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The Minnesota Red Wings?


By Gordy Jones


The Twins have been playing like a minor-league team because that is what the team mostly consists of at this time: minor-league players.

Some are not ready for the majors, and some might never be ready. But manager Ron Gardenhire needs bodies so that he can fill in names on the lineup card, and really has no choice but to play those who aren’t ready.

With Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Jim Thome, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka still on the disabled list, and with the long list of guys who have been sick or injured since opening day, Gardy’s blood pressure has got to be on the rise.

With the exception of Jason Kubel, who has been outstanding, even the uninjured guys are playing as though they’re lame. How about Alexi Casilla? And Justin Morneau is still not swinging with authority.

Joe Mauer is still out, and his replacement catchers haven’t even batted their weight. Drew Butera is great defensively and calls a good game, but has been awfully weak at the plate. I was rooting for catcher Steve Holm when he was called up, because I watched him hustle during spring training. But it was the same deal with him. He played respectably behind the plate, but was batting only .118 when the Twins sent him back down to Rochester.

Terry Ryan, former GM who is now special assistant to general manager Bill Smith, and also a special scout (a great guy and great baseball man, too), had been watching minor-league catcher Rene Rivera crack the ball good a couple days in a row, and suggested the time was right to give him a chance. Even though he may have been hitting the ball well as of late, he was still only batting .217. The last time he was in the majors was five years ago in Seattle, for 53 games.

When I Googled “Rene Rivera,” Rene Rivera, the new executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, had more ink and stories about him than ballplayer Rene, which shows he’s been pretty removed for the last five years. At the time of this writing, Rene has collected one hit, and has struck out six times in 15 at bats. But it’s tough to replace an All-Star, MVP, Gold Glove, Batting Champ catcher with a minor-leaguer.

When Trevor Plouffe was called up from Rochester to help fill the gap in the middle infield, I was rooting for him, too. I watched him work hard for the last five years trying to make the big club. But with the talent we’ve had in the past, he’s never made the squad, except for a short fill-in stint, every now and then.

One reason I like this guy, besides the fact that he lives and breathes baseball, is that he’s very close to his mom. Many great baseball guys have been. Dave Winfield’s mom attended many of his games, and he’d consult with her about anything that was on his mind, whether it be baseball, business, or personal. Denard Span’s mom is at most of his games, even on the road.

Even umpire Tim Tschida flies his mom to Fort Myers so she can watch him work, and they can spend some time together. Joe Mauer told me the main reason he does the Kemp’s ice cream commercials is so he can spend the day with his mom. When people mention all of the great Mauer athletes there have been before Joe, he laughs and says that he got his talent from his mom, who was a championship high school basketball player.

One day in spring, I was walking to the minor-league field because a rehabbing Justin Morneau was playing his first game there. A nice lady walked by my side and asked if I could show her which field they were at.

“Is there a charge to get in?” she asked. I told her minor-league games were free during spring training. Then she proudly told me that her son was Trevor, and he was playing in the game. She was worried because she was late, and Trevor would be very concerned because she was traveling alone.

As we approached the field, I could see Trevor playing shortstop, and in between pitches, his eyes nervously scanned the crowd. Then almost immediately, mother and son made eye contact, and they both had relieved smiles on their faces. The next pitch was a hard-hit ball to Plouffe; he made a nice play and threw to Morneau for the out. Then he turned and looked at her with a smile that said: “That was for you, Mom!” I later found out that she is a 10-year cancer survivor.

This year, Trevor Plouffe seemed to work his hardest – maybe he assumed this could be his last chance to make it. Although he made a few screw-ups while playing in the spring games, he seemed determined not to dwell on them. He hit well, but was competing with Matt Tolbert. He didn’t make the team for the opener, as he lost out to Matt Tolbert. However, with all of the Twins’ distress, Trevor was soon called up.

Things were going well, but as fate would have it, on Mother’s Day while he wore pink shoes for his mom, he strained a hamstring while scoring. Hopefully, by the time you read this, he’ll be back and can score more for mom. The saga of Trevor Plouffe will continue.


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