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The Last Piranha
By Gordy Jones
It’s been only a couple of years since White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen – speaking of the Twins’ small, pesky infielders — gave them the label of “Piranhas.”As the Twins continue to restructure their infield, Nick Punto is the only remaining Piranha – and this year he has played all over the place.
In 2005, Punto won the starting job at third base and he played there through 2006, when he batted .290. But he slumped most of the season last year — only batting .210 in 472 at bats.
It was frustrating for fans and teammates to watch, because everyone wants Punto to succeed. He’s been a sparkplug for the team on the field, and a big personality in the clubhouse.
What people sometimes fail to appreciate is that Punto is an amazing infielder – one of the best in the majors. At 5-foot-9, he’s relatively small, but he can cover a lot of territory, and he has a great throwing arm.
I asked Punto if he was always an infielder. He told me: “As a child I always played shortstop… shortstop and pitcher. That’s all I played until I got into the majors.”
I think everyone—fans and teammates alike — enjoy being around Punto because he treats everyone with kindness, and has such a love for this game.
“I love to play baseball. I’m so blessed to do what I do. I don’t take it for granted. I know it’s not going to be here forever. I just really enjoy everything about the game of baseball, and I am really glad to be part of it. I can’t get enough. I’ll talk about baseball all day long.”
This year, Punto is hitting the ball a lot better. When he was put on the disabled list for a pulled hamstring on May 10, he was batting .265. Last year he just didn’t get any breaks. When he did hit the ball hard, it would be right at someone. Even so, I believe his defense saved the Twins many runs, and helped offset his struggling offense.
Punto learned to be a switch hitter from a childhood coach and also from his father, Lou, who played in the Red Sox organization.
He is very close to all of his family, and he and his wife, Natalie, will soon be parents. He wore a proud smile when he told me that on May 30, Nicole Jane Punto will be born. Together Nick and Natalie are active with the Twins Community Fund, and hope to start their own charity for kids once the baby is born.
Then he asked me to relay a message to the young readers: “Kids, work hard, whatever it is. Whether it’s your school work, or after-school sports, give it your heart, and have a good time doing it. Make sure you smile.”
He then picked up his glove and a ball, gave them a good stare, and just smiled.
Check out Gordy’s book at baseballguy.org. Gordy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org