Twins' Brunansky can't walk away from baseball

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The batting cages at Hammond Stadium come to life around 7 a.m. each day during spring training. Classic rock spills out of a sound system, mixing in with the crack of bats.

Tom Brunansky works with shortstop Pedro Florimon during spring training last March in Fort Myers, Fla. (2012 file / Associated Press)

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The batting cages at Hammond Stadium come to life around 7 a.m. each day during spring training. Classic rock spills out of a sound system, mixing in with the crack of bats.

Tom Brunansky's voice has become part of the daily vibe.

"Two bunts, Boggsy!" he yells to Brandon Boggs before flipping balls toward him.

"I want your hands to go through there," Brunansky yells a few minutes later to Aaron Hicks. "You're just a little quick. You'll get to the stuff inside."

These are the sounds of players trying to get better, sounds that Brunansky heard many times himself through a 14-year career, parts of seven that were spent with the Twins.


After three years coaching Twins minor leaguers, Brunansky is the Twins' new hitting coach following a staff shakeup at the end of the 2012 season. His predecessor, Joe Vavra, is now the third base coach.

Brunansky has spent spring training reconnecting with some of the players he has worked with in the past in the minors, such as Chris Parmelee and Joe Benson. Brunansky also is building relationships with former AL Most Valuable Players Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer.

Brunansky's energy and enthusiasm are impossible to miss. His boisterous voice also is one of the most noticeable in the team's clubhouse.

As Brunansky weaves his way through his first major league camp as a coach, he offers players the perspective of having been in their shoes. Of knowing what it's like to succeed -- as he did as the right fielder on the 1987 World Series champion Twins -- and to fail.

"That's true, and that is part of what I feel I can bring," he says. "I've had the highs and had lows. I've reached the pinnacle of playing in the (1987) World Series and winning it. I've lost in the playoffs. I have had down times. I've had some bad 0-fers. I've had some horrible months.

"I've been embarrassed. I've done some things, stupid stuff. There hasn't been much I haven't experienced. Been traded, sent down, have had issues as a high draft choice being arrogant and cocky."

He hopes to call on all those experiences, the highs and the lows, to help turn around a franchise that has lost 195 games the past two seasons.

Back in the game


Back in the cage, Brunansky is flipping baseballs to Boggs, a nonroster invite to camp. He tells Boggs that he is throwing a pitch on the outside part of the plate, but throws it on the inside corner. Boggs meets it squarely anyway.

"Your mind is thinking, 'Out there,' " Brunansky tells him, "but you can react to the ball."

The new hitting coach sounds convincing in his teaching.

Brunansky, after 14 major league seasons and 16 postseason games, retired following the 1994 season. He returned to Southern California to do ... nothing. And things were great.

"I was a dad," says the 52-year-old Brunansky, who has five children, ages 14 to 23.

He thought he was done with the game, but the game wasn't done with him.

He was asked by an old friend to observe the baseball program at Poway High School, near San Diego. So he did. Then he was asked to join the staff. Brunansky's son was about to enter the program, so he went for it.

"That brought back the love and the life of the game for me," he says.


He coached at Poway from 2005 through 2010. Before the 2009 season, he called the Twins with interest in joining the organization. The Twins didn't have anything available at the time. Then, in July 2010, Chris Heintz stepped down as manager of the Gulf Coast League Twins to coach at his alma mater, South Florida. Twins director of minor leagues Jim Rantz called Brunansky in to coach.

Out of cash

It was a perfect fit. Bill Springman, Twins minor-league hitting instructor, played with Brunansky from 1978 to '80 in the Angels farm system, and the two have remained close.

The former minor league teammates revel in tales from their youth. In 1978, when the two were at Idaho Falls, Springman and some other roommates were hungry and out of money. They sent Brunansky to a local grocery store wearing a large coat. They stuffed the coat with food as Brunansky walked the aisles.

"He was packed like a mule," Springman says. "He went up to the counter and bought a stick of gum."

Springman and Brunansky say they all returned to the store and paid the bill once they received their checks from the Angels. That's their story, and they're sticking to it.

The two get together frequently to talk about the old times, hitting and getting players over the hump. Springman said Brunansky had a mental approach as a player that should serve him well as a big-league hitting coach.

"The one thing I admired the most about him at that time was how after not a great game he would blow it off and get ready for the next game," Springman says. "I was older and had extra baggage, I guess, and (bad games) would bother me. He had the ability to play the next day the same way, regardless if it was good or bad."


Familiar surroundings

Brunansky helped coach the rookie-level GCL Twins in 2010, was the hitting coach at Class AA New Britain in 2011 and moved to Class AAA Rochester last season. His arrival to the majors has been met with approval by several players.

"I'm really fired up," says Parmelee, who is expected to be the Twins' starting right fielder. "I've had the last two years to work with Bruno and it has been nothing but a pleasure. He's fun to work with out there in the cage. He knows how to joke around, but he knows at the same time how to be serious. It was 2011, when I was in Double-A and it was his first year. It seemed like what he was saying to me just registered. I knew the first couple of days that I liked this hitting coach."

On a recent spring day, Brunansky was seen on one of the practice fields with Mauer, putting balls on a tee for him to swing at as they talked about adjustments. The next day, Brunansky spent several minutes in the batting cages with Morneau talking about his swing and his thought process at the plate. He was working to build a bond with his best hitters while picking up where he left off with some prospects.

Brunansky has been successful in a Twins uniform before, being selected as an All-Star and helping them win a World Series, and manager Ron Gardenhire believes that being in that uniform once again will do wonders for a Twins team expecting a lot from its offense in 2013.

"There was never a doubt about his ability to teach," Gardenhire says. "He loves the game, always loved the game. Loved talking about the game. Players that love talking baseball, staying around after games, he was one of them. Those are guys that are good teachers because they love to talk baseball and they think about the game. It is easy to see why he is successful."

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