Reporting Tracy Perlman
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Now that the Wild’s season is over, the players assumably have a lot of time on their hands. They took a few weeks off and are back in the grind of working out and preparing to condition for the next season.
That conditioning typically doesn’t include taking cuts in the batting cage and shagging fly balls.
However, once or twice a summer, it does.
Just because we’re used to seeing Zach Parise on the ice doesn’t mean he don’t feel at home on a baseball diamond. The Wild captain joined Josh Harding, Casey Borer and Mark Parish on the field for Twins batting practice.
“Oh, we’re going to run out onto the outfield like a bunch of 12-year-olds,” Parise smiled as he pounded his fist into his glove in anticipation.
The NHL pros stood in the dugout Friday afternoon, looking as comfortable there as they do on their own bench. Parise said he was feeling good and joked he at least looked the part by wearing Twins warm up gear.
Parise grew up playing on the rinks in Minneapolis, but once upon a time, he threw on catcher’s gear and played shortstop. Much like former Wild player and Bloomington native Mark Parish, hockey was his first love.
Parish admits he was good “back in the day” in the infield, but he doesn’t play as well as the guys who get paid to put on a Twins uniform.
“I’m feeling confident I won’t get too hurt out there today, we’re pretty far back by the warning track,” Parish said. “The Twins are way too nice to us hockey players to let us come out and make fools of ourselves.”
This unusual tradition started a few seasons ago in the Metrodome. The hockey players suit up, take some batting practice with the ballplayers then catch fly balls before the game.
The invitation is reciprocated in the winter for the boys of summer who dare to accept.
Parish explained, “We’ve had the guys out there a few times, but when it comes to putting on the equipment, they back off real quickly.”
Manager Ron Gardenhire enjoys the off season hockey practices but joked the only way he’ll get in the net is if he can wear his ice fishing boots for protection.
Goaltender Josh Harding said any of the Twins were welcome to try their luck.
He promised to share some tips for blocking the puck.
I don’t know how many of the Twins will come out and try being a goaltender, but they’re absolutely more than welcome,” he said.
Like his fellow rink rats, Harding also played baseball growing up. While a professional athlete himself, he said these off-season sessions remind him how much goes into being at the top of your game.
“They make it look easy, hitting a baseball or catching it,” Harding explained. “You can really appreciate the game when you see what these guys are doing up close. I played baseball my whole life and I’m a bigger fan now.”
To know which of the guys had the most fun, don’t look farther than Harding’s 5-year-old son. He didn’t only looked the part, he fielded more balls than his adult counterparts.