A Taste of the Action:
September Call Ups
They are blips on the radar screen, mere footnotes on the
roster. Their team is a division champion, but they won't see much, if any, action in the playoffs. Sure, they got to live
their dream, but just for a fleeting moment. They are September call-ups: five men with five different stories sharing one
The Hometown Hero:
Power hitting outfielder Michael Restovich, a native of Rochester,
MN, was drafted by the Twins in the second round of the 1997 draft. A high school All American and State Player of the Year,
his major league debut was highly anticipated locally.
"I had talked to all of the teams prior (to the draft), but
they (the Twins) hadn't shown any more interest than anyone else," he explained. "So I really wasn't expecting them to draft
me, so when I found out they (selected) me - it was exciting."
"I followed (the Twins) a fair amount (growing up).
I was lucky to see them at their best, winning two World Series. I got to watch guys like (Kirby) Puckett and (Kent) Hrbek,"
the affable outfielder said. "There were some great players on those teams - guys you could really look up to and think that
is what I want to be when I grow up."
The Rising Prospects:
Outfielder Michael Ryan and first baseman Todd Sears both
had breakout years at AAA Edmonton in 2002. Ryan hit 31 homeruns with 101 RBI and appeared in the AAA all star game, while
the steady Sears hit .310 with 20 homeruns and drove in 100 runs of his own.
Both were thrilled to get a taste of the major league lifestyle.
"It's been a lot of fun - definitely a learning experience. This is a great group of guys to learn from," Sears said. "Of
course at first base, there's Doug (Mientkiewicz); he's one of the best in the game and he's fun to watch so you can learn
a lot from him."
Ryan agreed, "I dreamed of what it (MLB) would be like and it's ten times better than I ever thought
it would be. This is my dream come true and to live it is amazing."
The Fallen Prospect:
Catcher Javier Valentin spent the entire 1998 and 1999 seasons
with the Twins backing up Terry Steinbach. Following Steinbach's retirement, Valentin was pegged as the favorite to become
the teams' regular catcher in 2000. It didn't happen. He struggled in spring training and lost out to Matt Lecroy and Marcus
Jensen and languished in the minors until this September.
"I feel like a rookie again - back to where I want to be,"
Valentin commented. "I am happy. I've known these guys for a long time and I couldn't wait to play in the big leagues with
Infielder David Lamb bounced around four organizations before
coming to spring training with the Twins as a non-roster player in 2002. Despite a solid spring, Lamb was caught up the numbers
game and spent the season at Edmonton.
"I was a non-roster guy and certain things have to fall into place for you
to make the team," he explained. "I thought I did everything I could, but I was just out to open up some eyes in spring training
and show them I can play a little bit and I think I did that - just to put my name out there as someone they could call up
in case something happened. During the course nothing like that ever happened, but I feel fortunate to be here even if it
is just for a couple weeks."
A season in the minors was rewarded with a championship.
The Edmonton Trappers defeated the Salt Lake Stingers (Anaheim's AAA affiliate) 3-1 in the best-of-five Pacific Coast League
While the team celebrated, the chosen few were notified of their call up. "We had such a great time
this year in AAA at Edmonton - our team was unbelievable," Restovich said. "We thought we had an excellent chance to win it
(PCL title) coming into the year...when we finally did win that championship...we were celebrating with the champagne and
everything and going crazy and then they called us in (to inform us of the call ups) and it was just icing on the cake."
of the first rites of passage for rookies is the often-embarrassing initiation to which the veterans subject them. While Lamb
and Valentin were spared because of their previous major league service time, the three freshmen were not as fortunate. "Going
from Detroit to Chicago we all had to wear dresses - it was fun. (Because of the short trip) not too many people saw us,"
Fellow rookie Michael Ryan donned a green spandex suit and "did it with a smile on my face."
had to wear a purple prom dress - that was an experience," Restovich explained. "It's kind of embarrassing, but it's something
that everyone went through and you have to go through it and you're willing because it's the big leagues. It wasn't necessarily
comfortable, but you'd rather go through it (than never get the chance)."
One of the first things rookies look to get out of the way
is their first major league hit. That wasn't so easy for Ryan. Batting leadoff on September 19th in Detroit, Ryan smacked
out two hits in his first two at bats both in the first inning. The Twins led 9-0 after the second, but then the rain came
and didn't let up. The game was eventually cancelled and Ryan's hits were washed out. He would go 0 for 10 before finally
collecting his first official hit eight days later.
