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Six-time All-Star Joe Mauer is going to miss the Midsummer Classic with an oblique injury this year. This would normally not be cause for alarm -- Mauer missed it in 2007 and 2011 as well -- except that the game is being played in Minneapolis, and Major League Baseball designated him the All-Star Ambassador in April, meaning that he will be hosting the event. The three-time AL batting champion, three-time Gold Glove winner and four-time Silver Slugger will have to glad-hand at the FanFest while knowing he is not on the All-Star team this season. “It’s been a trying year," Mauer admitted the morning after he was placed on the 15-day disabled list. “It’s frustrating any time you go on the DL, but’s it’s even more frustrating when you feel like you’ve been playing pretty well lately, and it felt like things were going my way."

The key phrase with Mauer this season has been “stick to the plan." Through all his early season struggles that have accompanied his move to first base and recovery from concussion, Mauer has been trying to do what has worked for him his whole career -- with mixed results.
“I’m feeling pretty good, actually, which is even more frustrating because I’m hitting a lot of balls hard and not having much to show for it," he said at the end of May. “Hopefully that turns here soon. I just have to try to have some good at-bats and keep having some good at-bats and hopefully they keep falling."

“It is un-Mauer-like, but he’ll get going," general manager Terry Ryan assured the media following the press conference announcing the signing of Kendrys Morales. “His track record is too good, his health is too good, there is no reason he can’t string together four or five games quickly and, all of a sudden, it’s happening.

“It’ll return. He’ll have a way of figuring things out."

“My experience with Joe is when it’s all said and done his numbers are going to be there," offered Terry Steinbach, himself a Minnesotan and former catcher. “Sometimes he starts off quicker, sometimes he starts a little bit slower, but he’s a professional hitter, a great hitter, and just through the course of time, it’s gonna happen."

“It doesn’t happen overnight," echoed Gardenhire back in May. “We’re only a month into the season. He’ll be fine."

Mauer Apologists. That’s what anybody who has brushed off the former catcher’s sub-par numbers at the plate have been called. In reality what people are saying is: He’ll get better. And recently, he has. But still, .250, .260 or .270 doesn’t make you a major league All-Star, especially at first base.

Maybe it’s that thought -- the insistence that he’ll get better as long as he trusts the process -- that results in Mauer taking the brunt of the blame for the Twins’ downfall since 2010. He is a microcosm of the Twins Way: Keep doing it the way it’s been done and results will follow. That’s not to say Minnesota has eschewed advanced statistics -- they hired Jack Goin primarily as a stats guru -- or that they are completely averse to change. But they believe in a system that works and tend to stick to it.

Having said that, we’ve seen a little more frustration from Mauer than in years past. Typically laconic and reserved, Gentleman Joe has piped up recently, at least by his standards. When he says, “It’s funny, I feel I’ve had some bad pitches called on me," as he did in mid-April, he’s saying a lot. When he says, “I’m probably a lot more frustrated than those people who were booing," as he did at the end of May, he’s saying a lot. When he says, “It’s hard to deal with, All-Star Game or not," that’s big.
People confuse his stoic nature with indifference. He cares, and the losing wears on him.
He’s never going to have a Kevin Love moment where he tells a reporter that his team do not have a plan, even though the team has had three 90-loss seasons and only one winning season since he signed his eight-year, $184 million contract in 2010. He’s never going to get upset with the fans, even when they booed him for getting injured in 2011 and for slumping this year, even though he knows many of those same fans would have treated him like he was LeBron James if he had announced he was going to join the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or another big-market team before signing his blockbuster deal.
He’s never going to say it, but he’s probably not thrilled that he shoulders a lot of the blame for the team’s recent losing records. Twins fans got used to division titles. Twins fans got used to playoff appearances. Twins fans were expecting that with the opening of a new ballpark, the team would become the St. Louis Cardinals North. Instead, they became the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Milwaukee Brewers -- teams that got new parks and emptied them out with losing seasons.
Mauer has become the scapegoat for the Twins’ organizational issues
There’s a lot more people tweeting about Mauer’s inadequacies that those of the Twins front office. Sure, people talk about Ramos-for-Capps, Garza-for-Young and Hardy-for-Hoey, but Bill Smith is not scapegoated for the Twins’ failures like David Kahn is for the Minnesota Timberwolves woes.
Blame often falls squarely on Mauer’s shoulders even though it’s not his fault that the rotation combusted in 2011 and hasn’t fully recovered. There isn’t much thought given to the fact that Michael Cuddyer, Matt Garza, Francisco Liriano, J.J. Hardy, Carlos Gomez and Justin Morneau are all playing on different teams now. And few people mention that recent first round picks, Chris Parmelee (2006) and Aaron Hicks (2008), haven’t panned out so far and that a third, Trevor Plouffe (2004), has offered inconsistent production.
But Mauer is making $23 million and he doesn’t hit home runs, he’s been slumping this year and he plays every day -- so blame him. It’s simpler to blame one man than many. He’s Bill Buckner. He’s Steve Bartman.
Nobody talks about how the Red Sox were up two runs at the top of the 10th in 1986. Or how the New York Mets tied the game by hitting three straight two-out singles off of Calvin Schiraldi and coaxing a wild pitch from Bob Stanley. Or that the Boston Red Sox were leading 3-0 in Game 7 and blew that lead.
All they talk about is the ball that rolled between Buckner’s legs.
Similarly, in the Bartman case, nobody talks about how Mark Prior walked Luis Castillo on a wild pitch following the incident, allowing Juan Pierre to advance to third. Or that Alex Gonzalez mishandled a routine double-play ball that would have gotten them out of the inning. Or that it was the eighth inning and the team was leading 3-0 before Bartman reached over the outfield wall. All they talk about is Bartman’s ill-advised attempt to catch a foul ball.
Yes, Twins fans are fed up with the organization. Once a model for how a small-market team should be run -- akin to the Oakland Athletics or Tampa Bay Rays -- Minnesota is creeping towards Seattle Mariners territory. Plouffe, Parmelee and Hicks are looking more and more like Dennis Ackley, Justin Smoak and Mike Zunino every day. They have been accused of fostering a “country club" culture, one that has refused to adapt to today’s game with platooning and advanced metrics.
Some of that is true, some of it isn’t. But the bottom line is Mauer is the one that gets pilloried. He’s Mr. Minnesota Twin. He advocated keeping manager Ron Gardenhire when his contract was up last season. He is quiet and patient, and he has never complained about the way things are done in Minnesota despite the recent losses that have piled up.
As a result, he’s been accused of being soft, greedy and complacent. People got mad when he took off time due to leg injuries and his concussion and other minor ailments. They can’t stand that he makes $23 million and hasn’t hit more than 20 home runs since his MVP season in 2009. And they don’t like that he doesn’t seem upset when he’s slumping.
The bottom line is Joe Mauer went from hometown hero to scapegoat since signing long-term with the Twins in 2010. The real question is: How did this happen?
He could have been Minnesota’s LeBron James
Think back to 2010. The Twins were in a much happier place: The team had just won its fifth Central Division title, had a strong core of players on the major league roster and were opening a new ballpark. Minnesota appeared to be on the cusp of breaking through against the New York Yankees -- eventually David had to slay Goliath -- and their homegrown catcher was going to lead the way.
Mauer was coming off of an MVP season, hitting .365/.444/.587 with 28 home runs and 96 RBIs. No. 7 jerseys were flying off the shelf, and the Twins had to assure that they would sell out their new stadium, Target Field -- the House that Mauer Built. Had they not re-signed him, $184 million price tag or not, not only would the “new era of outdoor baseball" have been a tougher sell, but Mauer would have become public enemy No. 1 in Minnesota.
In the same year that LeBron James made “The Decision" to “Take his talents to South Beach," leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, it would have been yet another blow to die-hard, small-market fans. It may be harder to fathom now following the three straight 90-loss seasons, but Mauer would have been LeBron. Someone would have burnt a jersey. He would have been booed -- not for being injured or slumping, but for betraying the place where he was born and raised.
The basketball analogy is apt here too because had Mauer chosen basketball, and had the ability to be an NBA star, perhaps his scapegoating would have been a little more justified. LeBron was able to carry an undermanned Cavs team to the NBA Finals in 2007, but he was able to get them to the playoffs five years in a row before departing to join Miami. One player can drag a team to the playoffs in basketball, but the same cannot be said in baseball. Mauer can’t bat in the 3-, 4- and 5-hole. He can’t pitch in the rotation. He’s one of nine guys on the field; not one of five.
There are a few people that have disliked Mauer since the beginning -- not enough power, too quiet -- and, to be fair, they’ve remained consistent, even through his better seasons. At the same time, no matter how much you think of one player, he can only do so much. Joey Votto can’t turn the Cincinnati Reds into the Big Red Machine. Andrew McCutcheon can’t turn the Pirates into the We Are Family team of 1979. Mauer can’t turn the Twins into Cardinals North.
It can’t go without saying, though, that there are many people that held Mauer up to be a hometown hero, a baseball god, but as soon as he suffered knee and head injuries -- as soon as he became human -- he was treated like LeBron sans the jersey burning. LeBron left his hometown to chase a ring; Mauer decided to try to win one in Minnesota. He wants to win a championship for his hometown, and there’s something to be said about that.
Mauer might turn out to be Minnesota’s Tony Gwynn
Let’s start with the numbers. Mauer is hitting .320/.401/.461 lifetime with 107 home runs and 662 runs batted in. He is in his 11th season with the Twins and his wins above replacement (WAR) is 45.0. Gwynn played 20 seasons with the San Diego Padres (1982-2001), hit .338/.388/.459 with 135 HR and 1138 RBI. He owns a WAR of 68.8.
Mauer is 31; Gwynn retired at 41. The only year Gwynn hit below .300 was in his rookie season, 1982, and had four of his best seasons between 34 and 37, leading the league in average with video game numbers -- .394 (in the strike-shortened 1994 season), .368, .353, .372 -- and retired with a .324/.384/.461 line, which is about what Mauer hit last season (.324/.404/.476) when he won his fifth Silver Slugger Award.
In order to be Gwynn, however, Mauer has to keep hitting like he did in his 20s, which is no easy task. Even in his injury-riddled 2011 season he hit .287/.360/.368, but time will tell how much those injuries, combined with a concussion last season, will affect him in his 30s.
Some people have called into question how history will view Mauer. If Gwynn is any indication, a congenial player that stays with one team throughout his career will be received well. It wasn’t a large topic of discussion that some of those Padres teams Gwynn was on were undermanned or that he never took his talents north to try and win a World Series with the Dodgers or Angels -- or went to the East Coast for that matter.
It seems that people still value a player that wants to win in a certain location, especially if a player calls that place home.
He might not be worth $23 million anymore, but does it matter?
Mauer’s contract ends during his age 35 season, and he will likely take less money. This is more as a result of his change from a catcher to first baseman than to his production at the plate. Once a prolific offensive threat at the catcher’s position, his lack of power is more scrutinized now that he is at a position where home runs are expected. He still could command a hefty sum if he continues to hit as Gwynn did in his late 30s, but it is unlikely that Mauer will be worth $23 million. The sad truth is that as soon as Mauer sustained that concussion last season, his value dropped, even if he is worth more in Minnesota because of his roots and community outreach in the Twin Cities.
Keep in mind, however, that he was making less than $500,000 during his first three seasons and didn’t make seven figures until his MVP season in 2009. In some ways, by keeping him around, the Twins got good value out of him during the entirety of his career.
The Twins have been criticized for putting Mauer at first base -- as opposed to moving him to third or the outfield -- but Gardenhire counters by saying that it is a position where he is involved in just about every play. “I read somewhere somebody said we’re wasting his athletic ability at first base," said the skipper back in May. “Well, I have a hard time with that statement. The ball goes there as much as it did [when he was] the catcher."
Gardenhire says the Twins have tried Mauer at third, but that move doesn’t make a lot of sense. Trevor Plouffe has improved defensively since being moved from shortstop to the hot corner two years ago. He’s shown he’s capable of hitting for power (24 home runs in 2012) and is hitting more doubles this season, although he has yet to raise his average and still has to prove that he can stay healthy and replicate his power numbers from two years ago. They probably want to play Plouffe out, knowing he is in the prime of his career, could have some value, and was a former first round pick.
Another reason third base doesn’t make much sense is that blue-chip prospect Miguel Sano is projected to play there in the major leagues. This could become a predicament, however, if his arm does not recover fully from Tommy John surgery and he has to be moved to first base, or suffers further injury, creating an additional setback.
“We tried third base way back," Gardenhire says in regard to Mauer. “I got hit in the knees standing behind him, and we cancelled that one when he missed the ball and got me."
Gardenhire says that the team has considered the outfield with Mauer, but it was foreign to him. While Mauer played some other infield positions in Little League and high school -- shortstop, second, third -- he didn’t play much in the outfield. “Some guys profile out there as outfielders, and Joe could probably do that," he said. “He can run, he can probably run the ball down if he had done it his whole life, played the outfield, but I’m venturing to say that’s not something he was accustomed to."
“When I put him in right field, he told me that’s the most afraid he’s ever been on a baseball field," Gardenhire continued, chuckling. “That’s not a good statement. He could do it if you give him more time, but the ball doesn’t come there an awful lot. It comes to first base."
Even the outfield is getting kind of jammed. Byron Buxton is supposed to be the franchise center fielder, Oswaldo Arcia will be expected to play right and Aaron Hicks will play left -- assuming he can get his swing figured out. Chris Parmelee also can be used as a bench player in right.
Mauer is likely to be a first baseman for the rest of his career. The key will be making the adjustment at the plate as well as in the field. After moving out from behind the plate, Mauer has had some trouble tracking pitches because he is no longer catching. “There’s a reason why he’s a great hitter, “says Gardenhire. “He uses the catching part of it as tracking pitches too and seeing the ball, and I thought that was pretty good stuff. That’s not something that you think about too often, so that’s an adjustment for him."
While his numbers are more common among first basemen then they are among catchers, if he continues to hit .300 and drive in runs, even with a dearth of power, he’ll be worth spending money on. In the end, there are no salary caps in baseball, meaning that to an average fan, it really doesn’t matter how much the Twins spend on him. What does matter, however, is that Minnesota spends the money to put a good team around him -- something they haven’t been able to do since the mass exodus of talent in 2011.
Ultimately, the Twins have to put a team around Mauer
Since Mauer joined the Twins in 2004, Mauer has seen plenty of his talented teammates leave the organization. Gone are Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Francisco Liriano, Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse, Torii Hunter, J.J. Hardy, Carlos Gomez and many other All-Stars. Not all great players can stay within the organization, but that’s an awful lot of talent that has departed. Morneau’s departure hit Mauer the hardest and, back in 2010 when the M&M Boys were the showcase stars for the new ballpark, nobody thought he was going to end up somewhere else.
Minnesota is unlikely to go out and spend millions of dollars to create a makeshift team around Mauer, especially because that kind of spending doesn’t often work -- even for big-market teams. At their core, the Twins are still the draft-and-develop team they always have been, only now they should be able to keep their stars. For the Twins to win a championship with Mauer, they are going to have to work with what they’ve got.
Alex Meyer and Trevor May are going to have to come up and supplement a rotation that will include Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson. The core bullpen -- Glen Perkins, Casey Fien, Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak and Caleb Thielbar -- has to stay intact and be supplemented. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano have to pan out. Aaron Hicks has to turn his career around. Brian Dozier needs to continue to play like a franchise player, and Josmil Pinto has to develop defensively behind the plate while maintaining his swing.
On top of that, the Twins still need a shortstop: Eduardo Escobar, Eduardo Nunez or someone from the outside. Chris Parmelee and Chris Colabello are wild cards that could find a spot in the lineup if they can produce consistently. And, of course, there will be free agent signings and call-ups.
In the end, the Twins need more superstars like Mauer, so it doesn’t make sense to chase him away.

Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.
A quick glance at the Minnesota Twins bullpen will tell you that they have a social experiment going on in left-center field. It is a hodgepodge of characters that rely on one another to do a high-stress job that comes with little security -- no easy task..

With the exception of closer Glen Perkins and veteran setup man Jared Burton, just about everyone else is making around the league minimum, according to Cot’s Contracts. Two converted starters, Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak, make more -- $2 million and $935,000, respectively -- but everyone except Perkins can become a free agent after next season (Burton has an option in 2015).

Yet, the core group has been together for a while. Perkins, Duensing and Swarzak all came through the system -- Perkins and Swarzak were drafted in 2004, Duensing in 2005 -- while Burton and Fien joined as free agents in 2012. Caleb Thielbar was promoted last season. Those six players comprise the heart of the bullpen.

“It’s one of the best groups I’ve ever been a part of, and it’s been good, too, because we have the same four or five guys for this for the third straight year now," says Burton. “We all root for each other, we all kind of know how to keep each other going if you have a bad day or whatever, we know how to keep each other going."

Every geographical area is covered, except for the East Coast. Perkins and Thielbar are from Minnesota. Duensing is from Nebraska. Fien is a SoCal kid; Burton and Swarzak are southern boys (South Carolina and South Florida, respectively).

Some were drafted high, others passed over: Perkins (first round), Swarzak (second) and Duensing (third) were all drafted early, but Burton (eighth), Thielbar (18th) and Fien (20th) all came from the later rounds.

Fien is emotional on the field; everyone else is even-keeled. Swarzak came right out of high school; the rest went to college. Perkins has a complete understanding of sabermetrics; Burton can’t stand them. And yet, despite all their differences, this group is extremely close. To understand how this works, it’s best to look at each personality individually first before observing the group dynamic as a whole.

Casey Fien: The Emotional One

Fien is the only player that expresses a lot of emotion on the field. Other players may be expressive in the locker room, but for the most part, all of them, by nature, stay even-keeled as much as possible. “Casey’s really the outlier as far as on-the-field emotion," says Perkins. “I wish I could be like that, but it’s just not my personality or my style."

Early on in his career, Fien, who was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 20th round out of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., was occasionally told by his minor league coaches to calm things down a bit. But he says that his personality has been embraced in Minnesota, and it is part of the reason why he resurrected his career with the Twins after being released by both the Tigers and Houston Astros. “I was a little nervous with it in the beginning," he admits, “but then Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) told me, he goes, ‘It worries me when you don’t show emotion’ because that’s when I know you’re thinking too much. Just let it go, let it loose."

As a result, Fien can be seen pumping his fist violently when he strikes a batter out, leaping in the air when he gets out of an inning or yelling at himself when he gives up a lead.

These emotions are genuine and were not always part of his game, even when they weren’t suppressed. When he was coming up with the Tigers, he often performed mop-up duty when the game was out of hand. That meant he came into games where his team was up 10-1 or down 1-10; rarely did his pitching affect the outcome of the game. “It’s kind of like ehh…well, c’mon," he says, laughing, “but now that I’m pitching in bigger situations, the crowd is more into it. I just fuel off the fans pretty much."

He says that he has always been an emotional guy, but rarely shows it like he does now. He made his major league debut in 2009, but only pitched 11 games in his first two seasons with the Tigers, did not play in the major leagues in 2011 and spent that summer playing in the Mexican league. It wasn’t until he was in a Twins uniform that he regularly started playing in front of significant crowds on a regular basis. “I’ve always been an emotional guy, but I’ve usually never shown it like I do now," he says. “But when you’re in front of 35,000 fans, and you hear them roar, I mean, if you can’t get up for that, then you shouldn’t be playing baseball."

Caleb Thielbar: The Everyman

Thielbar was playing for the St. Paul Saints in 2011. The Milwaukee Brewers had released him two years after drafting him in the 18th round, and the former South Dakota State pitcher appeared to be out of the major leagues. He spent two years in rookie ball and never got past Class A.

Two years later, the Randolph, Minn., native went 19 2/3 innings without allowing a run to begin his career with the Twins.

I covered his ascent from the Saints to the Twins last year. In my reporting, I found him to be unchanged by his instant success. Still to this day, he has remained humble about his play, “This year I haven’t been real impressive with my performance," he says. “I have been giving up a lot of hard hit balls, and right now they’re going at people, but it’s baseball and that’s not going to be the case all the time." This coming from a player that through his first 24.0 inning pitched had only given up nine runs, had a 19:6 strikeout to walk ratio and owns a WHIP of less than 1.00.

He was encouraged to continue pursuing his major league career by Tyler Walker, an eight-year veteran that was playing with the Saints at the time. Thielbar learned his slider from an up-and-coming prospect in Milwaukee named Jake Odorizzi and on May 20, 2013 became the first South Dakota State player to reach the major leagues.

His coach in Brookings, current Sacramento State skipper Reggie Christiansen, said he is the best athlete he ever coached at SDSU. Thielbar came to South Dakota State, a newly-minted Division I program, with the ability to do a 360-degree dunk on the basketball court. That’s impressive for anybody, but especially exceptional for a guy that is a stocky 6’0", 195 pounds.

It’s hard to know exactly how a guy from a relatively unknown school who was drafted in the 18th round and is two years removed from independent baseball has had so much success, but Glen Perkins, a fellow Minnesotan, has a theory. “I think he got healthy," says the closer, who grew up in Stillwater. “Obviously I never saw him throw a pitch until he came to camp with us two years ago, and I know we signed him…and obviously he had a pretty good run in career.

“Obviously the stuff he has now wouldn’t lead you to get released so I’m guessing that his stuff has gotten a lot better, he’s gotten healthier, whatever it might be, but he’s obviously a different pitcher than he was."

A different pitcher, maybe, but that’s about all that has changed. That much is obvious.

Brian Duensing: The Self-Critic

After famously starting against CC Sabathia and the New York Yankees in the 2009 ALDS and going 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA in 2010, there was perhaps some thought that Duensing, a third-round pick out of the University of Nebraska in 2005, would be a starter in Minnesota. His ERA spiked above 5.00 in subsequent seasons, however, and he was sent to the bullpen after 11 starts in 2012 where he was a better fit.

During his tenure as a starter, Duensing was notoriously tough on himself. He never made up excuses in post-game interviews and could be seen crestfallen while sitting in front of his stall in an empty locker room long after the game had ended.

He appears to be better suited, and more content, now that he is a reliever. He throws better from the stretch and has posted a career ERA more than a full run better out of the pen than in the rotation. “There’s times where I’ll have that drive to be a starter and feel like I can still do it," he says, “but there’s days when the bullpen thing is going really well and you think, ‘Things are going well, maybe I should stay in this role.’"

For the time being, it appears that he’ll remain there. He appears better able to handle the ups and downs of baseball as a reliever than he did as a starter, and in a game that relies heavily on a player’s mentality, that can be as important as anything. As far as personality goes, Duensing is closest to Thielbar. “Brian’s just a normal dude," says Perkins. “That’s the weird thing about him is that he just goes out and does his thing and doesn’t really expect much at any point."

Duensing might not have changed much as a person, but he seems to be more at ease now that he’s a reliever -- and that’s a good thing.

Anthony Swarzak: The Goofball

Within a few minutes of speaking with Swarzak, it’s easy to identify him as a little goofier than the rest of his fellow relievers. Although he offers a sincere, firm handshake, he can’t hold back a playful grin. When he’s with his teammates, he tends to keep things loose with a wisecrack or a clever phrase, and his mannerisms alone are enough to turn a downtrodden player’s mood around. But as soon as he gets the call from the bullpen, he becomes as serious as any other player in the game.

“That’s probably why he succeeded in that role," says Perkins, who has known Swarzak since the two players were drafted in 2004, “he can flip a switch, and he pays attention, and then he really zones in when the phone rings and they tell him to get up. He probably knows scouting reports on guys as well as anyone that I played with."

Swarzak’s role is difficult because he can get that call at just about any time during the game. Unlike other players in the bullpen that have a set role and tend to pitch the same amount of time during each outing, Swarzak will pitch in long relief as well as high-leverage situations. “He doesn’t know when he’s going to throw," explains starter Kyle Gibson. “He could throw four innings one day a month in long relief and one inning in short relief. I mean, that’s a tough role to be in. You’ve got to have the right mindset."

“The year he had last year was unbelievable considering he had to be focused from Pitch 1 to Pitch 100, and that’s not easy to do," echoes Perkins. “When you know you’re going to go in a game or have an idea when you’re going into a game, it’s a lot easier to prepare yourself and get yourself in the right mindset to get ready to go."

“The most impressive thing is him being able to bounce back," echoes Guerrier. “He throws two or three one day, he’s available the next day to pitch if need be. That’s the hardest part is going over the hump of saying, ‘Shoot, I threw three innings two days ago. Am I available today?’ and he puts himself in a good spot."

“Be prepared for anything," Swarzak says of his mindset. “Make sure you are warm and your body is in good shape in case the team needs you to pick up three or four innings, and also be ready to come in with your best stuff right out of the gate to get that big double play ball with runners on first and second, first and third, whatever it is."

