Baseball is in the blood of Twins’ Roenicke

Not many six-year-olds get to spend their summers hanging out with big league players and walking around baseball clubhouses. Twins reliever Josh Roenicke wasn’t like many six-year-olds.

Roenicke’s father, Gary, spent 12 seasons with four different teams as a major league outfielder. Josh’s uncle, Ron, also played in the majors and spent eight years with six teams. So as a youngster, Josh followed around his dad and uncle during their respective careers, occasionally popping into the locker rooms in Atlanta and Los Angeles.

When Roenicke made his major league debut in Cincinnati in 2008, he was coming full circle from his childhood trips to the ballpark. Finally, he was the one with his own locker and that familiar Roenicke name above it.

“I remember my call-up in ’08 and I walked into the clubhouse and I was like, ‘The last time I was there I was about six years old in a big league clubhouse,'” Roenicke said. “Going from that to actually being on the team and having a jersey on your back is a lot different. It’s definitely surreal. It was cool.”

Since his debut with the Reds, Roenicke has called three more clubhouses his home. He was traded from Cincinnati to Toronto during the 2009 season when the Reds acquired Scott Rolen from the Blue Jays. He was then claimed off waivers — twice, actually — and was picked up by Colorado in 2011 and then by Minnesota prior to the 2013 season.

Four teams in six years by age 30 hasn’t been an easy thing for Roenicke, but he’s hoping he’s found a long-term home with the Twins.

“It’s always nice to get picked up,” Roenicke said. “I can’t complain. I’m in the big leagues with a good organization, good teammates, playing good baseball right now. We just need to keep it up.”

Roenicke has been part of a Twins bullpen that has been perhaps the team’s biggest strength. Entering the weekend, Minnesota’s relievers had a combined 2.21 ERA, second-best in all of baseball and tops in the American League.

In nine games (10 innings), Roenicke has surrendered just two runs and has struck out nine batters. He pitched a scoreless seventh inning Friday in Cleveland to preserve a one-run lead and struck out two Indians batters in the process.

Minnesota has primarily used Roenicke in the sixth and seventh innings, but manager Ron Gardenhire said he has confidence in Roenicke to pitch in numerous situations.

“He’s that guy that we can get from the sixth to the seventh and even the eighth on those days when (Jared) Burton’s not going to be able to throw,” Gardenhire said. “I’m not afraid to use them all at any time. They can come up, they can spin the ball, they’ve got good, hard sinkers. Those guys know what they’re doing out there. You’ve got to understand he had success in that other league, too, in a tough place to pitch in Colorado. If you can pitch there you can pitch just about anywhere.”

Later this month, Roenicke will once again face his uncle’s team. This time, however, he’ll be pitching in part of a rivalry when the Twins and Brewers face off in four straight games — two in Milwaukee and two at Target Field. Because of the proximity of the teams, Twins games against the Brewers always seem to have a good mix of fans from both sides.

Roenicke is used to the family rivalry with his uncle, but this will be his first taste of the rivalry between his new team and his uncle’s squad.

“I heard about it this year coming up,” Roenicke said. “That’s pretty cool. We’re both playing well right now, so that should be fun.”

Not long after squaring off against Ron Roenicke’s Brewers, Josh Roenicke will face yet another family member. His brother-in-law, Ian Desmond, happens to be the shortstop for the Washington Nationals, who the Twins play in early June.

Roenicke married Desmond’s sister, Nikki, and has faced off against his brother-in-law a total of three at-bats. Desmond got the best of Roenicke two out of those three times as he took Roenicke deep at Coors Field and also tripled off him.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much trash talking between the in-laws.

“He kind of kept quiet about it,” Roenicke said.

When they later faced each other at Nationals Park in Washington, Roenicke finally got the best of Desmond when he ended up getting him out — and broke his bat in the process.

Roenicke said Desmond didn’t give him too much grief when he homered off him in Denver, but baseball tends to be the topic of conversation at many Roenicke family get-togethers. Roenicke’s cousin Lance — Ron’s son — is currently in the Brewers’ minor league organization at High-A Brevard County.

Yes, baseball has been in the Roenicke blood for decades. Josh Roenicke is the latest in the baseball family, and he’s hoping he’s found his second family with the Twins.

“As soon as I got here in spring, I could just tell they had a pretty young team,” Roenicke said. “Everybody was down to earth and everyone gets along. We’ve got good chemistry right now. I think that’s pretty important.”

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