By Dan Cook, WCCO Radio
A pair of former Twins returned to Target Field as part of Tuesday’s All-Star game.
Carlos Gomez came to the Twins in 2008 as part of a trade for ace left-hander Johan Santana. He quickly earned a reputation as an energetic – if quirky – young player.
“He’s just playing the way he did when he was a little kid,” Gomez’s former manager Ron Gardenhire said on Monday, “I don’t think you can really fault anybody. At times, it looks like it’s over and above, but I know where his heart is and it’s about having a blast playing baseball.”
But at times “Gomez having a blast” was tough to take, whether it was an erratic throw in the general direction of home plate, or swinging out of his shoes on strike three instead of trying to be more controlled and take advantage of his speed.
Ultimately that led to Gomez being traded to Milwaukee after just two seasons with the Twins for shortstop J.J. Hardy.
For Gardenhire, Gomez is still a player he’s really fond of.
“I love the guy. He’s honestly like my son. I felt that close to the kid,” Gardenhire said, “He was a joy to have around. Always had a smile on his face, always entertaining us.”
Gomez, for his part, has good memories of his time with the Twins and was happy to be back in Minnesota representing Milwaukee in the All-Star Game.
“It’s special to come to Minnesota. The team and city that gave me two years opportunity. I always feel [at] home here,” Gomez said. “I have a lot of good memories here and I always in the back of my mind feel good when I come here because I know the city really good. It’s a fun feeling for me and my family.”
For Cardinal’s reliever Pat Neshek it really is a homecoming.
Neshek grew up in Brooklyn Park dreaming of playing for his home-town team. That dream was primed to become a reality when he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2002 MLB Entry Draft by the Twins, and was fully realized in 2006 when he made his Major League debut with Minnesota.
Neshek, with his funky delivery – developed after a being struck on the forearm by a batted ball in high school – became an effective late-inning reliever for the Twins until he developed the dreaded “sore elbow” in 2008 which lead to Tommy John surgery which kept him out until early 2010.
His comeback with the Twins in 2010 was short-lived, however as in mid-April he was diagnosed with inflammation of his middle finger. The injury later turned out to actually be in the palm of his right hand.
The confusion led to some harsh words between Neshek and the club and his departure as a free agent. In the end, Neshek said it was a communication issue.
“I kinda could see it coming, you know, there was kind of a bad vibe when I had the finger injury,” Neshek said, “It’s a shame that happened. You know, we just had bad communication all around there. I miss a lot of the guys”
Miscommunications aside, Neshek became emotional when talking about getting to come home for the All Star Game.
“It’s pretty special,” Neshek said as he choked up, “I don’t think anyone else out there appreciates it as much as me.”
But his eyes lit up when he talked about getting to share the experience with his son, Hoyt.
“It’s just cool to share something with your son. Get him here and take pictures. He’s probably not going to remember anything, but he’ll have the pictures,” Neshek said, “We wanted that with Gherig [his son who passed in 2012] a couple of years ago and we didn’t get to share that. And this is just so special for us.”
After the players had experienced the red-carpet ride to the ballpark on Tuesday, Neshek raved about the experience.
“That was really well done, I thought,” Neshek said, “going through the streets of Minneapolis. There was a lot of people out. It was awesome.”
The All-Star Game itself didn’t work out how either Gomez or Neshek would’ve liked.
Gomez went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and Neshek ended up taking the loss after surrendering a pair of runs in his one-third of an inning.
But as Twins closer Glen Perkins so aptly put it, we shouldn’t feel sorry for them.
“He [Neshek] got a chance to come pitch in front the fans that watched him when he was here,” Perkins said, “I’m sure they wanted to win the game, but it didn’t work out that way. I think the experience of it is more important than the result.”
An experience none of the players involved are likely to forget any time soon.