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Twins prospect hopes to follow friend Stefon Diggs to Minnesota

JUPITER, Fla. — When Stefon Diggs made the catch that became the Minnesota Miracle, LaMonte Wade Jr. was going as crazy as any Vikings fan.

Even though the Twins outfield prospect grew up in Baltimore, he knew Diggs from their days at the University of Maryland. Like Diggs, a fifth-round pick in 2015, Wade was a relative afterthought, going to the Twins in the ninth round in June of that same year.

"Great play. Shocking, exciting play," Wade said. "If anybody was going to make that play, I knew it would be him."

Self-made grinders tend to appreciate each other when they cross paths. Real recognize real, you might say.

"I think he led the league in the most contested catches, or something like that," Wade said. "He'll get the ball for you. He's very reliable and a hard worker. I'm just proud of him and happy for him."

Wade couldn't think of a single Terrapins catch by Diggs that could compare to his 61-yard touchdown catch-and-run on the final play of the Vikings' 29-24 playoff win over the New Orleans Saints. In part, that's because Wade was usually too busy working on his own game during fall baseball to attend Maryland football games.

"We would hear the crowd from our field," Wade said. "They're right next to each other."

Wade, 24, hopes to reclaim that dynamic by making Target Field his primary workplace while Diggs electrifies football fans a few blocks away. Days like Thursday, when Wade played right field and contributed a single and two walks in three trips, make that scenario seem tantalizingly close.

So do mornings like Sunday, which Wade started with a 20-minute conversation at his locker with St. Paul's Dave Winfield, the Hall of Fame outfielder who now works for the players' union as a senior advisor to executive director Tony Clark. Winfield met Wade in January at the annual Rookie Career Development Camp, but this talk was a little more in-depth.

Winfield's message?

"Just how to go about your business, how to be professional, what you need to do to be successful and just be consistent and keep learning," Wade recalled. "He really just told me how to prepare myself and go about days and get in a routine and try to get comfortable and just keep working hard."

Winfield had passed through Twins camp in recent years for similar one-on-one conversations with the likes of Aaron Hicks and Byron Buxton as they set out to establish themselves as big leaguers. Now it was Wade's turn to sit with Winfield as the all-time great leaned forward in his chair and delivered invaluable lessons.

"I'm very appreciative that he sat down and I got the chance to talk to him," Wade said. "I listened to every single word. I couldn't wait to call my dad and tell him I got to talk to Dave Winfield."

Another Hall of Famer from St. Paul, Twins manager Paul Molitor, has taken note of Wade as well.

"He takes good at-bats and knows the strike zone," Molitor said. "I think for now he just tries to barrel as many balls as he can and not swing at bad pitches. He's handled himself well in the outfield. He looks good. He's got the right attitude about where he's at in his career."

Resilient? Wade was back at the ballpark before the game ended last Nov. 11 after a harrowing outfield collision with St. Louis Cardinals prospect Oscar Mercado sent Wade to the hospital with a concussion.

That play ended Wade's Arizona Fall League season, but it didn't change his playing style. In his first Grapefruit League this spring, he threw his body into the wall to make a running catch against his hometown Baltimore Orioles last weekend.

His parents, LaMonte Sr. and Emily, both work the night shift at the post office in downtown Baltimore. They were eager to hear all the details the next morning. LaMonte Sr., who played high school baseball in Baltimore, would take his young son to as many games as possible at Camden Yards.

"I grew up an Oriole fan," Wade said. "After we played the Orioles, my dad was asking how cool it was. I told him it was pretty cool playing against those guys."

The smile on Wade's face showed that wasn't just talk.