Meet the guy in the bullpen you don’t know

MINNEAPOLIS — Nate Dammann has been a member of the Minnesota Twins organization longer than most players on the team’s 25-man roster. And though Dammann, Minnesota’s bullpen catcher, isn’t technically on the roster, he has become a teammate to the rest of the Twins.

Dammann is in his sixth season with Minnesota after he landed the job out of college prior to the 2007 season. The South Dakota-born Dammann played baseball and football in high school and later played both at Hamline University in St. Paul. He graduated with a degree in early American history and also earned his teaching license.

While serving as a substitute junior high teacher, Dammann heard from former Twins outfielder Dan Gladden that Minnesota was looking for a bullpen catcher. With no long-term job lined up after college, Dammann gave it a shot.

“It was a job, for one — that paid,” Dammann said. “I had really no plans at all. This sounded like fun, so I thought why not.”

A few interviews later he landed the job, put away the textbooks and dusted off his catcher’s gear. But Dammann said he never really received any training on what went into being a bullpen catcher, so he made it up as he went along.

“Looking back now, I really didn’t know what to do,” Dammann said. “No one really told me what to do. (Bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek) was helping me. In the interview process, they never told me, ‘Stand here at this time, go do this, go do that.’ They found out I could throw (batting practice). Now I throw BP every day. I get to be in on things.

“It’s kind of fun. I’ve done more with it than I think I had originally planned.”

It might be fun, but Dammann’s routine involves more work than the average fan may realize, more than just warming up pitchers. He arrives at the park around 1 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game and prepares baseballs for the following day’s round of batting practice — which he’ll take part in by throwing a few rounds to the Twins’ batters. And, of course, it’s Dammann’s job to haul the bags of baseballs off the field after BP.

After tossing batting practice, Dammann will walk out to the bullpen a half hour before first pitch to help warm up that night’s starting pitcher. He’ll also play long toss with Minnesota’s outfielders before the game starts. And when Twins pitchers throw their bullpen sessions in between starts, it’s usually Dammann behind the plate for them. Since he’s been with the Twins longer than most of the pitchers, he knows by now what they throw and can offer insight during bullpen sessions.

“The guy works unbelievably hard,” Twins reliever Brian Duensing said. “He’s always constantly throwing. He throws more than any of us. But it’s nice to have him around. He knows the game. . . .

“He’s always out there, always at your beck and call. As long as you treat him right, he’s willing to do whatever you need him to help with.”

Like the rest of the team, Dammann travels when the Twins go on the road. Now that he has a 1-1/2-year-old daughter, Ada, the travel isn’t quite as enjoyable. Fortunately, his wife, Kate, is a schoolteacher and has summers off, so their schedules allow them to split up the duties at home.

Dammann isn’t sure how long he’ll want to stick around as Minnesota’s bullpen catcher, but hopes to be with Twins organization for a while. He’s given up the thought of returning to the classroom but admits he’d like to one day teach on the baseball field. For the past five offseasons, Dammann spent several weeks each winter in the Dominican Republic, coaching players in the Twins Academy.

“I’d like to eventually one day try to do something else, whether it’s instructing,” he said. “I’d like to keep working for the Twins, absolutely. It’s a great organization to work for. . . .

“There’s not too much to complain about. I’ve got it pretty good. (Manager Ron Gardenhire) treats me really well. Terry (Ryan) treats me really well. The entire staff, Rick Anderson, Steve (Liddle), Scotty (Ullger), Jerry (White), Joe (Vavra), they all are really good guys to work for. And I only know one way, and it’s their way. It seems to be working.”

Dammann may not make nearly as much money as Minnesota’s star catcher, Joe Mauer. He might not get the recognition publically that his Twins brethren receive. But that hasn’t stopped him from enjoying his job. His office is a ballpark, and he’s a part of the team.

“You feel like you’re a part of it,” Dammann said. “At the same time, I realize what my role is. I try to help out Gardy as much as possible and the coaches and players. I don’t ever want to be questioned about how hard I work. As long as I keep working hard, I’ll be fine.”

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