The soft-spoken rookie kept the experience in perspective. "I
was disappointed that it (the first two hits) didn't count (officially), but it counts to me," he said. "It was raining so
hard that you have to think of the safety of the players. I would gladly give those two hits up to keep this team healthy
going into the playoffs." The disappointment, however, did cause him to press a little. "I just wanted to get it (first major
league hit) so bad that, unfortunately, I swung at some bad pitches and gave away some at bats...I just didn't want to go
home hitting .000," the 25 year old explained.
On the flipside, Michael Restovich's first wasn't nearly as difficult.
Pinch-hitting in the ninth inning on September 21st, the 23 year old hit a towering home run off Chicago's Kelly Wunsch into
the left-centerfield bleachers of Comiskey Park.
"It was unbelievable," the young slugger explained. "I had my dad
and my brother there, so they were able to see it. If it would have been a single it would have been exciting, but to get
a home run on your first hit - just running around the bases was a dream come true."
While players like Ryan and Restovich
are experiencing the high of their first hits, Lamb and Valentin were just happy to be back.
Valentin is seeking redemption.
Once regarded as the Twins catcher of the future, he now hopes to get a spot on a big league roster. "It was hard (spending
two years in the minors), but I am still young with a lot of years ahead of me. I had to go the minor leagues to improve my
game and prove myself. The last two years - that's what I've done - play hard everyday and try to get back to the big leagues."
Valentin, whose brother, Jose, plays for the White Sox, chooses to look ahead rather than dwell on the past. "This
is baseball and in baseball anything can happen," the 27 year old explained. "I had a bad spring training (in 2000) and that's
what happened. I have another chance and I want to do what I did a couple of years ago - I want to be here. I am going to
do my best to stay in the big leagues for a long time."
Lamb, a second round pick by Baltimore in 1993, spent five
years in the Orioles organization before being selected by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999 via the Rule V Draft. He spent
the entire season on the big league roster hitting .216 in 55 games. From there he moved to the Mets organization where appeared
in just 7 big league games over two seasons.
The Twins signed the infielder in November of 2001 and invited him to
spring training as a non-roster player. The switch hitter impressed the Twins brass, hitting well over .300, but couldn't
beat out incumbent Denny Hocking and was assigned to Edmonton.
Now 27, Lamb has hopes of catching on as a utility
player. "I had a good season in AAA this year, I hit over .300, drove in some runs," he said. "In the big picture, at this
stage of my career, I am a utility guy and I am finally getting to the age where someone can look at me and have confidence
in me on the bench. You don't want a young kid, 23 years old, on the bench."
"I know there are a lot of teams I cold
be a utility guy on right now. It's finding the right fit, the right team, and being in the right place at the right time
- that's a lot of what this game is about."
This past postseason, Lamb did find himself in the right place at the
right time. When Denny Hocking was injured in the teams' celebration following their victory over Oakland in the AL Division
Series, Lamb, who was traveling with the team, was activated for the League Championship Series against Anaheim. He appeared
in two games, but did not get an at bat.
With a crowded outfield neither Restovich or Ryan are sure where they fit
into the teams' plans, and the Twins picked up the option on backup catcher Tom Prince's contract on October 30th, so Valentin
may be destined to another year in AAA. But Sears, 27, is the most interesting case.
A third round pick by Colorado
in 1997, the firstbaseman was stuck behind All Star Todd Helton in Colorado. When he was dealt to the Twins in July of 2000
the teams' first base situation was unsettled. Since then Doug Mientkiewicz has won a Gold Glove and solidified the position.
While Sears may possess a greater offensive upside and is solid with the glove, the organization seems to be content with
"I don't know (where I fit in). I'll just keep battling and let them (the Twins front office) decide
what they want to do," the Iowa native explained. "I don't really have a lot of say in it other than to just keep playing
With their future uncertain, all five men hope to be on a
major league roster next spring. The future looks bright for Restovich and, to a lesser degree Ryan and Sears. Valentin and
Lamb are in limbo. Once prospects, both are hoping to be fortunate enough to grab back up roles on a major league roster.
But, even in AAA, they are still making a living playing baseball. It could be worse.
Editors Note: Pitchers Juan Rincon and Kevin Frederick
were also called up by the Twins in September, but both had seen action with the team earlier in the season.