Someday Jason Bartlett
will look back on the moment that he was anointed as the Twins starting shortstop with great fondness, but along with the
warm and fuzzy thoughts, the not-so-sweet aroma of refuse may come rushing back into his memory. At the biggest moment
of his young life -- front and center -- sat a trash receptacle, “We were at a barbeque and Gardy (Twins manager Ron
Gardenhire) told me over a garbage can,” Bartlett said, describing the scene of his coronation. “I told
him ‘thank you’ and he said ‘you worked hard, you deserve it.’ I thanked him again and right after
that I called my parents and told them.”
“I had a great
spring,” the rookie continued. “I wasn’t too cocky, but I was pretty confident that I had won the job.
When he told me I was really, really happy.”
With the free agent departure of incumbent Cristian Guzman, Bartlett entered spring training in a battle for the shortstop
position with veterans Nick Punto, Juan Castro, and Augie Ojeda -- not exactly Nomar, Jeter, and Tejada. Nevertheless,
the 25-year-old seized the moment, hitting nearly .400 and displaying great range during the exhibition season.
Although many in the media had awarded Bartlett the job over a week before
the official announcement, his focus remained on the field. “I had heard some stuff,” he admitted, “but
if you don’t go out there and work hard everyday, somebody is going to come up and take it from you.”
Bartlett, a 13th round selection
by San Diego in 2001, became property of the Twins in the trade that sent outfielder Brian Buchanan to the Padres in July
2002. According to GM Terry Ryan, the young shortstop has already exceeded everyone’s expectations.
“When we acquired him we were looking to improve our middle infield depth in our minor league system and the
Padres were looking for a right-handed bat so it was a very good fit,” the straightforward general manger explained.
“It wasn’t anything more than us getting very lucky on an evaluation. Our guy that scouted him, John Leavitt,
liked him, but I don’t think any of us dreamt he’d be an everyday shortstop when we acquired him.”
“Through maturity and experience, he got a little stronger and ultimately
developed faster and better than we anticipated,” Ryan confessed. “It was nothing we did -- the kid did it on
Upon joining the organization,
Bartlett began his ascension up the Twins minor league ladder, hitting .296 with a .380 on-base-percentage and 41 steals at
Double A New Britain in 2003. He started the 2004 season at Triple A Rochester and was set to be called up in May when
his right wrist was broken after being hit by a pitch. Bartlett’s major league debut was put on hold, but not
for long. The wrist healed and by late July the former Padre farmhand finally found himself in the big leagues.
Although his first stay didn’t last long, the prospect was re-called in September.
“I knew what to expect this year,” he commented when asked about his 2004 experience. “Like
everyone always says, its’ still baseball -- its’ the same game up here, you just have to get used to the atmosphere.”
Now, with just over a week under his belt as a big league regular, Bartlett
stopped for a moment to reflect, “It’s been amazing,” the California native said, flashing a smile.
“I just come out here everyday and try to do the same thing -- work hard. Even though I got that starting spot,
I still have to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
Being a rookie playing a high
profile position, no player on the Twins roster entered this season under more scrutiny than Bartlett. Thus far he’s
handled it well, hitting .360 with a homerun as of April 14. The shortstop credits the Twins laid back atmosphere for
helping him cope with the pressure.
“It was hard,” he commented, “but coming out here with Newmie (third base coach Al Newman) relaxes
you. Everybody from Gardy -- the manager -- down to the bullpen guy just helps you relax out here.”
If he continues to play well and the Twins contend as expected, Bartlett should
be a leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year. He, however, chooses to focus on the present, “It would be a
great honor, but right now I am trying to have a solid rookie season and help out the Twins.”