FORT MYERS, Fla. — Glen Perkins just turned 29 years old on March 2, but the Twins set-up man already feels like one of the old guys on the team.
As Minnesota’s spring training clubhouse is filled to the brim with 66 players — and a set of makeshift lockers to accommodate the overflow — there are plenty of new faces at the Lee County Sports Complex. Now in his seventh season with the Twins, Perkins has become one of the team’s seasoned veterans.
“It doesn’t seem too long ago here that I was sharing a locker here in my first camp. I was in here sharing a locker with Jason Miller in 2006 in spring,” Perkins said. “Now I’m one of the guys that has been here a pretty long time. That’s everyone’s goal, though. . . .
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“In a way, it feels good to be one of those guys.”
Not all of Minnesota’s new players are young, however. The Twins signed veterans Josh Willingham, Jason Marquis and Jamey Carroll this offseason with the hope of bolstering a team that lost 99 games in 2011. Gone from last year, however, are three cornerstones of the Twins over the past decade.
Closer Joe Nathan signed with the Texas Rangers after seven years in Minnesota, the franchise for which he now holds the career saves record with 260. Outfielder Jason Kubel was drafted by the Twins in 2000 and spent seven seasons in the majors with Minnesota before signing as a free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks this winter. And perhaps the loss that looms largest is outfielder Michael Cuddyer, who left Minnesota to join the Colorado Rockies after spending all 11 of his major league seasons in a Twins uniform.
While all three were productive on the field, their absence already has been felt during the first few weeks of spring training.
“It’s been definitely a different vibe in the clubhouse,” center fielder Denard Span said. “You’re used to seeing those guys here for the last decade or so. Not to have those guys here, it’s one of those things where they were leaders, they were veterans in this clubhouse and everybody followed them. I think right now, we’ve got a lot of new faces and everybody’s trying to get adjusted to wearing a Minnesota Twins uniform.”
Like Perkins, Span has found himself as one of the longer-tenured Twins in camp — and he’s only been with Minnesota for four seasons. A first-round pick in 2004, Span learned from the likes of outfielders Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones in his first few spring trainings. Both Hunter and Jones were playing elsewhere by the time Span broke into the majors in 2008.
Now, Span has gone from student to mentor in just a few short years.
“It feels kind of weird. It seems like I became a young player to somewhat of a guy that’s been here for a while. It seems like that transitioned kind of quick,” Span said. “In the past, even in the outfield drills, I was usually third, fourth, fifth — in the middle of the pack as far as going through drills. This year, I’ve been going through the drills as the first guy. I always remember being the non-roster guy watching Torii and Jacque and all those guys go first in all the drills. I’ve kind of made it a thing to go first in a lot of drills.”
Clubhouse turnover is nothing new to Twins starter Carl Pavano, who has seen teammates come and go during his 13-year, five-team big league career. The right-hander likely will assume one of the corner lockers left vacant by Cuddyer and Nathan.
While the Twins lost several key players, Pavano feels confident in the leadership abilities of the current roster. That includes himself.
“I’m definitely one of the guys on the team that needs to take over some of the roles (of) the guys that were here for a long time,” said Pavano, who is in his third spring training with Minnesota. “I think that’s just kind of how it works out. Fortunately, there’s still quite a few guys around that are great veteran presences that have been here for a while. Like I say, you’ve got to focus on who’s here rather than who’s not here.”
Yet it’s hard to forget the players Minnesota lost this past offseason. For some Twins, those losses are magnified by the friendships formed during their time together. Perkins, for example, said he grew close to Nathan and Cuddyer, as well as pitcher Kevin Slowey, who was traded from Minnesota to Colorado and then dealt shortly thereafter to Cleveland.
“Nathan and Cuddyer, I obviously played with those guys for a few years, but I think last year I became better and better friends with those guys as the year went on,” Perkins said. “Those two really more than anyone else on the team. I did a lot of things with Nathan — played catch, talked more pitching and all that stuff with him last year. I spent a lot of time with Cuddy at breakfast in the morning and standing in right field during BP shagging and talking. It was the first thing when I called him and congratulated him on his contract, I said, ‘I’m going to miss the talks we had in the outfield.’ “
One more thing the Twins will miss from Cuddyer? His magic tricks. Cuddyer was known to dazzle teammates with card tricks, keeping the clubhouse loose.
Now, Minnesota is looking for its new resident illusionist.
“We don’t have one. No magicians here,” Perkins said. “He took his talents to Colorado.”