Ageless Colon provides Twins with levity, wisdom
In many ways Bartolo Colon is the gift that just keeps on giving. Not only to the media and the Minnesota Twins' fan base, which delights in tracking everything from the 44-year-old's pitching exploits to his cryptic statements delivered with the...
In many ways Bartolo Colon is the gift that just keeps on giving.
Not only to the media and the Minnesota Twins' fan base, which delights in tracking everything from the 44-year-old's pitching exploits to his cryptic statements delivered with the help of a team-issued translator, but to his 10th and latest employer as well.
In addition to his work on the mound, where Colon will make his seventh start for the Twins on Sunday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, he has made himself available to young teammates - pitchers and hitters - for regular sessions filled with wisdom and humor.
"It's not like Kirby Puckett, where you know where he is in the clubhouse all the time," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "I just think it's more subtle. It's kind of ongoing throughout the day. Might be at the lunch table, which he visits a couple of times."
Molitor paused and waited for the wave of laughter to arrive, which it soon did.
"He doesn't take himself too seriously," Molitor said. "I think at times we all get a little too tightly wound about who we are and where we are in the game. It takes a little pressure off."
Even when he's not in the room, Senor Joke provides much-needed comic relief and levity in the midst of an unlikely postseason push. All this for the pro-rated minimum salary of $222,185.80 for the final 76 days of the regular season.
The Atlanta Braves are on the hook for the remainder of his $12.5 million salary after releasing him in June. How funny is that?
"He's hilarious," catcher Chris Gimenez said. "He runs around, joking around, stepping on cups, making noise in the dugout. He's got this foam roller, and he bangs it around. He scares everybody all the time. He's just having fun. He's a 44-year-old who's 12."
'Hit it here'
At first glance, Miguel Sano wouldn't appear to have much to discuss with Colon.
When the pitcher made his big-league debut with the Cleveland Indians in April 1997, Sano was 3 years old. While Sano is an All-Star third baseman with a second-place finish in last month's Home Run Derby, Colon has a wild swing that has launched a thousand memes.
And yet, somehow, these two proud products of the Dominican Republic have hit it off.
"To me, it's great," Sano said. "He has a lot of experience in baseball, like 20 years. He tries to give good things to everybody here, all the young players. He's a great man. He sees how we're doing. He tries to help people out, on and off the field."
While Sano leads the majors in strikeouts and is on pace to shatter the big-league record for season strikeouts, Colon recently found a way to get him to laugh about it. After Sano's third strikeout in as many trips during a recent day game, Colon asked to see Sano's bat.
He then took a baseball and repeatedly tapped it against the barrel of Sano's bat as if to show him where the ball is supposed to go.
"That's what he told me," Sano said with a laugh. "He took the ball and said, 'Hit it here. Hit it here. Hit it here.' After that I got a base hit."
Even Molitor, who went over during the conversation to see what was going on, got a chuckle out of that exchange.
"I think they've built a relationship rather quickly," he said. "I don't know how much they interacted before he got here, if at all, but I know that Colon has helped him. He's probably given him some wisdom, but he's also not afraid to challenge with a little sarcasm now and then too. It works more than one way."
Between Ervin Santana and Colon, Sano has found veteran pitchers who not only share his mischievous sense of humor but also his advanced instincts for the game and its many subtleties. That's how Colon and Santana have climbed to second and fourth, respectively, on the all-time wins list for pitchers born in the Dominican.
"I try to learn from people like that," Sano said. "(Colon) is an old guy here on the team. He has more experience than everybody here."
Added Molitor: "He's just got a presence that kind of commands respect from everybody here, and the fact he's been able to contribute the way he has makes him even more of a centerpiece for our guys to flock to at times."
Can you hear me now?
And to think, none of this might be happening if Colon hadn't answered a recruiting call to his cell phone back in the Dominican on the morning of July 5.
"My phone rang, and I didn't know whose number it was," Colon said through a translator. "I don't like answering numbers I don't know, but I decided to answer it, and it was Ervin."
Released a week earlier, Colon had only heard from the New York Mets, for whom he won 44 games from 2014-16 and pitched in the 2015 World Series with Twins special assistant Michael Cuddyer as his teammate. At the request of the Twins' front office, Santana was calling with a sales pitch.
It was important enough that Santana, due to pitch that night against the Los Angeles Angels, interrupted his normal routine to call his Angels teammate from 2005-07. While Santana's bosses have asked him about particular players over the course of his 13-year big-league career, this was the first time he'd been directly enlisted to make a recruiting call.
"It was because I played with him and we're good friends," said Santana, who also pitched in Atlanta for one challenging season in 2014. "I didn't mind. I don't really have my game face on yet in the morning."
Asked what he remembered about the call, Santana smiled.
"I just asked him, 'Would you like to play with us?' " he said. "Bartolo was like, 'Yeah, of course, I would.' It was not a long conversation."
Colon only had a few questions: about the Twins' clubhouse, about the coaching staff, about the general work environment. His old friend's word was good enough for him.
"I said, 'Everybody's great. You're going to have fun with us,' " Santana said. "He told me he was going to give me a call back after he talked to his agent, and then the next day I called him because he didn't call me."
This time there was a throaty chuckle on the other end of the line. Santana could immediately tell his recruiting pitch had worked.
Two days later, after working out a plan for one tune-up start at Class AAA Rochester with Colon's agent, the Twins officially announced the signing.
"He told me he decided to come with us," Santana said. "I knew he was going to teach the young guys more than I could because he has more time than me. He was the right guy for us."
Colon, it should be pointed out, has since added Santana's cell number back into his contacts. He is thankful he decided to break his rule and answer that call from an unknown number.
"Everything happens for a reason," Santana said. "If he picks up the phone, he ends up here. If he doesn't pick up the phone, he probably signs with the Mets."