.”
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org