Pitchers and catchers report in just two days, and the Twins’ home opener at glorious Target Field is less than two months away. Save your jokes about the potential for snow on opening day; if you think a little dusting is going to ruin this, you’re not fit to be Minnesotan.
And in that spirit, I’ll share this great piece of sports journalism with anyone who cares. Yes, its centered on one of my lost true loves, former Twins ace and future Hall of Famer Johan Santana. Yes, that he’s no longer kicking off the Twins’ starting rotation depresses and angers me. And yes (batten down the hatches!), I’m pretty sure I’d trade Mauer for Santana — straight up. But that’s probably an emotional trade, not a logical one.
On to the journalism.
A reporter for the New York Daily News spent a day with Johan, playing catcher for the ace in a simulated mow-down of the heart of the Philadelphia Phillies lineup.
“I like to visualize because I always want to picture something,” he said. “It’s never just throwing.”
With that in mind, Chris Correnti, the Mets’ conditioning coach working with Santana, places a wooden silhouette of a hitter in the righthanded batter’s box and says, “Victorino up first.”
And with that I’m suddenly thinking about trying to get Shane Victorino out, putting down fingers, calling for a fastball away, a changeup, a backdoor slider and an absolutely killer changeup for strike three.
Easy enough. Same for Rollins. Santana hits his spots, always on or just off the corner, in or out. Of the 40 or so pitches he threw, in fact, only one pitch leaked into the middle of the plate, and that brought a grunt of disgust from the lefty.
Rollins goes down on a 1-2 fastball on the inside corner, and Correnti moves the silhouette to the left side to simulate Chase Utley. This time Santana just misses the corners enough to walk Utley, to another grunt of disgust, and so now I’m envisioning Ryan Howard’s hulking frame in the lefty box.
Santana throws a fastball on the outside corner, a changeup down, and then, as promised, bounces a slider just off the outside corner that caroms off my arm, 15 feet away to my left.
I scramble to retrieve the ball, happy that I got a piece of it, not realizing until I turn to throw that Santana is staring me down.
“Utley’s at second,” he says. “What’d you think, I was going to throw (Howard) a cookie there? Now I’m in a tough spot.”
I know he’s kidding. Isn’t he? No smile this time. Santana is in work mode. He takes these simulated games seriously because he takes a thinking man’s approach with each hitter, watching the swings they take, trying to decide when they might be sitting on his changeup.
You get more than a sense for how great the pitcher is or how much his fastball stings. You see his jovial side. You see his ferocity. You see his utter joy at returning to his delivery of old, now that those pesky bone chips have been banished from his elbow.
A good writing teacher will always remind the student, “Show, don’t tell.” John Harper doesn’t tell us Johan is one of the most dominant pitchers the game has seen in years. He doesn’t need to.
[photo via NY Daily News]