I covered my first big-league game on Oct. 1, 2010. The Toronto Blue Jays were in town for Cito Gaston’s final series as an MLB manager, and the Minnesota Twins were well on their way to winning the American League Central in Target Field’s inaugural season.
My objective that night was to get a few quotes for a story I was going to file at Baseball Prospectus on how the Twins were adjusting to Target Field at the end of the first season as compared to the nearly 30 years they spent at the Metrodome.
I stood in the dugout. I watched batting practice from closer than I ever had — I had season tickets from 2006 through that season — and I watched Orlando Hudson hold court with some of his former Blue Jays teammates during batting practice with everyone yukking it up.
READ: Nos. 20-16 on this list
It was then that I realized that this was what I wanted to do for a long, long time.
Then it was time to talk to the manager.
“Wait until all the regulars get their questions in before you jump in,” someone told me about how to handle my first scrum. About five minutes in, I croaked out a question that Ron Gardenhire answered, and when he was done is when I think I actually finally let out my breath.
The column wasn’t any good, but I’ve written probably 1,500 of them since. I haven’t written one from a ballpark since the New York Yankees ended the 2019 season last October, and the reality is that I might never again.
But rather than be a fatalist about the future of digital media, I’d rather have some fun here.
I didn’t cover the team on a regular basis until the 2013 season — in which I attended all 81 home games — but by then, the magic of the 2010 season had faded, badly.
But between then and now I’d wager I’ve covered something like 500 big-league games at a handful of venues — including on the road — and along the way, I’ve forged some relationships that I value greatly.
Being there day in and day out matters, even if it’s just home games. Not only does it give you a chance to see the players and build recognition with them, but it also brings a great amount of accountability.
The first time I realized that was in 2013 when I wrote a column for 1500 ESPN on why it might be a good time to trade Justin Morneau. The next day I dutifully showed up early — the one place in life where I’m always early — to what was mostly an empty clubhouse.
The only other soul in sight? I’m sure you know.
But even if he didn’t read the story, and I’m sure he didn’t, it was a good reminder of how to handle myself in that situation. If you say it and believe it, you have nothing to hide from.
The late, great Gerry Fraley once told me why he respected Patrick Reusse so much. “He’ll rip you, but he’ll do it right to your face,” Fraley said. “People respect that.”
Certainly, I’ve made mistakes and rubbed people the wrong way — unintentionally, but such is life — but in all honesty, it’s been a great experience that I hope I get to keep doing for a long, long time.
I’m going to keep writing until it happens.
So I’ve created a list of the 25 people I’ve most enjoyed talking to in the game. It’s a huge list, and the honorable mentions — which will get their own post at the end — is as long as the original list.
And it’s a guarantee that I’ve missed people. And if someone isn’t listed, it surely doesn’t mean I had a bad experience with them. I’ve maybe had a couple of those ever — and they were my fault.
But as I sit here now in June 2020, here’s the list:
25. Jeremy Hefner, former advanced video scout and assistant pitching coach
There’s something so pure about a guy who’ll tell you he made it to the big leagues without having the best stuff. There’s also something to be said about someone who battles through two Tommy John surgeries — only to never get back to the big leagues.
Hefner is extremely approachable and incredibly knowledgeable. There’s really no other way to describe his ascent from right-handed pitcher sitting around 90 mph, to advance video scout, to assistant pitching coach to now the pitching coach for the New York Mets.
He’s now on his second manager with the Mets despite having coached a total of zero (0) big-league games for them, but that’s a story for another day. But if you ask Hef, I’m sure he’d probably tell you about it.
Bonus reading: The Tommy John Files: RHP-Turned-Advance-Scout Jeremy Hefner
24. Ryan LaMarre, former outfielder
I’d heard you could get LaMarre going if you talked about Michigan football — his alma mater — but I’ve always been really cautious about how I approach players for the first time.
I don’t want them to think that I think we’re friends, if that makes sense.
For one, this guy doesn’t know me. Secondly, I’m here to do a job. Thirdly, there’s a very real chance he just wants me to get away from him.
Anything beyond that is just cool human interaction.
But what was cool about LaMarre was that he actually walked over to me with his phone out. He’d been called out on a check-swing third strike the night before, and he was still a bit incredulous when he pulled up the video and showed it to me on his iPhone.
And that’s how I met Ryan LaMarre. It was cool to see him come back for a short spell in 2019 when the team needed a spare outfielder with Byron Buxton out.
23. Hector Santiago, former pitcher
I actually met Santiago at a game I attended as a fan, oddly enough. Not long after Santiago came over in the trade for Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer, Eduardo Escobar — you better believe he’s on this list — hosted an event called “I Love Venezuela” where proceeds from the tickets sold that day went to his charitable efforts in his home country.
The event was held on the Budweiser Roof Deck and promised that Escobar would appear after the game and sign some autographs and take pictures.
Since I was not covering the game that day, I took my wife up there — I’d never seen a game on the Roof Deck anyway, so why not? — and after the game, Escobar came up for a little meet and greet.
It was much better than promised though, as a handful of Twins and Royals players came up, including Byron Buxton, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, Kurt Suzuki and Santiago.
I routinely got to chat with the other guys and no fans were near Santiago, so I walked over and just chatted him up. Oddly enough, Santiago had received assurance from his general manager that he wasn’t being traded at the deadline in 2016. So on an off day right around then, he decided to go scuba diving.
He went down a member of the Angels and came up a member of the Twins.
Beyond that, Santiago was always just really chill about everything. He’s an avid memorabilia collector, and weirdly enough he professed to me his intense love for Dot’s Pretzels.
And honestly, who doesn’t love those? So when the Chicago White Sox faced the Twins at the end of the 2018 season at Target Field, I made a quick visit over with a bag of pretzels just for the fun of it, and we had a good laugh.
22. Logan Morrison, former first baseman/designated hitter
I’ll be honest I’m still a little intimidated by Morrison. I’ve met his wife and daughter — lovely people, by the way — while on my second MLB road trip in Milwaukee, but it took a while before I felt totally comfortable asking LoMo to talk.
But one thing people love in this business is players who’ll fill up a notebook. Maybe Morrison doesn’t do exactly that, but he’ll tell you exactly what he’s thinking pretty much always.
It hasn’t always been popular. In fact, it’s probably been far more unpopular. But there’s just something I respect about a person who is that real with everything they say. Someone who talks the talk but also walks the walk when people call them on it.
I don’t know. Maybe that’s weird. I just have a lot of respect for Morrison.
Bonus reading: Pressly, Morrison United by Similarities from Fathers
21. Derek Falvey, current president of baseball operations
Accessibility can be a funny thing with people in MLB power positions. Some teams used to marvel about how accessible former Twins general manager Terry Ryan was, to the point where he’d sit at a dinner table with the media prior to every single game during his second tenure in the position.
On multiple occasions, I’d hear reporters express just how rare that was. I think even though I knew that, I didn’t really appreciate it until afterward.
Falvey isn’t quite at that level, but he’s extremely accessible. If reporters need to chat with him, he’s usually available pretty quickly at Target Field. He’s responsive to messages, and in-person he’s gracious and kind in addition to being good at his job.
The Twins media corps has been blessed with executives who make their jobs easier in recent years — and Falvey fits that bill for sure.