Twins Talk, July 23 23 Jul 15

Twins Talk

Stories and Photos by Gordy Jones

Hicks Has Arrived!

It’s great to watch Aaron Hicks as he blossoms into a solid major league outfielder, and as a hitter who can drill the ball with authority.

Aaron grew up in Southern California, playing golf and baseball nearly every day. People who know say he could have gone pro in golf if he had chosen to take that route, and maybe even could do that today if he devoted 100% of his focus to his clubs rather than his bat. But he chose baseball, and although there were a few hiccups on the road to where he is today, folks who knew him, and knew of his athleticism and talents on the field, knew that he’d one day be a lot more than just a capable ballplayer.

Aaron graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 2008 in Long Beach, where he hit .407 (114-for-280) with 24 doubles, 10 triples, and 6 home runs in 97 career high school games. The multi-talented young man also pitched for his high school team, going 11-2, with a 1.11 ERA in 94 innings. He was drafted by the Twins in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft in the 1st round (14th overall). Aaron made his major league debut in 2013 on opening day as the leadoff hitter. But slumps and injuries prevailed, and Aaron bounced around between New Britain, Rochester, and Minnesota for the next two seasons. Being a great competitor, at times Aaron was very frustrated — but he always held his head up high and showed great patience. Torii Hunter would often call him, and offer him some mentoring thoughts. Even Hall of Famer Dave Winfield had a chat with Aaron at spring training. Dave told me, “The man has talent. At times like this I wish I could be a coach for a week, and just work with the guy. He just needs to refine a few things, and he’ll be fine.” Nowadays, Dave is a special assistant at the Major League Baseball Players Association. Part of his job is visiting every camp during spring training and talking to the guys about what they can and can’t do contractually, and offering some friendly, expert advice.

I talked to Torii about his protégé. He said, “Aaron Hicks is playing well. He’s really been playing some great defense; I think he’s helped us out a lot. His bat is starting to come alive. And then you throw in his defense — he saves a lot of runs – and for us, those are like RBIs.”  I said I understood that Torii was trying to help mentor young Hicks. My mistake: I used the word “trying”. “No! I don’t TRY! I do! Trying is for losers. I do.” He paused for a moment and then went on: “You know, Dave Winfield mentored me. He had me for a year here, then throughout the years I had the chance to hang out with him. He gave me a lot of insight. I’m just doing the same thing.”  

When I last talked to Aaron, I congratulated him on how things are coming together for him, and asked him what’s different. He said: “I don’t know…I just stay positive about the game, I set goals, and I compete. And every at-bat, I make it a tough at-bat.” I told him how much I enjoy watching him make those great catches in center field, and he replied, wearing a big Torii-type grin, “Thank you. I enjoy making those catches! It’s great playing next to Torii, too. For me it’s a learning experience every day. He gives me something new every day; something to think about. You know, it’s fun to have him here. He can be crazy, too, but a good crazy, making it fun in the clubhouse.”  

Major League Fans!  

A few weeks ago I told you about an actor named Tony Todd whom I was reacquainted with through Torii Hunter. He was a guest of Torii’s at Target Field a little over a month ago. Tony is a great guy, and we hit it off. We had actually met 20 years ago during the filming of “Little Big League,” in which Tony plays ballplayer Mickey Scales. We have recently stayed in touch, and a couple of weeks ago Tony called me and wanted to order a couple of my children’s books, “The Baseball Guy.” He wanted one signed to himself, and the other to “Charlie.” Tony grew up with Charlie Sheen, Star of “Two and a Half Men,” and “Anger Management” (with Tony Todd). Both are very funny, but Sheen’s role as Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn in “Major League” is the best…especially to a guy who’s been around the game.

Last week I was taking the boys to “Minions” when my phone began ringing — three calls in three minutes, which I ignored. Finally, I thought it could be important, so I picked up. Calling from L.A., on the other line was Charlie Sheen. He wanted to thank me for my book, said he was honored to receive it, and called me a “F’n” genius. He said my inscription to him was as nice as the book. Then we talked baseball, and it was just like having any of my buddies on the phone. He was sincere, nice, and a real baseball guy. He also told me how much he enjoyed watching my friend, the late, great Kirby Puckett play. He even invited me to California to meet him, which I’d like to do in the future. Baseball fans come from all walks of life, and live in their own little world. You never know whom you’ll meet. Baseball is all about fun, and all about “winning.

(Photo Courtesy Tony Todd)