This is easier said than done, of course, and while Swarzak appears to be settled into his role in the bullpen, he holds out hope to be a starter again one day -- something that differentiates himself from both Duensing and Perkins. “I would love to start," he says emphatically. “I would love the opportunity to start. I’m never going to get rid of the windup with nobody on. It’s just something that I won’t let go.

“I know I can do it, but I also know my value here is to help the team any way I can, and I’m willing to do whatever I can to put on a major league uniform every day."

Wanting to change his role with the team even though he’s mastered an extremely difficult one in the bullpen seems a little bit goofy. But for Swarzak, that might just be fitting.

Michael Tonkin: The New Guy

Tonkin could have easily felt excluded when he joined the Twins bullpen this season. Yes, he was called up last season and yes, he has good stuff, but he is also a quiet, 30th-round pick that few pundits felt would ever make it to the major leagues. Most players selected that late choose to go to college, and those that don’t often spend most of their careers in the minor leagues.

Tonkin had his brother-in-law Jason Kubel on the team during his stint in Minnesota this year, but it was Duensing and Burton who made him feel most at home in the major league clubhouse. “Both of them have been around for a while," says Tonkin. “It’s basically the guys with the most time that I feel comfortable asking questions. Pretty much it’s as simple as that, really."

This is a good sign, of course, because if the veterans in the bullpen were not approachable, younger players would feel less included. Younger players like Tonkin get sent up and down frequently and don’t always feel like they are part of the team because of that, but the ability to approach veteran relievers about anything that is on his mind has made Tonkin feel welcome. “The questions aren’t always about baseball or aren’t always about strategies or facing a batter," he says, “it’s more just what do I want to do right now and where do I want to be?"

“He came up a little bit last year and he was just one of those kids that didn’t say much and just always had a feel of the right and wrong thing," said Burton. “He would ask questions, this and that, and he’d surprise you with something funny, too."

Burton won’t reveal any specifics -- he says they will stay within the clubhouse -- but says Tonkin is one of the goofiest, most random people he has ever met. “He’d be sitting, not saying a word, and then all of sudden he’d say something, and the whole bullpen would be laughing at him."

“He’s a good kid," says Duensing. “He comes in and he keeps his mouth shut, really. If he has questions, he asks, and he works hard and wants to win as much as the rest of us."

Burton and Duensing, as well as Swarzak and Fien, have specifically said that they feel Tonkin has major league ready stuff and plenty of confidence to throw it in the strike zone. He’s also noticeably raw and relies heavily on his fastball, which he likes to use to blow by batters. That strategy works in the minor leagues, where many players are not able to get ahead of his pitches, but has hurt him at the game’s highest level.

“You can’t just live on a fastball up here," said manager Ron Gardenhire before the team sent Tonkin down in mid-May. “He doesn’t throw 98 mph. He throws 94-95 mph, and you’ve got to have a secondary pitch, you have to have something to get them out."

There’s reason to believe Tonkin will be back, however, if he improves his secondary pitches. And if he does get another call up, it is certain that he will be accepted as one of the guys once again. “Tonkin’s been fun to watch," says Swarzak. “He’s got a little ways to go early on here, but he’s got the mindset and the personality to be very, very effective in a major league bullpen."

Matt Guerrier: The Prodigal Son

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Guerrier is the wily old veteran who is extremely familiar with the organization. Only four pitchers have made more appearances in a Twins uniform than Guerrier: Eddie Guardado, Rick Aguilera, Jim Kaat and Joe Nathan. He, along with Kubel and Jason Bartlett, was part of a wave of old faces from the team’s glory years that are ostensibly finishing up their careers in Minnesota.

Guerrier took a little longer to join the team than others because he was coming off of surgery that had taken place in August to repair a flexor mass in his throwing arm, but he also appears to have the most staying power. Instead of being the setup man, as he was before he left in 2010, he has embraced being more of a utility guy. “I definitely feel like I’m kind of an interchangeable piece down there," he says. “I can go a couple innings if I have to and can fill in for guys if somebody needs a day off."

It can’t be ignored that he is also sort of a prodigal son. The Clevelander was drafted by the White Sox and debuted with Minnesota in 2004 at age 25, but left for Southern California to join the Los Angeles Dodgers and had a brief stint with the Cubs before returning to Minnesota this season. He somehow managed to play for the Twins during most of their peak years while watching the team self-destruct from the West Coast.

Yet, despite missing out on Mauer and Justin Morneau’s injury-plagued 2011, the Tsuyoshi Nishioka experiment and the implosion of the pitching rotation that resulted in three straight 90-loss seasons immediately after he left, he got a warm welcome in the Twins’ clubhouse as the team makes an attempt to get above .500 this season.

“It has to do with the guys," he says. “Guys like Duensing and Burton are really easy to get along with and Perk’s witty and fun to be around.

“That makes it easier when the veterans aren’t hard-nosed tough guys and not worried about someone taking their job or something. They embrace it with another guy coming in and you gotta make them feel comfortable so they can go out there and win some games for us."

Jared Burton: The Old School Guy

Ask any reliever in the Twins’ clubhouse and they will tell you that, without a doubt, Perkins and Burton are the leaders of the bullpen. “Perkins obviously has that closer, leader role aspect going and Burton is more like the voice of the bullpen," says Duensing. “We feed off of each other, and we’ll talk about things -- how we want things to go, get things done or whatever, and Burton is the kind of guy that will speak his mind about it for us as a whole."

“They’re the key to our success last year and [show] how to be a professional, how to go about your job and what the bullpen asks of you," adds Fien, who took over Burton’s role as the eighth inning setup man this season. “They just tell you and teach you how to prepare and how to get people out in the big leagues."

The funny thing is that Perkins and Burton couldn’t be more different. Perkins is a first-rounder that came up a starter; Burton is an eighth-rounder that has pitched in relief since A-ball. Perkins is witty and gregarious; Burton is relaxed and soft-spoken. Perkins loves advanced stats; Burton loathes them.

“I don’t care anything about that," he says, emphatically, when asked about sabermetrics. “I’m a traditional guy, and what happens on the field is sacred to me. All of that stuff, yes, it’s a way for people to assess players, assess the game, but I don’t even want to talk about it."

Burton says this with a thick southern drawl. He’s a Carolina guy who went from an eighth-rounder out of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., to Lights-Out Levi -- a nod to his given name -- at the major league level with the Cincinnati Reds before joining Minnesota. He’s a man who will offer a firm handshake, look you directly in the eye and ask your name twice to ensure he has it right. He also is not one to get uptight about things.

“There’s not a lot of high-strung guys that play this game," he says, smiling. “There are a few, but most guys have a laid back side to them. It’s just kind of the vibe of this game."

The one thing that will make him raise his voice in disdain is somebody who tries to take humanity out of the game. Suddenly his drawl is a little less pronounced and his vowels start rolling off the tongue a little quicker than usual.

“It don’t mean anything," he says of sabermetrics. “It don’t have anything to do with what’s inside of a guy when he’s in a tough situation, back against the wall. It has no idea how to rate that player. The human element is pretty irrelevant and most of those guys take a number and plug it in with what they think’s going to happen and it has nothing to do with whether somebody’s locked in for a couple days or if they’re slumping."

While some players may fall back on advanced statistics, Burton says that his success comes as a result of how much effort he puts into preparing for a game. “Confidence is huge in this game for any offense, defense, pitching, whatever, but I always feel like if I feel prepared, then I’m going to be confident," he says, adding that he watches video and has become familiar with most of the established major league hitters by now. “I just glance at the hitters and see what their natural swing is, and then it’s just down to executing pitches.

“In the pitcher’s meetings, you could say, ‘This guy hits fastballs in really well,’ but if your strength is throwing sinkers in, then I’m going to bet that I’m going to execute more than him so you’ve just got to stay with your stuff more times than not and be confident in it.

“And if his strength is your strength, then you’re gonna go, ‘Well, I’m better than you are, so here it is.’"

Simple as that.

Glen Perkins: The Sabermetrician

Just because Perkins knows FIP, BABIP and WHIP, doesn’t mean that he fails to acknowledge the human side of the game. “There’s multiple ways to look at it," he says. “Being someone that understands most or all of the numbers and also someone that’s in this clubhouse and on that mound and in that bullpen, I know there’s a human element."

The thing about Perkins is he doesn’t seem like a guy that would delve into advanced statistics: He once forgot to zip his fly during an outing, bought a round of beers for some hard-core fans during a rain delay and picked a fight with Josh Donaldson of the Oakland Athletics to get his team fired up. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think he was some regular old guy from Stillwater that spends his nights sipping on a Lift Bridge seasonal at Rafters or The Freight House.

“Perk is Perk," says Fien.

The bottom line is that a person who is as human as Perkins is -- seriously, he left his zipper down in front of 40,000 people -- can’t ignore that element of the game when it comes to his preparation. “The hard-core sabermetricians want to throw that out because there’s no way to quantify it and they feel that everything should be quantified," he says. “And it can’t be; it’s not possible."

The stat that Perkins uses most is Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP, which measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average. “I have a 3.00 ERA, I have a FIP that’s 1.30," he says. “I know that the longer I keep doing what I’ve been doing so far for my first 22 innings this season, that the more innings I get, the closer my ERA is going to be to my FIP."

“The four hits against Boston," he adds, referencing a blown save against the Red Sox on May 15, “I know that those hits are going to happen and that they’re going to find holes and then things like the other night happen, and when I give up a leadoff triple and three balls in play get hit to fielders -- it evens out and your batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is going to be what it is."

It ultimately comes down to a search for confidence. For Burton, it is derived from his preparation; for Perkins it is in advanced metrics, although he does rely heavily on a unique routine to get ready for his outings.

Instead of staying in the bullpen, he will sit in the clubhouse for the first five or six innings and then join the rest of the relievers in the seventh. He knows that he won’t have to pitch until the ninth inning and likes to watch the hitters up close on the clubhouse monitors. At that point he could care less what an opposing hitter has done in the last few days, he’s concerned about how that guy is playing on that particular day. “There’s days where guys are on and days when guys are off and you can see that on TV that day," he says. “I want to know if a guy’s bat is slow one day because maybe he went out the night before and he’s dragging a little bit."

That’s the balance Perkins has struck: He knows when the stats matter and when they don’t. Stats will tell you if your ERA is too high or too low and what a player has done over a course of time, but when it comes down to getting three outs with your team ahead by less than four runs, you’ve just gotta know how well each batter is doing that day. “I want to see what a guy did that day, which is kind of opposite of what sabermetric thinking would be," he says. “It’s a small sample size, but that’s all that really matters to me (that day)."

Perhaps it takes a man who leaves his fly open to bring the sabermetricians and old school baseball thinkers together. At the very least, the Society for American Baseball Research should add another acronym to their collection, one specifically designed for Mr. Perkins: XYZ.

Chemistry is built upon shared burdens

The Twins bullpen has somehow made this work. Despite their different personalities, backgrounds and approaches to the game, there is a core group in Minnesota that has found a way to get the job done -- even when the rest of the team has been performing poorly. Some of it is finding their roles -- Perkins as the closer, Fien stepping in for Burton as the setup man, Swarzak as the long reliever, et cetera -- and some of it is just the nature of sitting around with the same group of guys for hours on end, especially when many of those guys played in the minors together. But some of it is just the way it is.

“I mean, I think it’s just how it works," says Perkins. “You want to do well, and when I was throwing earlier in games, when I was setting up and coming in with guys on base, you almost want to try harder in those situations to pick up the guy behind you and make sure that his runs don’t score.

“Part of it is you go in in a certain situation, and the next day you’re back down in the pen and you want to look the guy in the eye and know that you got him and that all reciprocates."

The fact that most of the guys in the bullpen have specific roles is big, according to many of the relievers. In situations where the closer and setup man, or even the long reliever, is not doing his job and everyone is competing to replace him, there can be conflict among the members of the bullpen that can lead to an overall drop in performance. “No one feels like they are stepping on each other’s toes or that they are competing with the next guy or anything like that," says Duensing. “We’re all out there for the same reason and that’s to pick up the starters and give our team a chance to win."

That means that when Fien was able to take over Burton’s job, it was huge that he still respected him as a leader. It also is important that Fien and Burton are both capable of doing Perkins’ job if he’s had multiple outings in a row or gotten injured. And because Duensing has experience as a starter, he can fill in for Swarzak if he’s pitched a lot of innings in a row over the course of a week.

What it comes down to, though, is that they all face the same burdens. They all get too much work during one month and then not enough the next. They all have to come in at odd times with men on base or in high-pressure situations. They all get no attention when they do their job, but become scapegoated when they give up even as many as one or two runs during a game.

