"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Glory Days Revisited: Infield

Today we discover whatever happened to those closest to the diamond in the Twins' glorious run of 2002-2004.

Catcher Henry Blanco (aka "Mango Face") moved on to the Cubs after his 2004 stint with the Twins, and is still there. He is such an excellent defensive catcher and game-caller that even the dubious distinction of having the lowest career batting average among active players with 1000+ at-bats cannot dent his career prospects or the affections of Cubs fans.

After a brief stint in the Brewers' minor league system, Pat Borders became the injury-riddled Mariners' main catcher for the first half of 2005. Seattle displayed its gratitude by designating him for assignment at the All-Star break. He signed a minor-league contract with the Dodgers in 2006 but failed to catch on with the big league club. He announced his retirement in May of that year.

Second baseman Jay Canizaro never returned to the majors after his 2002 stint with the Twins. He played one season in the Devil Rays minor leagues before leaving baseball.

Chris Gomez worked his utility-infielder magic with the Blue Jays in 2004, the Orioles from 2005 to mid-2007, and the Indians in the latter half of 2007. He is now with the Pirates. Arr!

After six seasons alternating brilliance and boneheadedness for the Twins, shortstop Christian Guzmán signed a huge four-year contract with the Nationals in 2005, where he has become a byword for disappointment. His 2005 season was nothing short of a disaster, 2006 was entirely lost to a shoulder injury and surgery, and 2007 consisted of brief periods of greatness bracketed by months of disabling injury. He is currently on the last year of his contract

Utility infielder Denny Hocking left the Twins after ten seasons and signed with the Rockies, whom he played for in 2004. In 2005 he played for the Royals. He is now retired and has been doing radio work with Fox Sports.

Ah, Corey Koskie. TBL's all-time favorite player. Brooks Robinson reincarnate in the field. How TBL misses thee. Corey signed with the Blue Jays for the 2005 season but was plagued by injury and did not play much. He was traded to the Brewers and was doing fairly well until suffering a concussion in early July, 2006. Post-concussion syndrome kept him off the field through 2007 and the expiration of his contract. He has not signed with another team.

When the Twins declined to offer a contract after the 2005 season, Matt LeCroy caught on with the Washington Nationals. A less-likely candidate to play in the National League TBL has never seen; the man was born to DH. Catching a game in 2006 due to injuries to both of the team's catchers and despite known bone spurs in his throwing-side knee, he allowed six stolen bases and was lifted in the seventh in favor of a first baseman. The Nationals manager was literally reduced to tears when speaking of it later, defending his decision and LeCroy's abilities. He would spend the second half of the season in the minors and refuse an offer to manage one of their minor-league teams to continue his playing career through a minor-league contract with the Twins. He saw major league action as a September callup, and signed a minor league deal with Oakland in the offseason. He was assigned to minor-league camp early in spring training and requested his release, which was granted. He is currently a free agent.

Doug Mientkiewicz (aka "Dougie Baseball", "Dougie Defense", "Eye Chart") was traded to the Red Sox in mid-2004 for Justin Jones (who promptly amounted to nothing), where he caught the final out in Boston's World Series win and was the subject of controversy for keeping the ball, which has since been given to the Hall of Fame. He then played for the Mets, Royals and Bankees in quick succession. He is in spring training with the Pirates under a minor league contract.

2004 Twins DH/pinch-hitter and very occasional right-side-of-the-infielder Jose Offerman saw limited action with the Mets and Phillies in 2005 before embarking on a second career in the independent leagues.

AJ Pierzynski, after spending only one year with the team that traded Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser and Franciso Liriano to get him (pardon TBL while she chortles...), settled in as the White Sox's everyday catcher and continues to piss people off across the league. He has also made occasional offseason appearances since 2005 with a fringe wrestling outfit called Total NonStop Action.

Catcher Tom Prince retired in 2003 after a brief stint with the Royals. He is currently the manager of the rookie-league GCL Pirates in Bradenton, FL.

The Twins let free-swinging second baseman Luis Rivas drive them crazy for six seasons. The Cleveland Indians put up with it for four games. He spent 2006 in the minor leagues with Tampa Bay, caught on with the Indians, played his four games, got busted back to AAA and is now with the Pirates on a minor-league contract. (Is it just TBL, or are the Pirates grabbing up an awful lot of the Twins' former infielders for this year's spring training roster?)

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