When I first came up to big league camp with the Twins in 1997, Paul Molitor was nearing the end of his career, and he had a big impact on me. What’s interesting is that I now see so many similarities between Molitor and Bobby Abreu, who has been such a great teammate this season.
Molly came over and didn’t talk about himself, what he’d done. He just talked about things that he thought could help me. It wasn’t like he was trying to tell me what to do – he was giving me options, things to think about. He wasn’t about changing your swing. It was about figuring out the best ways to use your natural ability.
One of the things Molly stressed was getting a good pitch to hit. Be aggressive, but also be smart. Don’t bury yourself in counts swinging at pitchers’ pitches. I’d been a very aggressive hitter in my Minor League career, and Molly stressed that I had a better chance of getting hits swinging at strikes.
He had so much information and was so willing to share it, I couldn’t understand why more guys didn’t go to him. Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones and myself, we all tried to pick his brain every chance we got. He was a DH in ’97 and ’98, at the end of his career, but we knew everything he accomplished – 3,000 hits, clutch hitter, World Series champion.
He had a short stroke and was aggressive up there. Back in those days, it wasn’t about on-base percentage and walks as much as it is now, and from my point of view that’s more about how the strike zone has changed than anything else. You look at old game film on MLB Network, and you’ll see strikes called that are balls now.
With Bobby, it’s the same thing here, working with all these young guys, as it was with Molly in Minnesota. Bobby will talk about hitting, baserunning, defense, anything you want to talk about. He knows the game inside-out.
He’s been a huge help to Erick Aybar, Kendry Morales, even veteran players like Chone Figgins and myself. Howard Kendrick, I’m sure he’s gone to Bobby. When you have somebody like that in your clubhouse, you take advantage of his knowledge.
One thing Bobby pushes is that you’ve got a better chance to get a hit in the strike zone – the same thing Molly talked about. With Bobby, he can tell you about it and show you how to do it. His approach up there is amazing. He has such great awareness of the strike zone and confidence in his ability to hit with two strikes. He’s always looking for that pitch he can handle, and when he sees it, he goes after it.
Something else about Bobby: He’s always been a clutch hitter. Just like Molly. When I was in Minnesota, Bobby was the one guy we didn’t want to beat us. Everybody knew what kind of hitter he was in the clutch.
It seems like Bobby is finally starting to get the respect he deserves with the media and fans. He’s always had much respect from the players. Everyone in the game knows what a great player he’s been for a long time.
When you think about it, it was that way with Molly too. Late in his career, people started looking at his numbers and seeing how great he’d been for a long time.
I’ve been lucky to play with two guys like that – total pros who play the game right and love to share their knowledge and experience.
We’re down a game in this series, but we’re not out by a long shot. I know what a team can do when it comes together and plays the game with something to prove. I’ve seen it firsthand.
My first exposure to the postseason was in 2002 with the Twins. In ’01, we were in first place the whole season until Cleveland came back and beat us. We were up by five games in July. We were a young team, with guys like David Ortiz, Jacque Jones and Corey Koskie. We would up in second place, and it was devastating.
That winter, there was all that talk about contraction, how they were going to contract the Twins and the Expos. I was getting calls all winter, people asking me what was going to happen. I thought I was going to be somewhere else. But we got everything worked out, and we came into the 2002 season determined to show everyone what we could do with our $40 million payroll.
Ron Gardenhire was in his first season as the manager. Nobody had us winning the American League Central, but we ended up taking the division with 94 wins and going to the AL Championship Series. That’s when we ran into the Angels, and you know how that turned out.
We went up against Oakland in the AL Division Series, and they had that rotation that was the best in baseball — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. We had to beat the best rotation in baseball. Johan Santana was in our bullpen. Our starters were Joe Mays, Eric Milton, Brad Radke and Kyle Lohse.
They were up on us, 2-1, but we came back and won the fourth and fifth games. When Eddie Guardado threw that last out at Oakland, and Ray Durham popped it up to Denny Hocking, there was this incredible feeling of joy and accomplishment we all had. I mean, think about it. The winter before they were talking about contracting us, and here we were beating the best rotation in baseball and going on to the ALCS.
We didn’t know John Lackey was waiting for us with his 97 mph gas, and Frankie Rodriguez was coming after us. And the Rally Monkey, making everybody go crazy. And, oh yeah, Adam Kennedy with his three home runs in Game 5 after he hit seven all season.
The Angels beat us at our game. That’s when I really began to admire the Anaheim Angels. I saw similarities with us — and nice weather with a great stadium. When they went on and won the World Series against the Giants, it gave me hope. If we’d beaten that team, it probably would have been us winning the World Series.
You can do great things in this game with talent and the right attitude. The Twins that year showed how far you could take it, and so did the Angels. Play the game right, play together, with everything you’ve got, and you can move mountains.
What we have to do now is come out and play with emotion, not play scared. But we also have to play smart. Be patient, take the walk if it’s there. Let somebody else drive you in. We’ve got weapons all through out lineup. Move the runner over, hit the cutoff man, run the bases aggressively, but be smart about it, too.
Hey, we know what we can do. You don’t have the best record in the Major Leagues and win 50 games on the road without having some mental toughness to go with the talent.
The Red Sox are the champions. We’re trying to take the crown off their heads. To do that, you’ve got to get that dog in you. That dog means being a little more aggressive, not being too timid. It’s time to let the dogs out. Woof-woof.