“You approach the game the same way if you’re in the bullpen," says Burton. “You’re down there, you sit down there, you watch the game, you shoot the s*** for six, seven, eight innings every night together. Every guy we’ve had here we haven’t had any problems with whatsoever. Any young guy that comes here, they just immediately fit right in."

In some ways, it may be the differences in personalities that ultimately allow all the relievers to develop working relationships. “That’s kind of why it works," offers Guerrier. “If everybody was cut from the same mold, then we’d probably clash a little bit."

Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.

With the way that the Minnesota Twins drafted this year, it looks like they are moving away from pitch to contact -- at least when it comes to relievers..

Take away Nick Gordon, a shortstop with major league bloodlines that fills a need in the infield, and local guy Max Murphy, and eight of the Twins top ten draft picks this year were hard-throwing relief pitchers. Second-round pick Nick Burdi reportedly hit 103 mph on the radar gun while pitching at Louisville and Michael Cederoth came close to 100 mph at San Diego State. Both players are well built -- Burdi is 6 foot 4, 220 pounds; Cederoth is 6 foot 6, 220 pounds -- and many of the other players are of similar stature. All eight of them pitched in college, all eight are expected to sign and there may be one or two that get fast-tracked to the majors.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said before the draft that he could care less who the team takes; he just wants players that are close to the majors, and his wish may be granted this year.

"You always hope for something like that," says assistant general manager Rob Antony when asked if any of these pitchers could join the bullpen this season. "You don't want to count on it or expect it. It would be great, but at the same time you want to be realistic, and it doesn’t happen all that often."

Burdi, for his part, says he's ready to join the Twins any time they are ready. "I've always been a confident player, and I believe in myself and that I'm just as good as anyone in this draft," he said immediately after being drafted. "If they make the decision to put me in the major leagues at some point in the next year or this summer, it would just be an honor."

Of course Burdi wants to play in the majors, and yes, he will have to prove himself before he joins an already stocked bullpen, but a major change in philosophy is taking place at 1 Twins Way. For years, scouts simply saw pitchers as starters. Now Minnesota's scouts have started targeting relievers in an effort to get a hard-throwing player that should be more major league ready and have a fit as soon as he joins the team. "We were always taught as scouts that in the past that most big league relievers were former starters," says Twins scouting director Deron Johnson. "Things have changed a little bit now. Most bullpens, guys are throwing gas. That’s kind of the way it's trending."

The Twins say that their approach with the draft is to take the best player on the board, and arguably they did that with Gordon, but the fact that they took so many hard-throwing relievers is no coincidence. "Are you guys excited about the velocity? No more pitch to contact?" Johnson asked the media with a wide smile on his face. "They got out pitches. They all pretty much have...pretty good out pitches."

Fast-tracking players through the minors? Not forcing relievers to start? No more pitch to contact? What the hell is going on here?

Change is taking place at Target Field. Although the back-of-the-rotation starters will likely continue to practice pitch to contact -- which makes sense for a player without ace stuff that’s expected to throw 100 pitches once a week -- relievers will no longer be asked to rely solely on location.

What this means is that for the incoming draft class, it becomes a war of attrition. Pitchers are going to get hurt -- a couple of these guys already have had Tommy John surgery -- and it's hard to know how many will actually make it to the majors. But that’s the thing about the draft: It's all about finding a couple stars. There are 40 selections, and not all will sign. For the pitchers, it comes down to who can stay healthy. "You can never, ever have too many [pitchers]," says Antony. "You know there’s going to be injuries. We're going through it right now with some of our guys in the minor leagues, and hopefully they'll be back here, if not this year, then some guys next year."

Those that survive will make it to the Show, and they'll be expected to miss bats when they get there. Progress is being made at Target Field; embrace it.

Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.
The announcement that Aaron Hicks was no longer going to be a switch-hitter, a dramatic mid-season effort to increase his production at the plate, came as a surprise to manager Ron Gardenhire. According to Gardenhire, assistant general manager Rob Antony and Hicks himself, the manager was walking through the locker room on the morning of May 26 when Hicks pulled him aside and said that he was no longer going to hit from the left side of the plate against right-handed pitchers..

"He's going to shelf his left-handed swing," Gardenhire announced, unsolicited, to the local media that morning, "[he] says he has no confidence in it, and he's worked at it with Bruno (hitting coach Tom Brunansky) trying to figure these things out this morning, and he said he wanted to hit right-handed."

The thought process with this move is that if you make the game of baseball simpler, it will bring out Hicks' athleticism. More specifically, if he cuts down on the things that he has to do at the plate, and he won't think when he’s at-bat; he'll act without overthinking things. And when Hicks stops thinking, he should become that five-tool player the Minnesota Twins believe he can be.

"That's something that I'm really going to need to do," says Hicks. "I need to simplify everything, I need to be able to do what I can to make hard, solid contact and pretty much go from there."

"To simplify in his mind is to clear it and free it," says hitting coach Tom Brunansky. "As a switch-hitter, the hard thing about switch-hitting is that you’re never going to feel good on both sides. Every switch-hitter I've ever talked to always told me that."

The decision came swiftly, but it does not mean that it was an easy one for Hicks. His father, Joseph Hicks Sr., encouraged him to hit from both sides of the plate growing up and only once allowed him to hit right-handed, his dominant side, against a right-handed pitcher -- during an All-Star game when he was 12 years old. It's not the first time that Hicks has deviated from his father's advice, he also wanted his son to pursue professional golf instead of baseball (Hicks has hit five holes-in-one, his first at age 10), and Hicks maintains that his father is supportive of the decision.

Simplifying the game goes farther than just dropping his left-handed swing, however. Hicks is also learning how to consume information and figure out what major league pitchers are doing to him in order to stay one step ahead of his opponents. And converting from a switch-hitter to a right-handed hitter in the middle of the season is not optimal, especially for a player that is currently hitting below the Mendoza Line.

What it really comes down to, however, is whether or not Hicks is capable of becoming the player the Twins thought he could be when they promoted him directly from Double-A a year ago.

Simplifying things doesn't mean just dropping the left-handed swing

It is too easy to conclude that dropping the left-handed swing is a panacea that will allow Hicks to increase his on-base percentage and allow him to hit for power. Hicks also needs to better process information and show that he is willing to do what he has to do in order to come to the ballpark prepared to face the opponent that day.

This came to a head on May 14 when Gardenhire told the media that he and Hicks had a long talk about picking his game up. The Twins front office is aware that he was underperforming, and it was not the first time Hicks was told that he could not rely on his talent alone. Gardenhire also re-emphasized that it's all about the numbers at the major league level -- he didn't want to have to send shortstop Pedro Florimon down, but if you can't hit .200, you can't stay on a major league roster.

"He needs to get some hits; that's the message," said Gardenhire. "You need to start -- if it's studying the game a little more, studying the pitchers a little bit more, a little extra work in the outfield doing drills and everything, improving your whole game and the way you come to the ballpark and your approach to the game."

Antony went on to add that there were times when Hicks did not know who that day's starting pitcher was, and later that day, a card with that week's upcoming matchups could be seen in Hicks' locker after the game. "That's the preparation: When you show up at the ballpark knowing who you're facing, what you want to try and accomplish, what your approach is going to be, rather than walking in and looking at the board and asking who's pitching today," said the assistant general manager.

Antony went on to say that Hicks gets preoccupied, and ultimately distracted, by some things in his game, and it causes him to lose focus at the plate. "I don't think he always has a plan: How that guy is going to pitch him, how he is going to be prepared for it," he said. "It's going to be more of a mentality of, 'I feel good, and I'm going to rake today.' Well that's great in high school or whatever, but it's a little more sophisticated, and there's a lot more preparation that goes into it."

The Twins provide the necessary information -- how a pitcher approaches right-handed hitters, what he throws in 0-2 counts, if he has any tells in his delivery -- and all the accompanying film, but they can only go over what to study so much. Eventually, players must learn on their own what film they want to watch and how much detailed information they need. Some players prefer to watch hours of film and want to know which pitch is going to be thrown in a 1-2 count; others don't watch film of themselves at the plate unless they are dramatically changing their swing and only want to know which pitches the opposing pitcher will throw and how often he uses them.

At this point, Hicks is still figuring out what information he needs on a daily basis and says he is looking at a lot more film than other players that have figured out their swing. Dropping one swing, ironically, has meant he's had to watch more film to figure out how to face right-handed pitchers from the right side of the plate.

"There's actually a lot of information to learn," he says. "Some stuff you need, and some stuff you don't. Some stuff works for some guys and for me, it's more I like to focus on the small things -- percentages on fastballs and curveballs and all that stuff and then go from there to my game plan."

Sometimes keeping it simple can be, well, kind of complicated.

Dropping switch-hitting mid-season is uncommon and suboptimal

Gardenhire cannot think of any players that have stopped switch-hitting in the middle of a season, nor can Antony. Many players do it in the minors, and there are a couple examples of players that have done it during their major league careers, but it's hard to find somebody that did it mid-season. Still, J.T. Snow, Rico Petrocelli and Reggie Jefferson all dropped switch-hitting during their major league careers.

Hicks is unfamiliar with those names, but teammate Eduardo Nunez dropped switch-hitting in the New York Yankees minor league system before he was traded to the Twins this season. Unlike in Hicks' case, it was team management who told Nunez to drop switch-hitting, but Nunez only sits a few lockers over from Hicks and can offer him advice on how to make the transition.

Hicks says that the two have already spoken about the change, but it was not incredibly encouraging. "When I was thinking about it, we actually talked a little about it," he says. "He was talking to me about how he went, like, 1-for-50. I was like, uh, all right..."

"If we were in a perfect world right now we would be able to send him down and do this at the Triple-A level, but we're not," acknowledged Gardenhire, knowing that Sam Fuld is out indefinitely with a lingering concussion and Danny Santana's natural position is shortstop. "That's just the way it has to happen."

"He could go down to Triple-A -- we've talked about that -- it would be great to be able to send him down to Triple-A," echoes Antony. "I'm not sure he would face everything. Even if he goes down and hits fairly well down there, it's completely different. You go watch Triple-A ball for a week, and then come back and watch this, it's night and day."

When asked if he'd rather go down to the minors or learn at the major league level, Hicks laughed and said that of course he'd like to stay in the majors. While that's understandable, it also means that Brunansky is delivering him a crash course on right-handed hitting. He sets up the pitching machine and has it throw him breaking balls over and over again. In one drill, Hicks never offers at them, all he'll do is sit and track them and decide if he should offer at them and at what point he wants to make contact. "A lot of the problems we see with breaking balls coming from a lefty, we want to go out here," he explains while extending his arms, pantomiming a swing at a breaking ball, "because we know it's going to come to us. With a right-hander, we can't do that because if we see a pitch out there, and we think we’re going to go get it, by the time it's supposed to be bat-to-ball contact, it's got to be a little deeper."

Hicks is used to seeing fastballs from righties because there are no left-handed batting practice coaches. Therefore, pitches that may be dramatically different and difficult to hit from the right side – say, a fastball high and inside -- Hicks has already seen. "He gets that every day. He sees that in BP," explains Brunansky. "The biggest challenge is the ball that's going to be breaking away from him."

There's also some thought that Hicks should play better from the right side even though he is used to hitting left-handed against righties. His left-handed swing is learned and did not come naturally to him. He is also noticeably more aggressive from the right side of the plate. What it comes down to is Hicks will have success with the transition if he is able to process information fast enough to stay one step ahead of pitchers.

Can he still reach his potential?

Antony has no doubt that Hicks will become a great player one day. To him, it's a matter of when, not if. "I'd be extremely surprised and disappointed if he's not a solid everyday major league outfielder," he says. "It's a process; it’s going to take time. I'm not saying that's going to be the case overnight, but there's a lot of guys that have gone through the process, and he's got a lot of athletic ability, and he's shown all the tools now, so it's just a matter of when he's going to put it together."

Gardenhire has already noticed a difference with Hicks. He believes that a weight has been lifted of his player's shoulders and that he's starting to display more confidence in the clubhouse and on the field. "I see him walking around here, he's actually kidding around, joking around a little bit more than ever," says the manager, "and you can tell he's a little more relaxed, there's no doubt about that."

Not only that, but according to Gardenhire, there have been no more issues with his work ethic. He's been showing up to the field early, taking extra batting practice and knows who is pitching every day. "He's doing a lot of work, and I think he feels good about that so it all gets down to the performance on the field and putting it to use during the game," he added, "but he's definitely bumping around on people, throwing elbows at people. You can definitely see he's a little bit more relaxed."

