FORT MYERS, FLA. -- Phil Roof will turn 74 early next month. His first association with the Twins was as a backup catcher from 1971 through 1976.
This was a time when Twins’ attendance was plummeting and owner Calvin Griffith was throwing around quarters as if they were manhole covers. He was squeezing coins so hard in 1974 and 1975 that manager Frank Quilici had a three-man coaching staff and two, Vern Morgan and Ralph Rowe, were not spry enough to throw batting practice.
Quilici threw thousands of BP pitches, and so did his pitching coaches (first Bob Rodgers and then Lee Stange). Frankie had to enlist players to assist with the task when the Twins were on the road, and the regulars were Roof and Jerry Terrell, a backup infielder.
Roof departed the Twins on waivers in 1976. His career was over a year later, and when in need, he always had a home in the Twins organization.
He was the bullpen coach in San Diego in 1978, for six seasons (1983-88) with the Mariners, and for two seasons with the Cubs (1990-91). When not on big-league staffs, Roof generally was with the Twins. He managed their Class AAA teams in Portland, Salt Lake City and Rochester for a total of 10 seasons.
Minor league managers spend a lot of time throwing batting practice. In more frugal times, so did bullpen coaches.
Roof retired as Rochester’s manager in 2005. He still gets an invitation to come to spring training. And on Monday, he was throwing batting practice and proved that he still has the ability to serve awe-inspiring blasts as a BP pitcher.
The second group Roof was throwing to in this informal workout included Kennys Vargas and Miguel Sano. By consensus, these are two of the three most-powerful men in the Twins’ organization. The third, Oswaldo Arcia, has not been among the early arrivers after playing some winter ball in Venezuela.
What we discovered with Vargas later in the 2014 season was that he does not have to get the ball on the sweet spot of the lumber to knock a baseball over a fence. And what we will discover in Minnesota with Sano isthat when he hits it on the sweet spot, it will have the sound you get from a special power hitter.
Vargas came here almost a month ago, right after Twins Fest. He’s been working out daily, getting swings frequently and you could see the difference early in this BP session. Vargas started launching baseballs immediately; Sano rapped a few into the top of the cage.
This session was taking place on Field 1. There’s a wide ditch, then Plantation Road and across the road is South Fort Myers High School.
There were 25 onlookers when Vargas, batting righthanded, drew the first “ahh’’ when he smashed a ball down the left-field line, over the ditch and onto the road.
“This guy is ridiculous,’’ Torii Hunter said.
Vargas became more ridiculous batting lefthanded. There are several small, tile-roofed buildings set back 75 to 100 feet from the right-field fence. Vargas hit a soaring fly ball that landed on top of the first building on the right. Two swings later, he hit one more toward right-center that cleared trees and landed in a ditch between two rows of buildings.
Next came Sano. He was zeroed in now, maybe even challenged.
He smacked a ball toward deep left-center that landed on the far side of Plantation Road, took a high bounce off the pavement and was last seen bounding toward the high school. The ball was in the air so long that Sano was out of the cage and standing behind it by the time the ball landed on the road.
“I’ll put those blasts on my resume,’’ Roof said. “Those are a couple of strong young men.’’
Yeah, it’s BP a week before pitchers and catchers have their first workout, but it’s still fun to watch Home Run Derby on a back field on a 78-degree February day in southwest Florida.