The 25 People I’ve Most Enjoyed Talking to in Baseball (Nos. 20-16)
I started this series on my personal website before the 2020 MLB season began, and plan to finish it here. To get everyone up to speed, here’s the first edition — Nos. 25-21:
In the absence of current MLB #content, I've decided to rank the 25 people I've most enjoyed talking to in my time covering baseball.
As a disclaimer: there are people I'll have missed in the process. And just because a player, scout, coach or executive isn't mentioned doesn't mean I didn't have a generally positive experience.
In fact, I can count my negative experiences on one hand -- maybe even one or two fingers -- and honestly those were my fault.
Late last week I dropped Nos. 25-21. Here are Nos. 20-16.
ICYMI: Nos. 25-21 on the list
20. Sergio Romo, current reliever
It says a ton about Romo that he's been a member of the Twins for two months of actual baseball being played, and yet he's still been one of the most enjoyable interviews of my entire time covering the team.
It's difficult to explain, but he manages to pull off warm, passionate, engaging and quirky all at the same time.
Here is his personality on display in a really good interview with La Vida Baseball:
Also: he literally held someone's baby at TwinsFest:
19. Zack Littell, current starting pitcher
I'm not totally sure why I gravitate toward Littell, but I think it's because he's an open book and because I was there for his debut and demotion -- both of which happened in the span of like a couple of hours in Milwaukee in 2018.
And seeing him react after he was sent back down showed me even more how these guys are simply humans just trying to do a job.
Littell is also super smart when it comes to pitching. He absolutely filled up my notebook on pitching last season in a piece I wound up writing in early April.
Bonus reading: No Littell Feat: How a Rookie Righty Earned the Trust of a Rookie Manager
18. Mitch Garver, current starting catcher
First, an excerpt from a story I wrote elsewhere:
I opened my eyes on March 10 in Fort Myers, Fla. I showered, ate and departed my hotel, which was eerily reminiscent of the one from the television show “Schitt’s Creek” — except it was two levels instead of one.
It was my second full day in Florida, but that Sunday was the first time I’d ever set eyes or feet on the property at 14100 6 Mile Cypress Parkway. You know it better as Hammond Stadium, the home of the Fort Myers Miracle and for about six weeks every spring, the Minnesota Twins.
I entered the home clubhouse and began to go about my business. Even though it was my first day at the park, it was far from that for me when it came to engaging most of the guys in that room. My task for the day? Asking a few of the holdovers what it was like to not have Joe Mauer holding down the corner locker stall like he had for as long as anyone could remember.
Some features are like pulling teeth; this one was going to be like easing into a hot tub.
One of the first guys I chatted up was Mitch Garver. Garver is extremely likable from both a fan and media member’s perspective. He’s not afraid to say exactly what’s on his mind, which is a reporter’s delight.
After exchanging pleasantries and a few Mauer anecdotes, I shut off the recorder and made small talk for a minute.
“Mitch, I think you guys are going to surprise some people this year,” I said. I wasn’t kidding. I may be a fool, but Garver doesn’t suffer those and I could have just as easily walked away rather than heap meaningless platitudes upon him.
“For sure,” he said with intensity in his eyes. In fact, he pretty much always looks like that.
“I actually think you guys are going to win the division,” I clarified once I realized we were generally on the same page.
“Oh definitely,” he said, again not cracking a smile but with dead certainty.
After the Twins beat the Detroit Tigers Wednesday night to whittle their magic number to one — about 90 minutes in advance of the Chicago White Sox taking them the rest of the way to the AL Central crown with a win over Cleveland — I made the decision that I didn’t think Garver would mind if I used his quotes even though I didn’t record them.
That kind of encapsulates talking to Garver. He can be intense and I think his humor is pretty dry, but he's intelligent and willing to answer difficult questions with really, really good -- and not cookie-cutter -- answers.
17. Nelson Cruz, current designated hitter
A player of Cruz's stature could be a lot of things when it comes to dealing with the media. Reclusive, aloof or a combination of both would be possible. But he's available, accommodating and really, really good to discuss a lot of things with.
I feel like a lot of times he's out of breath because he's just been working out or hitting, but honestly, he's just a true joy to talk to -- with or without the recorder on. Not only that, but when he walks past, he'll ask how you're doing.
I don't know. Maybe I'm old fashioned. But I really do like that human to human interaction. Players don't owe that to anyone, but it's nice. Kind of like when an NFL player scores a touchdown and runs into a cameraman, and stops to help them back up before celebrating.
16. Kohl Stewart, former starting pitcher
My career doing stuff with/for the Twins dovetails nicely with Stewart's, as he's now a member of the Baltimore Orioles and I'm on the outside looking in for what I hope will be my next opportunity.
My first year covering the team on a regular basis was 2013 -- the year he was drafted. The Twins brought Stewart and Stephen Gonsalves in for the usual media how-do that year, so even from a distance, it was cool to see how much those guys had changed from fresh-faced 18-year-old guys to when they both debuted within the span of a little over a week in August 2018.
Stewart was never anything but good to me, but I felt like TwinsFest 2019 was when he really opened up about everything he was learning from the team as far as the important aspects of pitching he didn't know before. Stuff like using Trackman data, tunneling and all the notable pitching concepts that have been popularized in recent years and implemented by the team's new brain trust in recent seasons.
Maybe that's a really weird, nerdy way to find kinship with a subject you're covering -- but it happened. *shrug*
As a human I was sad to see him go, but it also felt pretty clear that change of scenery was going to be best for both sides. Here's to hoping for good things for Stewart in Baltimore -- if baseball ever comes back.