Everybody Loves Tommy
Still looking for his
first shot at the big leagues, Tommy Watkins
of the Twins is the ultimate team player â€" on and off the field
They saw the same qualities in Tommy Watkins
that the scout did.
"He's hard to find," Weitzel says, as if Watkins
were a species of some sort.
sits outside the Hammond Stadium clubhouse, a bruised bat in his
hands.Minnesota Twins' Tommy Watkins (#61) warms up before the home opener with the Cincinatti Reds at at Hammond Stadium on Friday, March 2, 2007. The Cincinatti Reds defeated the Minnesota Twins 5-2.
...Minnesota Twins' Tommy Watkins (#61) warms up before the home opener with the Cincinatti Reds at at Hammond Stadium on Friday, March 2, 2007.
The Cincinatti Reds defeated the Minnesota Twins
A Fort Myers native, Watkins
is now 26.He
has played nine seasons of baseball in the Minnesota Twins organization.
But never in the big leagues.
This is the closest he
is in camp with the Twins for the second straight spring.
This time, he
- - - His
mind is a photo album of baseball memories.To recall a certain breakthrough in his
flips through the images to find the requested snapshot.
Some are clearer than others.Scary clear, actually.
talks of his
transition to Triple-A, he
spares no details.It is as if he
holds a stack of press clippings in his
The short story goes like this:Watkins
is sputtering along as a utility player for New Britain in Double-A.He
manages only 101 at-bats for the Rock Cats in the first 10 weeks of the season.He
has a .218 average with no homers.
One day, he
is summoned to the manager's office.He
has been called up to Triple-A for the first time in his
career, thanks mostly to the big-league promotion of shortstop Jason Bartlett, a prized prospect.Watkins
finds himself in Rochester.He
wins the starting job at short, hits .276 with four homers, and helps the club reach the International League's championship series.
Ultimately, the performance earns Watkins
a return trip to big-league camp.He
reports to a clubhouse locker right beside Torii Hunter's, where he
has the chance to exchange trash talk with the veterans.
Once again, Watkins
is likely to start the season in the minor leagues.If he
starts in Rochester, as expected, it will mark the first time in his
career that he
has begun a season in Triple-A.
...Watkins, who has split time this spring between left field, shortstop and second base, has played every position except catcher in his nine seasons as a pro.
Catcher is next.Maybe.
"I think I might be able to do it," Watkins
says."If the opportunity was there ... "
has jumped around so much is significant for two reasons.Not only does it exemplify his
versatility, it also shows that he
is a team player.
Consider back in Single-A, with the Fort Myers Miracle, when someone was needed to eat a few innings on the mound.Like anything else asked of him, Watkins
When asked to name their favorite player, some mentioned Albert Pujols or Derek Jeter; others said Tommy Watkins
The love affair with Watkins
extends to the Twins clubhouse, where the utility maven is known as something more endearing than a teammate.
"The Mayor," they call him.
The moniker is a tribute to Tommy's star power in Fort Myers.Not necessarily at Hammond Stadium, but in places such as Shady Rest nursing home, a stop on the club's winter caravan.Bartlett, the everyday shortstop, remembers joining Watkins there back in January.
"I'm glad to see ya," Sirmons told Watkins
, a Riverdale High graduate.
.Turns out, he's
as versatile off the field as on it.Every bit the team player, too.
focus to another snapshot.He
flips the pages.He
is 17 again.He
watches a trainer wrap it up.
The short story goes like this:Watkins
is a senior at Riverdale, the team's star shortstop.Because of the broken digit in his
left hand, he
can't bat or play the field for 14 games.All he
can do is run.Robert Pringle, the Riverdale coach, uses Watkins as a bullet in his holster.
"Baseball is something I've loved to do since I was 4," Watkins
says, rubbing sweat from his
...Tommy Watkins Sr., who played five seasons in the Cincinnati Reds farm system, has joined a traveling softball team, and his son often accompanies him to practices.
Senior's teammates embrace the kid.Already, he
is a crowd pleaser.
Even in high school, Pringle never considered Watkins
his most gifted player.
knew the game.He
If there is one thing about Watkins
that seems understood, it's that he
has a future coaching baseball on the professional level.
That, however, is for later conversation.
On the cusp of a breakthrough, Watkins
hardly wants to discuss his
life after the game.
Weitzel tells Tommy
to play the percentages.He
advises him to hook up with a junior college.
"I just wanted to play baseball," Watkins
says."I was real fortunate to get a chance to play."
It explains why he
pays the game back.Why he
plays so hard.Why he
does so much.
But hustle and sacrifice can only take Watkins so far.If he
is to make the big leagues, he
must show he
has the skills.
Like last year.
From Fort Myers to Rochester, Watkins
has always had fans.He
now has believers.
has a chance," Ryan says.
sees it, too.
"It does feel like I'm getting closer," he
admits, "but I don't like to think about that stuff.I can't control it."
can do is love the game and hope it loves him back.All he
can do is have a good time, encourage his
teammates, leave his
best effort on the field.
The way he