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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Catching up with Redmond is no easy task

Spokane's Mike Redmond, who completed his tenure as the primary backup with the Florida Marlins, will be part of a catcher-by- committee approach with the Minnesota Twins this season. 
 (File/Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane's Mike Redmond, who completed his tenure as the primary backup with the Florida Marlins, will be part of a catcher-by- committee approach with the Minnesota Twins this season. (File/Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

He has a World Series ring and he’s had Tom Glavine’s number. He’s survived Bud Selig’s contraction slapstick and last year, in his seventh major league season, finally stole a base.

He has gained newfound notoriety for a gimmick – nude batting practice – which he protests was not chronic.

So what’s the latest on Mike Redmond?

Well, he’s part of a cockeyed bit of strategy the Minnesota Twins are employing to open the 2005 baseball season: carrying four catchers on their 25-player roster.

This is taking the notion of insurance to the extreme. Matt Dillon used to have Chester and then Festus, but were there two more backup sidekicks on “Gunsmoke” we didn’t know about?

Call it just another irony in the career of Spokane’s favorite catcher. The Gonzaga University grad has had seasons – and productive ones – playing behind ironmen like Charles Johnson or Pudge Rodriguez where he might go more than a week between appearances. And now he has to divvy up at bats with a committee?

It is at times like these – actually, it’s pretty much all the time – that he falls back on a baseball grinder’s favorite maxim: Whatever.

“I’ll do anything they want me to do,” said Redmond as the Twins prepared to break camp and head to Seattle, where they’ll open the season Tuesday afternoon against the Mariners. “I told them that when I signed.”

As it happens, the four-headed catcher is mostly an arithma-trick.

After spending his entire professional career in the Florida Marlins organization, Redmond signed a two-year, $1.8 million contract with the Twins over the winter to back up Joe Mauer, the Twins’ homegrown prodigy. The only thing that exceeds a Minnesotan’s pride over JoeMa is his worry over JoeMa’s left knee, injury and surgery to which limited the phenom to a mere 35 games last summer.

When that knee gave Mauer some more problems this spring, the panic was palpable. The Twins do have Matthew LeCroy, a beefy batsman who has caught 109 major league games but is to catching what gravel sheets are to a good night’s sleep. So management eschewed another left-handed bat off the bench and a helpful infielder to keep Corky Miller, whose actual batting average last year was .026.

Miller normally would be dispatched to the minor leagues, but the Twins can’t do that without subjecting him to the waiver wire, and so catching poor are major league teams that someone would likely claim him despite the disease in his bats.

So, then. Four catchers. And still Mike Redmond may wind up with as much work as he’s ever had.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has said his early season plan is to catch Mauer two out of every three games, with Redmond to pick up the third-day start. But, of course, that depends on JoeMa’s hinge and not his talent.

“This kid is great,” is Redmond’s assessment. “He’s got a chance to be an All-Star. If he can keep himself healthy and out there, then my role will be a lot like it was in Florida – I’m there in case they need me.”

Just how respectably Redmond filled that role for seven years in Florida isn’t subject to argument. He hit .284 and until last year trailed only Manny Ramirez, Ichiro Suzuki, Frank Thomas and Derek Jeter among active players in career average against lefthanders. He notoriously owned Glavine – even now his on-base/slugging percentage against the Mets pitcher is over 1.000. He also threw out 34 percent of potential base stealers, and it was widely suggested that the Marlins fine pitching staff turned to Redmond to run their meetings about hitters instead of Rodriguez. Old school manager Jack McKeon professed that Redmond was the one free agent he’d like to keep.

So it was curious to Redmond “that the Marlins didn’t really show any interest in keeping me.

“It was tough to leave because I had a lot of friends on the team and that was the organization I grew up with,” he said, “but when they didn’t show interest it became a pretty easy decision.”

The hurt went away fast. Not only did teammates call to wish him well, but so did owner Jeffrey Loria. And then 15 other teams showed interest in Redmond, who decided quickly – he was signed by Thanksgiving – that he’d go with Minnesota.

“I made a lot of phone calls to managers and other guys I knew in baseball,” Redmond said, “and no one would say anything negative about this organization, the people or the players. That’s unusual. They pride themselves on the little things, fundamentals, and I like that. It just seemed like it would be the best fit for me.”

But not without its challenges.

In moving from the National to American League, Redmond not only has to learn the tendencies of the 150-odd new pitchers he’ll face, but every batter, as well – to say nothing of his own pitching staff. It’s the catcher’s peculiar burden.

Of course, the staff he’s learning did lead the American League in earned run average last season, with the fewest walks and second-most strikeouts. It had the Cy Young winner in Johan Santana and the year’s closer find in Joe Nathan – and it still has youth. The average age of the starting rotation is under 28; the bullpen, under 26.

“That’s the amazing thing,” said Redmond. “Santana, obviously, has great stuff and he’s very humble, but the impressive thing is how much an idea they all have about how to pitch. They avoid walks, they’re around the plate, they’re just very knowledgeable.

“It’s always an adjustment, but I feel like I’m a quick learner and can pick up how we’re working (batters) and what these guys like to do. In Florida all those years, it was the pitching staff that led us and I think that’s‘ the case here, as well.”

But backup catchers can lead, too. It was discovered just how much this spring when the story broke of how Redmond changed the mojo of the Marlins early in their 2003 championship by taking batting praqctice in the club’s indoor cage wearing nothing but socks, shoes and batting gloves. Now, just how much Redmond’s chiseled figure flailing against the pitching machine had to do with it is open to question, but the fact is the Marlins started on a six-game winning streak in May the day he let it all hang out – and that they went 20-8 to finish the season after his teammates demanded an encore that August.

Naturally – au naturally – this tale was picked up by papers nationwide, much to Redmond’s apprehension.

“Hey, I just want people to know – I don’t take naked batting practice every day,” he said. “I did it twice one year. Now I’m the naked guy.”

Hey, when you’re one of four catchers on the same team, you need something to stand out.

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