Hicks, for his part, has played everything pretty cool. He says that he has set a goal of hitting .250 and is not worried about doing anything too fancy. If he hits a home run, it's simply a ball he was trying to knock into a gap that carried a little further than it was supposed to. "I need to focus on just getting hits, not trying to hit home runs or trying to get doubles quite yet," he avers. "But just being able to step in the box and be comfortable in there is a step I needed to make."

Brunansky just came out and said it: by simplifying the game, he's trying to bring out the athlete in Hicks. "That's the whole game plan," says Brunansky, standing in the clubhouse batting cages with a wide smile on his face. "You can't think, you can't think. You come in here, and everything we do is react -- trust what you see, and react to what you see."

See the ball and hit it. It's simple, as long as you don't think about it.

Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.
I don't want to get stuck there; I have a lot left to do. It's awesome to have a nice month or a nice week or whatever -- don't get me wrong -- but the season’s 162 games. You don't just play the month of April.

-- Chris Colabello, April 26, 2014

Chris Colabello often begins his sentences with the phrase, "At the end of the day" when he is trying to make a particularly important point. The sentence is often viewed as a verbal crutch, a meaningless idiom someone uses when they have trouble emphasizing a point, but for Colabello -- a well-spoken Economics major from Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. -- it symbolizes his philosophy on baseball. He believes that to succeed in a game that the 30-year-old has played professionally since age 21, he must conquer the moments that make up the larger timeline..

On April 23, Colabello was hitting .346 with a .962 combined on-base and slugging percentage (OPS). Between then and the day he was sent down. May 25, he hit .110 with a .331 OPS. As Kurt Suzuki continued his hot streak and Chris Parmelee caught fire and was called up after being dumped from the 40-man roster, Colabello was not only removed from the cleanup spot, but from the lineup in general. So when Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham came back from the disabled list, it was Colabello that was sent down to Rochester. And it was on that day that he delivered perhaps the most somber of his at the end of the day lines. "Playing", he said while standing outside his locker room, looking glum, "is what it's all about at the end of the day."

There are a series of Colabello truisms, many of which he has punctuated with his patented phrase:

At the end of the day, it comes back down to what I talk about all the time: It's the ability to go up and have a competitive at-bat regardless of the situation, regardless of if you're down 10-1 or up 10-1 or whatever the scoreboard says. It can't dictate the way you play the game.

At the end of the day, you have to put yourself in a position as a hitter to execute when you get mistakes, and it's a combination of things. You hit balls hard, they get caught, all of a sudden you look up and, 'Well, I haven't gotten as many hits as I had before.’

At the end of the day, you're trying to figure out what other guys did when they went through the same situation you did.

These can all sound like platitudes heard in any locker room from any professional athlete: You have to have competitive at-bats; you have to put yourself in a position to execute; you have to figure out what other guys did and learn from it. But what separates Colabello from the average player is his knowledge of the game and his ability to relate complicated baseball concepts to those around him.

Every at-bat is a battle with the ball, for example. It is not a battle with the pitcher or the pitch count or the conditions that day. It is with the ball. Because as soon as the leather leaves a pitcher's hands, he no longer has control over it, and it is in that moment where the ball is traveling from his hand to the plate that the hitter is in control. The ball has left the pitcher's hands. He can spin it, sink it or hurl it 95 mph -- it doesn't matter. If a hitter can conquer that moment, he can put that ball in play.

Colabello had many memorable moments in the first month of the season, but none was more memorable than a home run he hit in Tampa Bay on April 23. As Marney Gellner interviewed Colabello’s parents, Silvana and Lou, in the outfield seats at Tropicana Field, he hit a ball past the 404-yard marker in center field, only a few feet away from where his parents were seated. The best part of all of this was that, well, it was his mother's birthday that day.

You can't make that stuff up.

But Colabello doesn't dwell on those moments. Asked only three days later if he has reflected on his season so far, especially that day, he said he had not. "Maybe I could have done more," he said. "If I start thinking about what I have done or what I have accomplished -- that's for the end of the season. That's for the last day, [then] you start thinking about what the numbers say."

Immediately following his quote about trying to figure out what other players did when they were in his position -- in this case he specifically mentioned Twins coaches Tom Brunansky and Paul Molitor, two former players -- he dropped this mind-bender: "Rich said something to me early in my career, 'We're all just messengers in this game.' I'm not inventing anything new. I'm not creating a new formula. I'm just passing along information that somebody gave me." Rich, in this case, is former major leaguer Rich Gedman, his manager when he played for the Worcester Tornadoes in the independent Canadian-American League.

Sure, Colabello acknowledges that sabermetrics have changed the way that people approach the game, and the economics major certainly has the mental horsepower to crunch the numbers, but he says that the Society for American Baseball Research has not fundamentally changed the game that Gedman played in the 80s and early 90s. "I've always been a numbers guy, but the more I'm around the game, the more I understand that it's not about the numbers as it is about individual moments that create numbers," he says. "Numbers are created over the course of individual moments."

When you put yourself in search of a number, you start to create or force or expect or whatever. As a player, when you get caught doing that -- every time I got caught doing that in my life, I've failed. Miserably. You look up at the numbers, and they are what they are. You can't judge a guy on his numbers until the season's over.

So at the end of the day, numbers don't matter to Colabello. He could be hitting .350, .250 or .150, but his goal the next morning is to beat the ball. He is going to capture the moment where the ball has left the pitcher's hand and capitalize on it. It is failure to execute that caused Colabello to go from the player he was in April to the one he was in May. He may have seen his batting average dip from around .300 to below .250, but at the time he was sent down, he was still leading the team in RBIs. At the end of the day, Colabello said, he stopped executing in that moment, that split second where he is in control and the pitcher is not. And make no mistake; the Twins had a tough time sending him down. "It sucked," manager Ron Gardenhire said a day after Colabello was reassigned.

That's not fun because I like having him here in the first place. He had a heck of a first month, we all know he struggled, we know he’s had a hard time.

"He's great for the ballclub, roots for everybody, cheers for everybody, but it's all about results, and he's been struggling lately."

It's tough to send him down because his knowledge of Spanish allows him to be the clubhouse translator. It's tough to send him down because he never once complained about losing his spot in the lineup. It's tough to send him down because he was more than willing to share his knowledge of the game with anybody and everybody who would speak with him. "You've got to have people that [you can talk to], those outlets. You have to have outlets to eliminate frustration. People that help you get in the right frame of mind. For me, personally, that's what Rich Gedman was for me for a lot of years," Colabello says. "When you grow a personal attachment to someone over the course of time, you figure out who you are a little better, how to push the right buttons. Obviously you hope to do that with people here, and I think I have started to for sure."

Colabello has formed a meaningful relationship with Aaron Hicks and has served as his mentor during his time in the major leagues. The great irony is that the center fielder is everything Colabello is not. Hicks is a great defensive player; Colabello is a below-average outfielder. Hicks is a first-rounder; Colabello went undrafted. Hicks skipped Triple-A; Colabello played seven years of independent ball. Hicks hails from the West Coast; Colabello is from the East Coast. And if a player is in his athletic prime from 26-32, Hicks is two years away from entering his physical peak, and Colabello has only two years left.

"Hicks is a tremendous athlete and obviously his skillset speaks for itself," says Colabello. "Everybody in the room knows about his skillset, and I got to come up with Hicksy. The sky's the limit with him, and he's certainly making adjustments every day and working hard to get to the place he has to be."

It was Colabello who Hicks turned to when he was contemplating going from a switch-hitter, something he had done his whole life, to exclusively hitting from the right side of the plate. "When I approached him with the decision that I made that I was going to become a right-handed hitter, he was like, 'Hey, you know what? If that's what you believe in your heart, then go ahead and do it.' He just said, 'Do you. Do you.'" Hicks said. "It definitely made my decision easier for me."

Hicks was so confident in his decision that he pulled Gardenhire aside as he walked through the clubhouse on the morning of May 26, unsolicited, and told him he was going to hit right-handed from now on. His whole life, Hicks had been a switch-hitter, something his father had encouraged him to do growing up. That day he went 2-for-4 from the right side of the plate against Nick Tepesch of the Texas Rangers, a righty.

Even early in the year, before Colabello broke Kirby Puckett's record for RBIs in April or gave his mother a souvenir on her birthday, Hicks raved about Colabello's leadership ability. "He's really outspoken," Hicks said. "A leader? I would say yeah because he's a guy that wants to win. He loves to compete, and those are the guys that you need in the clubhouse."

Colabello loves to compete, but what separates him as a leader is his patience with others and willingness to get to know them. Hicks is one of the most misunderstood people in the Twins organization. At every level he says that his coaches thought he was "cadillacing," in his parlance, because his natural ability allowed him to run and swing the bat so effortlessly. "Yeah, I'm a relaxed player," he said. "Every time I have a new manager they always say it to me, but then the more games they see, it's just what it looks like. I'm making all the plays and doing everything right. What can you do?"

It was Colabello who took the time to get to know Hicks during their tenure in Double-A and in the majors. The two eventually became roommates and say they had constant communication while they were together on the road. "He's a pretty quiet guy for the most part, not really emotional," Colabello says of Hicks. "He cares. He cares a lot. A lot of times, people don't necessarily" -- he pauses for a second -- "he's a tough guy to read."

The two will be separated now that Colabello has been sent down to Rochester, and it is during this trying month that he has reminded himself of what Gedman told him years ago. "There's probably a range where guys belong, where guys fit into their whole lives," he says. "Rich used to say, 'Your range is anywhere between .270 and .330.' He said, 'You're going to find a way to be in there at the end of the year when it's all said and done. That's who you are.'"

"I don't care what you play: Little League, Babe Ruth, high school, college, not many people hit .300 six years in a row. There's an art to it, an understanding of it," Gedman said when asked about Colabello's stats in the Can-Am league. "Knowing how to do it, regardless of the level you're playing at, you're doing something that some people can do and other people can't, and he’s one of those kids."

So yes, there will be times when Colabello leaves the ballpark, and the scoreboard shows a batting average lower than .300. But at the end of the day, he believes he's a .300 hitter. And if that is true, this isn't the last we’ve seen of Chris Colabello.

Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.
Much has been made of the Minnesota Twins' outfield situation this year. A pair of infielders, Eduardo Escobar and Eduardo Nunez, has seen time in the corners, centerfielders Aaron Hicks and Sam Fuld have suffered concussions and two power hitters Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia have been out for most of the season. With Hicks struggling at the plate, some are asking why the team let Alex Presley and Darin Mastroianni pass through waivers and get claimed.

"Whenever you make decisions, everyone can look back in hindsight and say, 'We should have held on to Presley,'" said assistant general manager Rob Antony. "We ran Presley through [waivers], we ran Parmelee through, we ran Diamond through -- Presley got claimed.".

Antony also does not want to give the impression that because the team likes Hicks, they are averse to providing competition for the second-year player. They still feel he has upside, but they understand the importance of depth at that position, especially if Hicks continues to hit below the Mendoza Line and has to be sent down. "I don't want to say, 'We've got Hicks, we don't need anyone else.' We looked at Mastroianni as an option, we brought him up when we needed a spot and we claimed Fuld."

On the injury front, Antony says that Minnesota is looking into changing the padding on the centerfield wall. It could potentially be a difficult thing to do in-season, especially with the All-Star game coming up because he does not know how much time it would take, but when both Hicks and Fuld went down with injury, Antony says he got a call from ownership asking if there was anything that could be done about the outfield wall.

"We're looking to see if there's any options of outfield walls we could possibly install," he said, adding that he has spoken to Matt Hoy, the team's senior vice president of operations, seriously about the matter. "They said that they are aware of one other type of wall that is a little more cushiony and we’re going to take a look at that and see if that's something that we want to do."

The bottom line is that if the Twins are going to continue to play .500 baseball, or even try and have a winning record this year, they are going to have to shore up their outfield. Escobar, a utility infielder, made a critical error that led to a loss against the Cleveland Indians when he thought the outfield wall was closer to him than it was. Santana has speed, but the natural shortstop lacks experience at centerfield. And Jason Kubel, Chris Parmelee and Chris Colabello offer power at the plate, but are not known for their defense.

"I'm not sure you're ever properly prepared for Willingham, Arcia, Hicks, Fuld -- all those guys being on the DL at the same time," said Antony. "As long as they have 40-man rosters, it's going to be hard to have four or five guys go down at the same time."

Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.
Kyle Gibson is aware of the long list of pitchers this season that have undergone Tommy John surgery. The Minnesota Twins pitcher is happy that he is pitching well now that he is two years removed from the procedure, but he still laments that it is becoming routine for hurlers to have go under the knife.

"As a pitcher, I wouldn't call it scary," he said. "Everybody knows it's part of the game. Unfortunately I see it become more and more part of the game. I have no idea why.".

SB Nation has compiled a Tommy John "Kill Sheet," and with names like Matt Harvey, Josh Johnson and Jose Fernandez recently joining that list, teams are left wondering what is at the root of this epidemic. "I don't know the reasons why all of a sudden now this elbow thing's coming up where I don't think anybody’s treating pitchers any differently," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "I don't think they are doing anything different in college or high school, I think it's just the violent motion of throwing a baseball."

Gibson, who had the procedure done in November of 2011, has no solution to Tommy John surgery. Instead, he sees it as a learning experience. The rehabilitation he went through taught him new techniques he could use to strengthen and preserve his arm, and the year away reminded him of how much he loved baseball.

He understands the importance of good mechanics and preserving the arm at a young age, but says that sometimes pitchers who were instructed by wise coaches still get injured. Gibson does not want to fundamentally change the game of baseball by having pitchers throw four innings or toss the ball from a lower mound, nor does he want to see young pitchers to see the surgery as a magical procedure that will help them reach the big leagues. Instead, he sees it as an opportunity to learn techniques to stay healthy and throw harder following the surgery.

It can happen to anyone

When Joba Chamberlain and Stephen Strasburg underwent Tommy John, experts blamed the "Inverted W," a pitching technique both players implemented where they picked up both elbows above the shoulder during the cocking phase of the pitch. But Harvey, the Mets ace, had sound mechanics and also was sidelined due to a UCL tear.

"You've got guys that are talking about mechanics and the inverted W, you've got guys that had Tommy John that don't do that so it could just be something where you throw for a long time, and you throw hard for long enough, and your arm just wears down," said Gibson. "You just try and stay on top of it as much as possible and keep your conditioning up, but some of it is luck," he continued. "I mean, who knows? Like Matt Harvey, who thought Matt Harvey, who has really good mechanics, is going to get hurt?"

Tommy John himself came out and said that he feels that the reason so many players are having the surgery named after him is because they specialize so young and play year round. Others blame high school and college coaches that emphasize winning over player health, often letting pitchers throw over 100 pitches if they continue to get players out in latter innings.

Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony says that he looks into a player's history before drafting him, but will not be dissuaded from drafting a player that is considered Tommy John prone. "You look for arm action probably as much as anything. Some guys just have a little more risky arm action, but you gotta be careful," he said. "A lot of it major leagues clubs can't control because of what a player has done coming up in high school or if you went to college, how he was used, pitches that he threw, when he started throwing the ball, if he pitched year round.

"There's so many factors you can't control. You get the pitcher at that stage of his career, and go from there."

The Twins knew that Gibson may be injury prone coming out of the University of Missouri, but took him at No. 22 overall in 2009 and gave him a $1.8 million signing bonus. "When we drafted Gibson out of college, he had a stress fracture in his forearm, and a lot of people said that was a precursor to Tommy John, and we all knew that was a possibility," he said. "He ended up having Tommy John, but if that's behind him now, and he goes on and pitches the next seven years, we'll know the issues were well worth it."

Gibson understands Tommy John's argument and does not discourage kids from playing other sports, but he also says that the only way to improve arm strength and pitching motion is to actually do it. He says it's like a runner: The only way to get better at sprinting is to go out and sprint. Yes, it may be a more natural motion, but it's the same basic concept in his mind.

"The only way to throw harder is to break those muscles down and build them back up," he said. "It's kind of a double-edged sword: If you want to throw hard and you want to make your arm stronger, you've got to go out and throw. There is no magic exercise that's going to do that for you."

Don't change the game

As the number of pitchers undergoing Tommy John increases, baseball writers have begun mulling ways to reduce the amount of UCL injuries among starting pitchers. Esteemed Sports Illustrated scribe Tom Verducci wants to see the league lower the mound while Anthony Murray of The Atlantic suggested that teams limit MLB starters to four innings. Both options have gained some traction, but neither is appealing to Gibson.

"In general, it doesn't matter what athletic profession you're in. Your career is a short career," he said. "To take somebody that is just getting into the league and limiting them to four innings, maybe not ever seeing what they can do late in the game probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense."

Besides being energized by their competitive nature, pitchers become accustomed to the mound being a certain height and pitching a certain amount of pitches. They develop habits early on that allow them to pitch accurately at a high velocity, and dramatic changes to the game could be detrimental both to their performance and to their health.

He praises pitchers like Anthony Swarzak, a Twins reliever that is able to throw any amount of pitches in just about any setting. The former starter is used both in long relief and spot duty and has traditionally handled an inconsistent workload well since being moved to the bullpen (Swarzak only had 5 starts in 2012 against 39 relief appearances. In 2011, he had 11 starts and 16 relief appearances. You could probably say he's been close to full-time relief for at least two years prior to this; arguably three. That's why I nixed "last year.")

"You've got to have the right mindset, and if you ask these guys, they're comfortable knowing their role and to do as good as they can in that inning or with one batter," he said. "To expect all of these guys to go out there and have their mindset open and say, 'I'm going to throw three innings today,' that’s going to be difficult for a lot of guys."

It's not a magical procedure

In May, Gregg Doyle, a national columnist for CBSSports.com, wrote that Tommy John is becoming a growing addiction among young pitchers. Dr. James Andrews, a preeminent sports surgeon who has operated on Stephen Strasburg, Adam Wainwright and Joe Nathan, said that he has to turn away many adolescent players that want to get on the operating table before they enter college thinking it will help them improve their game.

"The ones we have the most trouble with are high school players, sophomores and juniors," he told Doyle. "They're worried about their career and going to college, or worried about getting drafted out of high school, and their parents are pushing."

Andrews said that he could have a player like that ready for surgery in 15 to 20 minutes, but refuses to do so because the surgery is not foolproof. The procedure entails holes being drilled into the bones of a pitcher's upper and lower arm and a tendon from the pitcher's arm or leg getting snaked through those holes in a figure-eight pattern to stabilize the elbow. It isn't a simple operation.

"I wouldn't ever tell somebody to go get Tommy John just to throw harder," said Gibson, who has had two elbow surgeries. "I don't think you can really appreciate what the sport does for you until you're actually aware of it. You take a year off and you don't get to enjoy the fun and excitement of being on a team."

Gibson says it is all about the rehabilitation. Growing up, he threw long toss as long as he could during the offseason to build up arm strength and made that part of his rehab, but he also learned new techniques to build up his arm and shoulder while staying on a strict regimen. It was the rehab, he says, more than the surgery that allowed him to have success after the operation.

"Once you get to pro ball, it's a lot on yourself, and it's a lot of self-discipline," he said. "Even me this year, there's times when I don't really have my shoulder working, and when you're rehabbing you've guy a guy standing right next to you [giving instructions]. They keep on top of you because they understand how important that rehab process is.3

"If I probably took that same diligence that I had for that 12 months and applied it to every day after Tommy John, I'd probably have a lot better chance of staying healthy. That's kind of the goal, is to take what you learned in the process and use it as part of your routine."

Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.
The Minnesota Twins would have liked to have replay back in 2009. It's a while ago now, but most baseball fans in the Twin Cities remember Game 2 of the AL Division Series that year against the New York Yankees when Joe Mauer hit a ball that was clearly fair and would have scored two runners with the bases loaded, only to have it called foul. ESPN's Dave Schoenfield called it one of the five worst umpiring calls in baseball history. Yes, they were wearing different uniforms, playing in a different stadium and, well, winning more games than they lost back then, but this memory is still fresh in the minds of many Twins fans..

The fact that left field ump Phil Cuzzi, who was only standing a couple feet away from where the ball landed, blew the call was instantly visible to anyone watching the game that night. The ball was obviously fair and although it was at the top of the inning, it was unlikely that the Yankees would have won the game in the bottom frame.

Although the ball was fair, it's difficult to whole-heartedly blame Cuzzi in this situation -- he's human. He may have been standing close to the action, but the ball dropped in an instant and Melky Cabrera may have blocked some of his vision. The bottom line is that it shouldn't have mattered: An instant replay would have shown the umpiring crew that the ball was foul almost immediately and he would have been overruled.

Replay, at its core, is a necessity. If a fan sitting at home can tell that a ruling is incorrect, it should be overturned, preventing a blown call from ruining a perfect game or a team's chance of winning a playoff series. The problem is that replay can become cumbersome and start to affect the game in ways that should be prevented.

While the Twins would have liked to have Mauer's opposite field hit replayed in 2009, the same review system has gotten in their way five years later. Starting pitcher Kevin Correia was pulled from a quality start against the Chicago White Sox because of instant replay in his first start this season. Manager Ron Gardenhire used his first challenge of the year to overturn a ruling on a catch by White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and won it, but by the time the umpires were looking at the play, Correia was already cold and Gardenhire decided to remove him from the game.

In his second start of the season, Correia was once again victim of instant replay when a ball originally called foul was replayed to see if it was a home run. It turned out it wasn't, and Correia and other Twins players, including Chris Colabello who was in right field that day, thought it was clearly foul. Biased? Maybe, but it looked foul all the way on television. It wasn't like the Mauer call where the announcers instantly knew the call was wrong. Correia was having a rough day anyway, but the replay didn't help his cause at all. "It would have been nice if it was a little quicker," says Correia, "but that wasn't even a new replay rule, that was one we had last year so it's just something we'll have to get used to." Gardenhire echoed his pitcher's sentiment, saying that while it's important to get things right, the whole process needs to speed up.

"I don't like it stopping the game: That's two times we've been involved with it so I don't like that part of it," he says, "but the ultimate goal is to get it right. It's not working yet, as far as the quick part of it goes, but we're supposed to get it right."

The most difficult part of it, at least for the manager, is figuring out which calls can be challenged and when he can just ask the umpires to take another look. After the sixth inning, managers are no longer able to challenge calls and the umpiring crew will initiate all replays. But managers are allowed to ask umpires to give a play a second look, just to be sure. This, of course, creates a difficult situation: managers want to reduce the amount of times they have to officially challenge a play because if they are wrong, they lose it, but at the same time they want to ensure that they are not victim of a bad call.

It also creates confusion on plays that cannot be challenged, but are reviewable. For example, a foul-tip cannot be challenged, even if a catch in the field can. "It's not a reviewable play, [but] they can look at it," says Gardenhire of the foul-tip. "They can look at it. It's not challengeable, I don't think, but you can ask them to look at it and get help." So how is a catcher dropping a ball and a fielder dropping a ball any different? Well, managers find themselves confused there too.

"Well, that's our argument," he says referring to a specific foul-tip on Wednesday. "He caught the ball, there was no play being made anywhere. He caught it in his glove, turned it back and then dropped it. He caught the ball. There was no play being made anywhere." He went on to explain that there are multiple plays that can and can't be challenged and there is a laminated sheet that he keeps at his desk in his office explaining the official rules, but there are many grey areas.

Why, for example, can he not challenge a warning given by the umpires? When closer Glen Perkins got into it with Josh Donaldson of the Oakland Athletics and each bench was given a warning after each dugout cleared and entered the field, nobody actually got in a fight, everyone just danced around. Why was an official warning issued then? "Can I challenge that?" Gardenhire said of the incident, which took place Wednesday. "That's what I asked [the umpires], and I'm serious. Why would you throw a warning on that? Nothing happened." He couldn't use a challenge because the incident took place after the sixth inning and it wasn't a challengeable play anyways.

That may seem trivial, but what about a situation with the new rules about collisions at the plate. When can he use a challenge? Can he avoid using a challenge by just asking the umpires to look at the replay? Does it matter if it takes place in the first inning or the ninth? "Plays at the plate, can you ask them, 'I think he blocked the plate?' Or do you ask them, 'I think he was safe, you called him out?'" pondered Gardenhire. If you ask one way, the umpires may think you are inquiring about subjectivity (Was the catcher blocking the plate?); asked another way, it may be interpreted as a question of where the tag was applied (Was the runner safe?). It's all semantics, but when a run is on the line, this becomes very important.

"I thought the best part about [instant replay] was they were showing the replays on the big board," he says, referring to a rule that allows controversial calls to be replayed on the jumbotron while the umpires are communicating with New York. "The fans were all involved and they were oohing and aahing."

