By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
They call him Old Dog, because he is old. At a distance of 90 feet, roughly the length from third base to home plate, you might handicap him at a hard 40, and you wouldn't be far off. He's got the hardscrabble, rough-hewn build of a longshoreman—a barrel chest resting over a muscled paunch, a swell of bicep under the uniform sleeve, a paw of whorled, battered fingers.
"Dog," as in someone loud and loyal, someone utterly devoted—someone bellowing from the bench, first on field with a high five after a teammate's walk-off double. "Dog" as in a creature who doesn't know when the fight is over, whose nose can smell runs yet to come.
It's 2:30 sharp on an April afternoon when Mike Redmond arrives, ambling down the concrete concourse leading to the Twins clubhouse, grinning as he walks and bearing a plush Clifford doll. He's beat up, but you wouldn't know it. His shoulder is worn out, sore. He's got a strained groin from hustling out an opening-day double, just a half-inning after the Seattle Mariners' Russel Branyan busted his bat across Redmond's head, knocking his catcher's mask clean off.
But when he hits the field for warm-ups at 3:30 p.m., flanked by Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, Redmond has them giggling at some unknowable private joke. Cuddyer has to halt a warm-up side sprint to get it all out. Even Morneau, as stoic as a marble colossus, cracks. Redmond continues his calisthenics with a proud smirk.
Inside the cage, he lays down a succession of bunts that roll along the third base line and come to rest in a tidy cluster. When he's had his pitches, he runs down to first base, paces off a healthy lead, and gazes in at the plate as Joe Crede starts his swings. He breathes through parted lips, revealing an underbite that gives him the look of a hungry piranha.
At 37, Redmond is one of the oldest catchers in the league. Since 2004, he has played in the long shadow of superstar Joe Mauer, a franchise face 11 years Redmond's junior. At the Metrodome plaza, you won't find Mike Redmond jerseys for sale. Easton doesn't offer a Mike Redmond catcher's mitt. There is no Mike Redmond bobblehead giveaway.
But, over the course of a decade in the major leagues, Redmond has built, against all odds, a career of team leadership. A cutup and a flake, a gritty player seemingly impervious to injury, Redmond has survived on talent spiked with determinism. And while no one was looking, he emerged as one of the greatest backup catchers ever to play the game.
"He brings everything to the table," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire says of Redmond. "The way he carries himself, the way he knows his job, the way he knows his responsibility. He studies the game. He helps his teammates. He's one of those special guys that only comes around once in a while, and you enjoy the heck out of him on your baseball team."
BY A TRICK OF THE LIGHTS, a shadow line falls just a few feet beyond the Twins dugout. Two paces up the stairs, another step toward the on-deck circle, and you stand bathed in hard halogen light, so fierce against the buttermilk canopy of the dome you have to shut your eyes.
But the dugout squats in endless dusk. It's a place where they don't sweep away shelled sunflower seeds from the previous night, where the rubber tiling is perpetually moist from spilled Gatorade, and where spent chewing gum is planted on the cement rafters overhead, petrifying in the dry Dome air.
"I wasn't supposed to make it to the big leagues," he says. "And I definitely wasn't supposed to stay in the big leagues. When I first got here, they said, 'This guy's a career minor leaguer. He'll never make it.'"
He points out at the field, a gesture that sweeps over an infield of starters going through their warm-ups. "I'm not the most talented guy on this team," he says, gazing at Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, and Alexi Casilla, a team of youth and dawning prospect. "Matter of fact, I'm probably the least talented guy on this team. But I love to win. I love to compete. I have to compete. And it's the only thing that's kept me in the game this long."
Mike Redmond was born on May 5, 1971, in Seattle, Washington, with twin brother Pat Jr. beating him into the world by six minutes. In Kirkland, a Seattle suburb that sits just east of Lake Washington, Mike's was a youth of home openers at the Kingdome, batting helmet giveaways, and nosebleed seats to watch a young Mariners franchise struggle mightily with a paucity of talent.
He was an intense kid. He was quiet, meek, and purposeful, slow to pick up reading, distracted in class. By the time he played pony ball, two things had become clear.