The Twins' Mike Redmond is Minnesota's catcher in the raw

"Old Dog" is one of the oldest—but best—back-up catchers in the league

First, he had talent. He was a careful batter. He was an observant base runner. He was a player whose mental acuity made for few rookie errors in the field. From tee-ball to coach-pitch to tenures in left field and at first base as a Bullpup at Gonzaga Prep, Mike was a .300 hitter.

Second, his talent wasn't enough, and he knew it.

"My father knew I wasn't going to be the biggest guy in the world, or the strongest guy in the world, or the best player in the world," Redmond says. "So he taught us the little things. The smart aspects. The mental side. Running the bases. Instinct." Redmond pauses and drains the last of his coffee. "Toughness."

The Minnesota Twins' Mike Redmond
Nick Vlcek
The Minnesota Twins' Mike Redmond
Pat Jr. and Mike Redmond were 12 when their team won the Kirkland, Washington, city championships
courtesy of Patti Redmond
Pat Jr. and Mike Redmond were 12 when their team won the Kirkland, Washington, city championships

Toughness is the birthright of the Redmond boys. Their grandfather boxed in the sport's most brutal age, and turned his grandsons into combatants by sending them home from a summer in Spokane with a couple of pairs of boxing gloves and pointers on how to set up a hook with a jab. Their father, a merchandising manager for Safeway who in his younger days kicked around the mud leagues as a left-handed pitcher, was a keen observer of the game and taught his sons well.

"From little league on, our father was making sure we were always thinking, making up for the physical skill we didn't have," says Pat Jr. "Anticipating balls in the dirt and knowing when to advance. Positioning. Knowing which base you need to throw to. Where the hitter's going to hit the ball. The smart stuff."

By junior high, Mike and Pat were atypical athletes, slight and scrappy where their teammates at Gonzaga Prep were tall, lean all-staters. The Redmond boys were brainy players who sucked up the routine grounders, didn't get thrown out on foolish advances, and played with ravenous hunger.

"I always knew I'd make it," Mike says. "In my high school yearbook, it says, 'Where do you see yourself in 20 years?' Under my picture it says, 'Playing baseball.'" He bursts into a peal of laughter. "I always knew I'd play ball."

   

IN MARCH 1993, Pat Jr. was still bouncing around the Gonzaga College infield as a utility player, disillusioned with players who were too busy courting scouts and agents to take batting practice, when he got a call from Mike, fresh from his first day of spring training with the single-A King County Cougars.

"These guys are good," Mike said soberly. "All of 'em."

In the vast circuitry of professional baseball, single-A ball is the most common and most grueling point of entry and exit. It's where injured big leaguers go to get their throw back and where promising players hack through a season of bus commutes and scrub baseball.

Undrafted, Redmond had signed as a free agent out of his junior year at Gonzaga. After a season of summer ball in the Jayhawk League, an incubator that had produced players like Albert Pujols and Ozzie Smith, a young franchise named the Florida Marlins came calling. Redmond found himself whisked to the Marlins' single-A affiliate, the Cougars, elbow to elbow with a young catcher named Charles Johnson.

Johnson was a future four-time Gold Glove winner with a cannon for an arm. Redmond's position as his backup was the start of a decade and a half riding pine behind great talent.

That period is one of the few topics that make Redmond break eye contact. He looks out onto the field and crosses his legs. "There wasn't a lot of playing time there," he says. "That whole year, I think I got a hundred at-bats. I was always a good player in college. But I didn't appreciate it. I took it for granted and just rolled out there and played.

"It was a turning point. It was the first time I realized how hard I was going to have to work to stay in the game."

He spent his two years with the Cougars beside manager Carlos Tosca, learning how to see each at-bat as an opportunity. And he was getting tougher. Two years in A, another two in AA, and Redmond was seemingly impervious. Weathering the maelstrom of foul tips, of being railroaded on tight plays at the plate, Redmond refused to get hurt. He declined pain.

"I love the grind," he says. "I love the fact that I can grind through anything. If I can walk and breathe, I'm out there playing. I never had the luxury to go on the [disabled list]. Some players don't have to worry about that. Nobody's going to outplay Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau. They go on the DL, they come back and fit right into the three hole and never have to worry about it. When you're a bench player, when you're not a superstar, it's not the same."

But in 1997, he suffered an injury he couldn't play through. A torn labrum in his throwing arm put him on the sidelines for an entire season.

"They had given up my spot in AAA to two other guys because I got hurt," he says. "There was no spot for me. I was at a crossroads. Either make the decision to stick it out or become a coach."

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