In time this will work itself out. With a fan's ability to watch just about every game in high-definition and see replays over and over again, it makes no sense to allow an umpire's error to influence the outcome of a big situation. Everyone will have to be patient and allow this to work itself out, but in the mean time, confusion around replay can be frustrating. "Why do you think I've been thrown out of 67 games?" Gardenhire asked rhetorically. "There's a reason."

Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.
It's easy to hate the Mike Pelfrey signing right now. He started the season 0-3 with a 7.99 ERA, has lost velocity on his fastball, has been placed in the 15-day disabled list, doesn't know what is wrong with his arm and the Minnesota Twins offered him a two-year, $11 million contract last summer.

Many Twins fans did not like the contract to begin with, expressing shock and disappointment when he signed because of his low strikeout rate, control issues and slow pace of play. Team management likes him because Pelfrey is a former first round pick that had two good seasons with the New York Mets in 2008 and 2010, has a positive presence in the clubhouse and is always accountable after his poor outings. That has done little to appease Twins fans that are fed up with poor pitching, however, especially when they were against the signing from the beginning..

"That was weird," tweeted Parker Hageman, a blogger at Twins Daily, in response to the signing, which was initially reported by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. "The tweet by Heyman made it sound like the Twins made a 2-year deal to Mike Pelfrey. That can't be right." While Hageman appeared to be dumbfounded, Aaron Gleeman, who hosts the popular podcast Gleeman and the Geek with John Bonnes of TwinsDaily.com, expressed frustration upon hearing the news. "If the Twins sign Mike Pelfrey to a two-year contract," he tweeted, "I quit."

Although he had a 5-13 record with a 5.19 ERA last season, pitchers have traditionally thrown better a year removed from Tommy John surgery. By re-signing Pelfrey, they were hoping the 30-year-old veteran would have a Kyle Gibson like leap in production once the pitch count was removed and his mechanics returned to form.

It should be noted that super agent Scott Boras, who also represents big-name players like Stephen Strasburg and Barry Zito, negotiated Pelfrey's contract. Strasburg famously received a record-breaking four-year, $15.1 million deal with the Washington Nationals as a rookie and Zito is much-maligned in San Francisco for signing a seven-year, $126 million contract, the highest for any pitcher at the time, and falling to the back end of the rotation and failing to live up to the money.

Pelfrey got two years and now the Twins have a puzzle to figure out. Pelfrey went on the DL with a groin injury, but he says that that is not what is causing his velocity to drop. "My arm physically is fine," he said the morning it was announced he would be going on the disabled list, "if there was something wrong, at least it would give me an understanding of, 'Maybe this doesn't feel right. Maybe this is it.'"

Pelfrey has insisted that he has been healthy since returning from Tommy John surgery earlier than expected last season, but the results have said otherwise. He is being hit hard on a regular basis and is hardly reminiscent of the player that was drafted No. 9 overall in 2005.

It's also hard to tell when he is actually hurting. He's a 6'7", 250-pound man from the heartland that is willing to play through injury. When asked if he was going to go on the disabled list following his last outing, which came on May 1, he said that he hadn't even thought about going on the DL. This has led to speculation that his groin injury is simply a cover-up that will allow him to take time off and play in the minors while he tries to figure out what is wrong with him.

The story has been consistent, however. While pitching to Dee Gordon, the first batter he faced against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 1, he went back to fix the mound by rubbing his cleats against the sand, slipped and pulled his groin. Both manager Ron Gardenhire and assistant general manager Rob Antony offered the same story to the media before Pelfrey spoke and Pelfrey said that he has pulled his groin before and experienced pain there during Spring Training.

"It's been there," he said. "I've strained my groin a lot, but I'm fine. It's more sore today, a lot more tender today then it is usually is."

Antony said that he was told the injury did not affect Pelfrey's performance, but just became more irritating over time and then stiffened up after he came out of the game. He also said that Pelfrey mentioned the injury to team trainer Dave Pruemer before throwing a bullpen session, indicating that the team was not initially going to put him on the DL.

Even if you choose not to believe his story, it makes little sense for him to pitch through a groin injury while trying to figure out while his fastball has dropped to the high 80s and lower 90s when it is supposed to be around 93-95 MPH. He also said that it does not affect his stride or otherwise influence his pitching.

It also makes little sense to put him in the bullpen. While Pelfrey's absence gives Samuel Deduno an opportunity to prove himself as a starter once again, it makes little sense to add another former starter to a bullpen that already carries Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing -- converted starters who now serve as relievers.

The Twins do have the option of cutting Pelfrey and eating the $11 million he is owed, but that too creates a predicament. While there are myriad reasons why he struggled last year, which Gleeman sums up in this post, and Twins fans would like to believe that Alex Meyer and Trevor May are going to come in and dominate immediately after being called up, most rookie pitchers have a steep learning curve before they can become part of the regular rotation. Even recent stars like Johan Santana, Matt Garza and Kyle Gibson struggled in their rookie seasons and took a year or two to find consistency at the major league level.

By cutting Pelfrey right now, the Twins have essentially limited themselves to five starters: Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia, Sam Deduno and Gibson. Nolasco and Hughes signed long term contracts in the offseason, so they are not going anywhere, but Correia is on the final year of his deal and Deduno has control issues. Keeping Pelfrey around is wise, so long as he does not have serious issues that will prevent him from pitching in the future.

There are a lot of consistencies here. Pelfrey has always been accountable and honest about his situation and people are not piling on -- those who were against the deal were against it from the very beginning. The Twins want players that take ownership of their play and are good influences in the clubhouse, and Pelfrey offers both, but they also know that he needs to produce in order to keep him on the big league roster.

"Everyone roots for him," said Gardenhire, referring to the players in the locker room. "He's a great guy, a great guy in the clubhouse, but the big leagues is all about results. You have to get people out and you’ve got to give your team a chance."

For Pelfrey to do that he’s got to figure out what is wrong with his arm and his pace of play needs to improve, especially with men on base. If he can do that, the Twins will look smart because they got a first-round pick with a first-class attitude at a value price. If not, there will be a lot of people tweeting "I told you so."

Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.
Paul Cantiani, the man that brought independent baseball to the city of Worcester, Mass., believes that Minnesota Twins first baseman Chris Colabello should wind up and hit a tree. Evergreen, birch, hickory or willow - it doesn't matter: He should just let loose and wail on some arbor. "I just want to punch him once in a while and say, why don't you get pissed off? Punch a tree or something," says Cantiani in an East Coast accent so thick he could be mistaken for a Family Guy character. "He just smiles back.".

Cantiani is kidding of course. Colabello broke his hand while playing in his penultimate season for the Worcester Tornadoes, the Canadian-American independent league team that Cantiani brought to central Massachusetts. Even if he hadn't done that, it isn't smart for a person that wants to hit a ball 400 feet or throw a runner out at home to run around punching trees.

Colabello would be justified if he let loose, however. He played his first MLB game at age 29 last year. He is also primarily a first baseman, a fungible defensive position where Joe Mauer will play next season, and a right fielder, where first round pick Chris Parmelee and blue-chipper Oswaldo Arcia play, and he hit below the Mendoza Line in 181 plate appearances as a rookie. That means that if he cannot get the bat going, he probably will not find a spot on a major league roster. He cannot play for the Tornadoes if he gets cut because they folded shortly after he entered the Twins system and he does not have much more to accomplish in the minor leagues after being named International League MVP and Rookie of the Year last season.

None of that bothers Colabello, though, because he is just taking it one step at a time. "Every day my focus is on the task at hand and when I say that I mean it," he says. "If you get too caught up in where I'm going to be in a week or where I'm going to be in two weeks or what's going to happen in my next at-bat or all that stuff, it has a tendency to really detract from what you're trying to do as a player."

"He doesn't feel pressure," says Cantiani. "He's acting no different in the major leagues than he did when he was [with] the Tornadoes. I'm not kidding you; the kid's wacky. You can tell him I said that too. If you talk to him about me, he'll tell you how much he loves me."

Beloved in Worcester

Everybody in this city took to him because he's just so personable. He'd stay after games and sign autographs for an hour or two hours and it was all for nothing. He's just a nice kid.
- Paul Cantiani, Cantiani Insurance Agency

"The one thing I can say about Paul for sure is that he has a huge heart and he's a very straight shooter," says Colabello. "Until you get to know him, it's hard to see how big his heart is and what kind of guy he is." He calls Cantiani the Godfather of Worcester. "He's a guy that cared very deeply for a lot of players who played for the Worcester Tornadoes those years when I was playing and became like a surrogate dad to me."

It was not as though Colabello needed a surrogate father, though: Both of his parents, Lou and Silvana, were supportive of his choice to pursue professional baseball despite his long odds and allowed him to live at home while he was playing for the Tornadoes. Lou, a high school physical education teacher and former pitcher, met Lou while he was playing professionally in Italy. "My mom and dad have the same passion for the game that I do," Colabello told Sports On Earth's Pat Borzi. "A day on a baseball field is better than a day somewhere else. That's the way I looked at it."

So while his parents were comfortable with him living at home until age 27, it was Cantiani that got in his ear about his pursuit of a career as a professional baseball player. "I was like, 'you're outta your goddamn mind!'" yelled Cantiani, adding that Colabello made enough money to live independently during that time. "Would you goddamn move out? He loves his mother and father."

"They were more than happy to have me there," says Colabello, smiling. "I was an only child in an Italian family."

"The problem I was having, personally at the end, I was saying, 'Chris, you're 27, you're 27 years old, stop bullshitting yourself. You've got to get out and get into the real world and find some kind of career,'" says Cantiani. "I used to think he was playing baseball because he was too lazy to get a job."

The two used to get together every for lunch when Colabello was playing for the Tornadoes, but Cantiani would not allow Colabello to talk about baseball. "He knows I don't want to hear it," Cantiani says. "I want to talk about your life, I want to talk about your girlfriend: I want to make sure you don't knock her up."

In the offseason Colabello taught baseball lessons and worked camps and clinics while also substitute teaching at local schools. Not only was it additional income for Colabello, who made between $800 and $2000 a month playing Indy ball, but it also allowed him to integrate with a community that he cared for greatly.

He even went so far as to participate in an event called Dancing with the City, Worcester's play on the popular television show Dancing with the Stars. Colabello, who admittedly is a poor dancer, took Beth O'Brien, the wife of former City Manager Mike O'Brien, to the event. He had to do countless lessons, in addition to playing baseball, in order to be competent enough to dance in front of other people. In three weeks he learned how to do the Cha Cha and the Limbo. "Why would a guy do that? He just respects the City Manager," says Cantiani. "And then he calls me up one time and says, 'We're going out with the City Manager's daughters for lunch.' So he takes me because he knows I'll pay - so he's not stupid."

Leaving Worcester
In terms of Worcester, it couldn't have come at a better time, but you could have said that four or five years ago when he got traded or anything like that.
- Keith Beauregard, assistant coach at Santa Clara University

While the daughters of the City Manager were not typical guests of Colabello and Cantiani when they sat down for lunch, Keith Beauregard was. Currently an assistant baseball coach at Santa Clara University in Northern California, Beauregard competed against Colabello in college and then was his teammate for three years with the Tornadoes. "He's one of my closest friends," Beauregard says of Colabello. "That's my boy right there."

They both grew up near Massachusetts - Beauregard is from Leominster and Colabello is from Milford - and chose to play Division II baseball locally in the Northeast-10 Conference: Beauregard played for St. Anselm in Manchester, N.H. and Colabello played for Assumption College in Worcester. Because the baseball community in Massachusetts is smaller than it is in hardball hotbeds like California, Texas, and Florida, the two knew each other from playing summer ball and in high school. "We played against each other in the same conference, so it was one of those things: I wanted to beat him every time and he wanted to beat me," says Beauregard, "but when we got to Worcester we had mutual respect for one another."

The two had lockers next to one another while playing for the Tornadoes and established a daily routine. They went to the cages with manager Rich Gedman, a major leaguer who played from 1980 to 1992 and spent 11 years with the Boston Red Sox, and hitting coach Barry Glinski, who coached at Assumption from 1981 to 1988. Both players say that it was the close bond they had with their team - a ragtag collection of players that had played all levels of the game ("You had guys from South America, guys from Australia, and then you had your Canadians," says Beauregard. "It was an extremely diverse culture.") - that allowed Worcester to win a Can-Am championship in 2005.

But two years later Worcester was slumping and Colabello, hitting .300 in the heart of the order, was traded to the Nashua Pride in the middle of the season. Suddenly, Worcester's native son was hitting cleanup for a team in New Hampshire. The decision to deal Colabello took a toll on Gedman, who like Cantiani and Beauregard had become incredibly fond of him. "I was very, very close to him and we spent an awful lot of time together and maybe it was a fault of my own that I was so close," says Gedman, "but my thing was I felt he was better served by being traded than he would have by playing and going through what we were going through at the time."

