Twins Talk, July 10 10 Jul 15

Twins Talk

Photos and Stories by Gordy Jones

Mauer’s Pizza Party

One of the nicest events which happens every year during Twins’ Hope Week, is hosted by first baseman Joe Mauer. It is called Picnic in the Park, but is actually a pizza party that Joe throws for the kids from Gillette Children’s Hospital. It is held in the Legends Club at Target Field. Joe has a close relationship with the hospital: His wife worked there as a nurse before they had kids of their own. Joe has made many quiet, unpublicized visits to Gillette over the years, and does many other private and personal things for both the hospital and the children.

Joe’s party attracted teammates J.R. Graham, Brian Duensing, Casey Fien, along with bullpen coach Eddie Guardado, and mascot TC Bear. It is almost magical to watch these kids, some of whom have had a bad hand dealt to them, just being kids, and laughing, playing, and eating with their idols. They threw bean bags, had private conversations, and received autographs, too. It was a great feeling to watch this, and to see the players make these kids so excited and happy. After lunch, as an added treat, the kids got to go down on the field.

Who is J.R.?

The kids and their families who attended Mauer’s party enjoyed getting to know J.R. Graham, the Twins’ rookie pitcher who has become an effective reliever. As I write this, J.R. has a 3.08 ERA in 39 innings.

J.R. Graham was born in Sacramento, California, and moved around the area often as a child. His family finally settled in Livermore, where he continues to reside. He began playing ball when he was 4, but through his childhood he would play every sport available in his quest for competitiveness and his urge to stay active. He even dabbled in martial arts. As a junior in high school, he began to focus on playing baseball — but he enjoyed watching it, too. He says he grew up with his allegiance between the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants. He liked the Giants mainly because he was a huge Barry Bonds fan.

I asked J.R. what his favorite pitch was, and he looked at me like I was nuts. “It’s my fastball! It’s always been my special pitch, my staple. It’s always been a big part of my repertoire; it’s been that way all of my life. I’ve been blessed with a strong right arm, and I’m not afraid to use it.” According to a scouting report I saw, his fastball has been clocked as fast as 100 miles per hour.   

I asked J.R. what his initials stood for, and he said Johnathon Ryan, and had a funny story to go with it. During his third year as a pitcher at Santa Clara University, his athletic director made a visit to the locker room. He sternly asked who Johnathon Graham was. He repeated this, saying that he found a Johnathon on the baseball roster, but knew there wasn’t such a player. J.R. spoke up: “That’s me!” The A.D. looked puzzled and said, “But you’re J.R.” followed by J.R.’s reply, “I go by J.R., but my name is really Johnathon.”  He laughed and told me, “I played there three years, and they didn’t know my name. But that wasn’t the first time that that has happened. Some people played with me for years and years and never knew my name. They just knew me as J.R..”

When not playing ball, J.R. is usually watching a movie, and as of late, has begun playing guitar. He enjoys hard rock and heavy metal. I suggested that he should jam with Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier, who are both musicians. He just smirked and said, “No, they’re a little better than me. I think I’ll just stick to my own private concert.”

I asked J.R., if he were a batter, what would his walk-up song be? Without hesitation he said “Jambi” by Tool. I said that I had never heard of it and he replied, “Not many people are going to know that one, unless they know the genre.”

J.R. was also excited that rookie pitcher Ryan O’Rourke was called up. That meant not only more talent on the club, but J.R. was able to pass down his duty of carrying a Tinkerbell backpack to the bullpen every game filled with candy, gum and snacks for the staff. That is a long-standing tradition, and the task always goes to the pitcher with the least seniority.

Hometown Ump

Cottage Grove native Jeff Nelson, now a major league umpire crew chief, was in town to officiate the Twins-Orioles series. Jeff, who worked under the late supervisor Marty Springstead and was at one time on the crew of St. Paul native Tim Tschida, is now one of the best umpires in baseball.

Plouffe Baby

Trevor Plouffe said his wife, Olivia, is counting down the days until she gives birth to their son. The due date is July 25, but Trevor laughed and said she is walking a lot and staying active to try to induce labor. He said: “She just wants to get it done!”

Not So Plain White T’s

The other night, as the Twins walked onto the field to do their pregame workouts and take batting practice, they were all wearing white t-shirts with the caption “NO BULL #VOTEDOZIER.” Brian was a bit overwhelmed at the great support his teammates were giving him. He looked surprised as he said to me, “This is awesome! Gordy, isn’t this something!” I wished him luck and he scooted out onto the field. That night, the Twins walked off the field, too, when Dozier hit a two-run homer in the 10th, to beat the Orioles.