Nathan reflects on time spent with Twins
MINNEAPOLIS — Joe Nathan isn't the first former Twin to visit Target Field, nor will he be the last. But that didn't make Friday any less odd for Minnesota's all-time saves leader.
After seven seasons and four All-Star Games with Minnesota, Nathan was a visitor at Target Field for the first time Friday when his Texas Rangers came to Minneapolis.
"It definitely felt weird walking into the stadium. It felt like I was walking in the wrong doors," Nathan said before Friday's game, the first of a three-game series between the Rangers and Twins. "It's part of the game. It's not my first time switching teams. But after being with this club, Minnesota, for so long, to come over here for the first time was awkward for sure."
Nathan, 37, was acquired by the Twins in a 2003 trade with San Francisco that sent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants and brought Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonster to Minnesota. During his seven-year career with the Twins, Nathan became the franchise's all-time saves leader with 394, surpassing former Twins closer Rick Aguilera last season.
But Nathan became a free agent in the offseason, and the lure to play for the reigning American League champions was enough to draw him to Texas. In 12 seasons in the majors, Nathan has never played in a World Series.
The Rangers, who are expected to compete with the Los Angeles Angels for the AL West title, could give Nathan that chance.
"I've been very fortunate in this game to have seen and done a lot of things," Nathan said. "But the one thing that I wanted the most has eluded me. Obviously, there's no guarantees in this game. All you can do is get with a club that you think has a wonderful opportunity to get back there and hope for the best."
Nathan's final year in Minnesota was a disappointment for both he and the Twins, who lost 99 games and finished last in the AL Central. After Tommy John surgery on his right elbow forced Nathan to miss the entire 2010 season, he returned in 2011 but struggled early. He was placed on the disabled list in late May of last year and missed nearly a month.
His arm eventually healed and strengthened, and by the end of the year Nathan had convinced not only himself but also other teams that he was healthy enough to close games.
"I think last year was big for me, finishing up the way I did. I think it allowed me to go into the offseason with confidence that surgery's behind me now," Nathan said. "I went into the offseason and had a great workout, didn't think about my elbow, didn't feel it anymore. So I knew I was starting to put it behind me. I came into spring not having to answer the question of, 'How's your elbow feeling?" and all that stuff. That was a good feeling."
Nathan has moved on from his surgery, and from the Twins. He's embraced his new opportunity with Texas and said that the transition has been relatively seamless — other than getting lost at the Rangers" spring training facility early in camp.
At the same time, the Twins have moved on without Nathan. Matt Capps is closing games for Minnesota this season and saved back-to-back games earlier this week against the Los Angeles Angels.
But the Twins have not forgotten what Nathan provided during his time in a Minnesota uniform.
"He did it for us a long time, took the ball, gave us everything he had," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "Great clubhouse guy, great presence in the community — everything that we like to see out of a baseball player. He handled himself pretty well, plus he was pretty good when he got the ball in the ninth."
Twins reliever Glen Perkins became good friends with Nathan during their time together in Minnesota's clubhouse. He said Nathan taught him many things about the game, including how to pitch out of the bullpen after Perkins transitioned from starter to reliever.
So as Perkins and Nathan talked at Target Field before Friday's game, Perkins admitted it was "definitely weird" to see his friend and former teammate on the other side. Perkins was one of the first people Nathan told when he signed with the Rangers; he called Perkins from a restaurant in Texas as he sat with his agent.
Nathan admitted he isn't sure how Twins fans will greet him the first time he pitches in this weekend's series. Perkins said he hopes Minnesota will embrace the 37-year-old right-hander.
"I would hope really well," Perkins said when asked how the fans will receive Nathan. "The way he represented our team, the organization, Minnesota, the community, he was generous with his time, his money, all those things. There should be no reason that he won"t get as good a reception as any former Twin."
Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.