Colabello went on to win a championship with the Pride that year and returned to the Tornadoes in 2008. By that time, however, Beauregard had moved on. At age 25, he wanted to try his hand at real estate. He moved to New York, worked for Prudential Douglas from 2008-10, came back to the game in 2011 and played 11 games for Pittsfield and then went to work on Dan O'Brien's staff at Santa Clara two years later.

Colabello was playing for Worcester in 2011, but the ground was falling beneath him. The team had trouble competing against all the baseball in the area - the Red Sox, Paw Sox, Lowell Spinners, legion, and high school - and found itself in financial trouble. The end was near when, after the 2011 season, the Minnesota Twins reached out to Colabello. In the Can-Am league, each team is only allowed five veteran players and was looking at signing Jose Conseco in order to draw a larger crowd and try to stay solvent. Colabello signed with the Twins that February and saw the team that he and Cantiani build go bankrupt and fold.

"In terms of Worcester, it couldn't have come at a better time, but you could have said that four or five years ago when he got traded or anything like that," says Beauregard. "It came at the right time. It came at the right time for him. His maturity as a hitter has increased greatly and his ability to generate power not only to his pull side, but to the opposite field side, his understanding of pitch selection, pitch sequences is unbelievable right now."

So Colabello dodged a bullet in some sense by signing with the Twins, but there was still the matter of going from Mickey Mouse baseball, as Cantiani called the Can-Am league, to Associated ball.

Hitting Like Pujols and Cabrera

The thing that made him ultimately give it a chance was I was showing him clips of Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, and Hanley Ramirez and when I showed him a clip of himself and it was the farthest hit ball that he's ever hit up to that point and he looked at it and the things that happened in that swing were completely different than his intent.
- Bobby Tewksbary, A.B. Athletic Development
"Chris always had this thing in his head, if he doesn't hit .300, he's a failure," says Cantiani. "That's why when is average goes down, he panics a little."

Colabello hit .300 every year when he was with Worcester, including his rookie year in 2005 as a 21 year old, but this was different. With the Twins Double-A affiliate in New Britain, Conn. he was going to be playing 134 games; in the Can-Am league he played around 90. In New Britain he was affiliated with a major league team; in Worcester he did not. He was playing with major league prospects, Bonus Babies, in New Britain; in Worcester he was not.

"I don't care what you play: Little League, Babe Ruth, high school, college -- not many people hit .300 six years in a row," says Gedman. "There's an art to it, an understanding of it. Knowing how to do it, regardless of what level you're playing at, you're doing something that some people can do and other people can't do and he's one of those kids."

"Richey Gedman loves him," says Cantiani, adding that the two do regular hitting lessons together and also put on clinics for underprivileged children in Worcester. Colabello fell short of .300 for the first time in his professional career, however, when he hit .284/.358/.478 for in 134 games with the Rock Cats in 2012. He still was promoted to Triple-A last year and it was there that Colabello, at age 29, had perhaps one of the best single season turnarounds for a minor league veteran in baseball history.

In 89 games with the Rochester Red Wings, Colabello hit .352/.427/.639 with 24 home runs. Never before in his professional baseball career had he hit above .350. Never before in his baseball career had he hit more than 20 home runs. Only in his final year with the Tornadoes did he have an OPS above 1.000 and yet, in his first year at Triple-A, Colabello's on-base plus slugging percentage totaled 1.066.

How did that happen? It was a combination of instruction from the Twins, Gedman, and a friend named Bobby Tewksbary.

Colabello met Tewksbary during the 2004 New England Collegiate Baseball All-Star Game during the summer between their junior and senior years of college and then played a year and a half together on the Tornadoes. Unlike Colabello and Beauregard, however, Tewksbary was never a .300 hitter in the Can-Am league. In fact, the Hudson, N.H. native never cracked .250 in the 72 games he split between Worcester and the North Shore Spirit in Lynn, Mass. But it was getting away from the game that allowed him to instruct hitters to do what he himself never could on a baseball diamond.

"I went to New York City for a couple years, got away form baseball, and I started looking a the swing again, looking at video again," he says. He went out and bought a high-speed camera and went to the 2008 Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium and took footage of Josh Hamilton as the former Texas Rangers slugger hit 35 home runs at New York's old park. "The time away from the game allowed me to look at things in a different light," he says. "When you transition from playing to coaching, you teach what everyone taught you. I got away from it for a couple years and started seeing some things differently that what I always thought was happening."

Colabello broke his left hand late in the 2010 season in a game against Les Capitales de Quebec. It was raining out at the time, but because the Can-Am league did not have a budget for makeup games, so the teams played on. Colabello caught a fastball in the left hand when the pitcher fell off the mound and missed the rest of the season with a non-displaced fracture. "At that point I was really starting to feel good about myself," says Colabello. "When I got hurt, I was still hungry. Going into the offseason, I decided that I was going to start hitting right away. I was going to do everything I could to be the best hitter that I could be that offseason. That was when I first really made that commitment to being the guy I am today."

It was during the 2010 offseason that he began to work with Tewksbary. The mechanics Tewksbary teaches do not fall in line with conventional wisdom, which preaches short swings and few moving parts -- something the Twins preach to their hitters from the minors on up. Tewksbary, who studies film of great hitters so often he says its like he's conducting a C.S.I. investigation ("People talk about the 10-year, 10,000-hour rule," he says, "I've blown past 10,000 hours a long time ago."), has found that the best hitters in the game today, guys like Hamilton, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera, have large swings with multiple movable parts that all serve a purpose in the swing.

Twins general manager Terry Ryan has openly expressed his concern regarding the moving parts in Colabello's swing, but Tewksbary insists that his method is the reason why Colabello went from being a .284 hitter in New Britain, to a .352 hitter with 24 home runs in Rochester. Asked about the moving parts in Colabello's swing, Tewksbary replied that "I want to be careful answering this question because I don't want to piss off Terry Ryan or get Chris in trouble, but I'll say that the movement of Chris' swing is not random.

"We've spent a lot of time studying video, we've spent a lot of time adding and removing different components of his swing and the movement that exists in his swing has purpose," he continues. "It's in sync with what the pitcher is doing, it's in sync with his plan with how he is trying to be successful, there's nothing random about what he's doing in the batter's box."

Twins hitting coordinator Bill Springman acknowledged via email that Tewksbary and Colabello have a relationship and said it is not an "instructional type of relationship," but offered no further comment. "I would definitely consider Chris a friend before I consider him to be a client just because of our history," says Tewksbary, "but he's a smart kid, he's very smart, he's very critical and objective and has very good questions." Colabello actively works with Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky during the season and hits in Tewksbary's Nashua, N.H. facility in the offseason.

Two of the Twins best hitting prospects, Oswaldo Arcia and Josmil Pinto, have large swings and both players had success at the plate as rookies last season: Arcia hit .251/.304/.430 with 14 home runs in 97 games and Pinto hit .342/.398/.566 with 4 home runs in 21 games. During the past two seasons, Tewksbary has traveled to Ft. Myers, Fla. for Spring Training with Colabello and was impressed by both players.

The first year he traveled down to Florida, he did not know many of the Twins prospects, so he walked around the complex and a left-handed hitter caught his eye. "I went over to the cage underneath the stadium and there was this lefty hitter just raking, mashing balls off of the iron mike and I took video and this guy has the best swing that I've seen here today," says Tewksbary, who had no idea who that player was, but had been informed by Colabello that there were two players that could hit: Arcia and Pinto. "So I'm going back to my video at the end of the year, looking up the big league camp roster and the lefty I saw was Arcia."

Tewksbary got a chance to see Pinto when he was called up to Double-A. He was at home and he and Chris decided to see New Britain play when they visited the Blue Jays' Double-A affiliate in New Hampshire. "I was there watching batting practice and I see Pinto swing, I have no idea who he is, and as soon as I see him take one swing, I look at Chris and I'm like, 'Who's that?' and he slapped himself on the leg like 'I knew it, that's the guy I was telling you about.'

"When you see the guys with these mechanics, it jumps out at you because it's different," Tewksbary continues. "The more you understand it, the more obvious it becomes. As far as I'm concerned, it's not really debatable that it exists because you can look at the video and it's pretty obvious once you know what to look for."

Colabello initially rejected Tewksbary's advice, challenging repeatedly in verbal disagreements that often grew very loud, very quickly. "It was pretty funny, he would question me about specific hitters, he would question me about certain wording, and he was very adamant about emergency swings and how am I supposed to protect the plate? How am I supposed to hit the inside pitch or the outside pitch?" says Tewksbary. "He needed to understand the concept to understand there might be more to what he is capable of."

"More than a player, he's a student of the game," says Beauregard, who acts as the hitting coach at Santa Clara. "He understands the game extremely well at one of the highest levels I've ever seen."

Early on in the training process, Tewksbary would have Colabello try "something crazy" with three swings and then the two would yell for three hours. Then they would try something different, only to have another shouting match ensue. "It was hilarious because we're good friends and he's got some Italian in him." Eventually, though, Colabello gave in and began to see results, culminating in his Triple-A performance last season.

"He showed up and he didn't have to show up," acknowledges Tewksbary, who says that Colabello is a friend first and a client second. "He could have been like, 'You know what? You're crazy, I don't need this. I'm as successful as I need right now, I'm comfortable with what I'm doing and I don't need it.'

"Despite the confrontation that we used to have back and forth, he kept showing up, kept giving it a chance."

Don't Label Him Quad-A

More than anything else, what makes Chris special is the type of person that he is. He's a good teammate, a good person, and that's what makes him special. It's his perseverance, his desire to want to be one of the best, to overcome obstacles where most people would have given up - that's what makes him special.
- Rich Gedman, former major leaguer and manager of the Tornadoes
"Baseball likes to label people and create definitions of people and a lot of times its accurate,but people are really quick to throw that Quad-A label on players," says Tewksbary, "To know where he came from and to know where he's at, he's gonna battle, he's the type of kid that's going to do everything he can and challenge himself harder than anybody could challenge him to be a better player and to succeed."

"His dream would be to die on the ball field," says Cantiani. "I ain't shittin' ya: Kid's wacky."

"He played seven years of Independent ball and I bet you 99.9 percent of the population in America that knew him was like 'When is he going to hang it up?'" says Beauregard. "[He's] going to do all he can to make the Minnesota Twins the best possible team that they can be or whatever team he is a part of for the remainder of his career."

Colabello himself says that he never once considered quitting because baseball meant so much to him. He said that he promised himself he would play as long as three things held up: 1) Physically he could do it, meaning he was capable physically, financially, and emotionally, 2) That he was still having fun playing the game, and 3) That he felt like he was getting better. "I felt that was the most important one and over the course of time, that just kept happening," he says. "More than anything, my hunger to get better grew."

Colabello says the fraternity of players that have gone from Independent ball to the majors has welcomed him.

"It's funny, when you're in Independent ball, you have a tendency to really keep an eye on the guys out there," he says. "You keep close tabs on those guys because you know what it took to endure over there and kind of get through it." Colabello speaks highly of players like John Lindsey and Steve Delabar, who made it to the Show after playing Indy ball and says he looks up to Daniel Nava, who has had success with the Red Sox.

Gedman feels that Colabello has made a major impact on the Canadian-American league and the players playing in it. "New anybody who plays in Independent ball can go, 'If Chris Colabello can do it, why can't I?'" he says. "For whatever the reason or for however it happens, it gives that league a valid reason to be there. Yeah, you can get there from here. It might be a hard road, but if somebody gives you an opportunity, you never know. "That's what makes his story so special."

For Colabello's part, he's just focused on the moment. His long-term goal, of course, is to play into his 40s, but right now it's about making the team and producing at age 30. "Hitting .300 has always meant the world to me, for whatever reason. From when I was a little kid, I understood what it meant to hit .300 and we have the epitome of that guy in this clubhouse every day," he says. "To watch Joe Mauer go about his business and be as steady as he is every day, he's so poised." Colabello says that he is at his best when he breaks down an at-bat into its most basic form form: a battle between a hitter and the pitch that is thrown. He knows he'll stay as long as he can produce at the plate, and he has proven he can hit at every level except the game's highest. In order to take his game to the next level, he will focus on each individual moment rather than the big picture.

"A lot of times we catch ourselves focusing too much on the future instead of staying in the present," he says. "Aspirations of what you want to be down the road have to come from the individual moments."

Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.