This is the secret weapon we need this year.
Maybe this is the cure for our lack of contact hitting.
ORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins’ scouting staff accurately reported Mike Redmond’s formidable skills as a catcher and impressive hitting ability.
But all three scouts responsible for reports on Redmond made the same glaring omission, failing to grade the talent area that proved a major catalyst in the Florida Marlins’ World Series championship season two years ago:
Naked batting practice.
“I didn’t see that in there,” general manager Terry Ryan said.
In fact, to this day, few Twins seem to be aware of the secret weapon they acquired when Redmond signed a two-year contract in November to be Joe Mauer’s backup.
It started May 25, 2003, in Cincinnati near the end of a long and losing road trip. The Marlins had just fired their manager, had a 21-29 record and appeared headed for another nowhere season.
After a team meeting, in a somber, sleepy clubhouse the morning of an early afternoon game, Redmond headed for the indoor batting cages with his bat, wearing nothing but turf shoes, socks and batting gloves.
Twins infielder Andy Fox, a Marlins teammate then, looked up in disbelief as Redmond headed for the clubhouse door that opened into the cages.
“Are you serious?” Fox asked.
And the door shut behind him.
Redmond proceeded to hit soft tosses against a screen as teammates took notice, one by one, until laughter could be heard from one end of the clubhouse to the other.
“No one could really hit after that,” Fox said.
Until the game. The Marlins scored early and beat the Reds 6-2, with Redmond collecting two hits.
“And the next thing I knew, I was doing it seven or eight straight days,” Redmond said.
“That’s a long time to be hitting naked,” Fox said.
But the Marlins kept winning, so Redmond kept the clothes off his body and his eye on the ball. They won six in a row. Then during another cold streak in August, he did it again in Pittsburgh, and the Marlins went 20-8 the rest of the season to clinch the National League wild-card playoff spot.
And the rest is World Series, New York Yankees-beating history.
“It worked,” Fox said. “We still talk about it.”
“Whatever it takes to win,” said Redmond, who has trouble explaining the inspiration. “It just came to me. We were really scuffling, and guys were putting pressure on themselves. I just thought I needed to do something that nobody really expected, to make guys laugh and relax.”
“He doesn’t have the most aesthetically pleasing body, either,” Fox said. “That’s just my opinion.”
Redmond brings more to the Twins than naked batting practice and a willingness to go to extremes to help a team win.
Dontrelle Willis, the young Marlins left-hander who was promoted to the majors that same May — and, by the way, was the beneficiary of the run support that first day of the nudist drill — said as much when he refused to pitch inside to his former catcher Monday on a day he was working on pitching inside.
“I didn’t want to hit him. He’s my boy. I’ll always have a soft spot for him,” said Willis, who won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2003, after he pitched in the Twins’ 4-3 loss to the Marlins on Monday. “Red took care of me. He definitely helped me to know how to play the game and to have respect for the game.”
The ability to relate to young players and a deep understanding of the game are major intangibles the Twins acquired in Redmond when they shifted to Plan B after abandoning efforts to re-sign Henry Blanco, last year’s backup.
Not only is Redmond universally regarded as a good teammate, but it also was common knowledge around the Marlins’ clubhouse that special 2003 season that he, not all-star starter Pudge Rodriguez, ran the pitchers-and-catchers meetings to prepare for opposing hitters.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Ryan said. “There’s a reason he’s been around as long as he has. That’s the kind of thing that makes him who he is. We thought he had that type of makeup.”
And now that they have him, they might even find out what kind of influence he can have on a team just by taking batting practice. At least one new teammate plans to find out the first time the Twins experience a losing streak this year.
“It worked with the Marlins; I think it can work for us,” Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said. “But I don’t think I’m going to go out and watch.”