Talk to people around the Twins and they’ll say a big reason for Miguel Sano’s tremendous All-Star season has been an improved attitude from the 24-year-old third baseman.
He showed up to spring training several pounds lighter than last season and put in a lot of hard work to become a better defensive player, which has really shown this season at third base and at first, where he played Wednesday. Sano hit a three-run homer that broke the game open in the second inning, helping the Twins thump the Yankees 6-1 at Target Field.
After the game, the young slugger from the Dominican Republic said he worked hard during the offseason to have success this year, but added that he strives to do that every year.
“It’s about the offseason,” Sano said through his translator. “The work I put in in the Dominican Republic has been translated here in the big leagues. I work hard every year. No matter what happens, my job is to work hard and try to do the best I can.”
Did he find any added meaning in homering against the Yankees?
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the Yankees, Boston, any team,” he said. “I’m happy because I help the team.”
Sano has homered in consecutive games, giving him 23 this season after hitting 25 last year. He ranks 10th in the American League in slugging percentage at. 539, is tied for fourth in RBI with 66 (matching a career high) and is seventh in home runs.
He has upped his batting average from .236 last season to .272 this year, while raising his on-base percentage from .319 to .370.
When asked how he breaks out of slumps, like hitting .235 in 26 games in June and then hitting .283 through 16 games in July, Sano said there’s no secret.
“Working hard,” he said.
Sano also said he is improving at outthinking opposing pitchers.
“It’s not that they pitch different,” he said. “You try to learn something about that [part of] the game and that’s what I have been doing. I try to learn the most that I can every day during the game.”
And he said that while he leads the team in almost every major offensive category, he doesn’t feel a burden to perform. He just wants to help the team win in any way.
“I don’t have any pressure,” he said. “It’s like the same with Ervin [Santana] pitching, [Jose] Berrios pitching — sometimes it’s a complete game, sometimes it’s not. Not every time am I going to hit a homer. But if I play and do what I can, bring some RBI to the plate and win a game, I’m happy. I never think about myself, I think about my team.”
Sano has talked several times this season about what it would mean to him to play in the All-Star Game. After playing in his first in Miami on Tuesday, he talked about his performance the night before in the Home Run Derby, in which he finished runner-up to Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, and delivering an RBI single during the actual game.
Did he have any worries about his swing being affected by participating in the derby?
“I went … because I worked my whole life for that, for the All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby, and God gave me the opportunity,” he said. “I don’t believe when people say that [participating in the derby could] hurt my swing.”
Was the event all he believed it would be?
“For me it was really big,” he said. “I do my job every day and like I’ve told you, I’ve been working hard my whole life. Everybody wants to be in the All-Star Game, the Home Run Derby, and not too many people can go there. So God gave me the chance to go this year and hopefully next year I can go again and [throughout] my whole career.”
He’ll play anywhere
When asked if he minds playing first base when Joe Mauer has days off, Sano said it’s all the same to him.
“It’s not difficult,” he said. “It’s the same game. The same ball. Different position but ground ball, pop-up, I only need to catch the ball and make an out.”
Does he like both positions?
“I like everything,” he said. “I just like to play the game of baseball.”
Among the honorees at the Starkey Hearing Foundation Gala held Sunday in St. Paul were Vikings owners Zygi, Mark and Leonard Wilf. They were among the big contributors to the Starkey Foundation, which raises millions of dollars each year at the banquet so owner Bill Austin can deliver hearing aids to poor people all over the world.
Marilyn Carlson, one of the great local civic leaders who introduced Leonard to speak for the family, said the Wilfs have contributed more than $200 million to various charities through the Wilf Family Foundation, which was founded in 1964 by Joseph and Elizabeth Wilf.
The event was attended by many celebrities from all over the country, including actor/director Ben Affleck and Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler.
On another Wilf subject, the New York Yankees media guide lists four members of the Wilf family as owners of club stock: Leonard, Beth, Halle and Orin Wilf.
• Signs of renewed interest in the Twins and major league baseball here: The Minneapolis-St. Paul television market ranked fourth in the nation in viewership of the All-Star Game. The local market posted a 9.6 rating, trailing only Kansas City, St. Louis and Cleveland. … Twins viewership on Fox Sports North is up 11 percent through 84 games. The Twins’ average rating of 4.0 ranks ninth in MLB.
• As part of the Twins’ 30th anniversary 1987 world championship reunion weekend at Target Field, the team will honor former manager Tom Kelly by unveiling a larger-than-life bronze statue of him at 4:30 p.m. Friday on Target Plaza. Kelly led the Twins to a second World Series victory in 1991. The statue is the work of Minnesota artist Bill Mack, who created the other Twins legend statues at Target Field.
• Twins broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association in New York City on Nov. 14. Blyleven has served as a color commentator on Twins television broadcasts since 1995 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
• Running back Rodney Smith, linebacker Jonathan Celestin and defensive lineman Steven Richardson will represent the Gophers at Big Ten media days in Chicago on Monday and Tuesday.