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When Matt Guerrier carved out a niche on the Twins roster in 2005, the team was in transition. The Hunter/Jones/Koskie/Pierzynksi/Guzman/Mientkiewicz/Milton/Mays “Get to Know ‘Em” core that restored the Twins to relevancy in the early 2000s was going or gone. A younger, more hyped group headed by Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey was emerging.
While Guerrier wasn’t a headliner, he did, along with Joe Nathan and Jessie Crain, anchor the Twins bullpen for the second half of the decade. Guerrier also had good timing, inking a free agent contract with the Dodgers after the 2010 season, leaving a Twins ship that was about to capsize.
Now, after 2 ½ years in Los Angeles, a short stint on Chicago’s North Side and a torn flexor muscle, Guerrier is back in Minnesota. Nearing 36-years-old, the veteran reliever is hoping to relive the glory days and stick around long enough to see this next crop of Twins prospects mature.
DZ: It’s been (a little while now) since you’ve been back…what’s it been like for you getting back into the scene?
GUERRIER: It’s been good. We’ve got a good group of guys and quite a few guys that I played with in Rochester before I got here, so I am pretty comfortable with the team…I played with over a handful of guys in 2010 and 2009. I’ve played against a bunch of these guys, so it’s a pretty easy clubhouse to come in and feel comfortable with and get to know everybody pretty quickly.
DZ: What feels different, what feels the same…?
GUERRIER: Before we had a group of 10, 12 guys who had come up together for 5, 6 years. There’re a lot of things that are different. It was a unique thing that we had at that point that maybe we are trying to get back to here with the younger guys. A lot of these guys have played together for a long time. It’s nice to have a good group of guys who have come up together and hopefully you make things happen and get on a winning side.
DZ: Getting more into that, it’s kind of a transition professionally; you come up with a group of guys and inevitably you end up going somewhere else and the team breaks up. What was that like having to go through that for the first time?
GUERRIER: As a baseball player you kind of look forward to – you definitely would love to stay with the same guys, but you do know that (if) you decide to stay the other six guys you thought might stay, probably won’t stay, so you end up being the only guy staying. It’s nice to get out there and meet some new people and hang out with a different team, be in a different city and see what it’s all about. It’s a great experience to be a part of that and I was fortunate to be in LA before the bankruptcy and then with the new ownership – it was a pretty different experience than here…it’s all about winning ball games and when you start winning it makes everybody enjoy each other a little more.
DZ: How much different is it playing in a city like LA versus here…?
GUERRIER: It’s really not comparable. Here I feel like you see – when you come to the stadium, you see more people you recognize – fans that come out every day. Where in LA, you recognize people you maybe see on TV or somewhere else. It’s just a different a fan base and obviously a bigger city and with the new ownership it’s an organization and group that wants to spend money and is willing to do anything to win and they’re anxious for winners right now. Here it’s win, but also “let’s build” and try and be good for a long time.
DZ: You had a torn flexor muscle last year, what exactly is that?
GUERRIER: It’s all the muscles that connect your fingers and they wrap around and connect to your bone down here (points to his upper right forearm near the elbow). Where it was connected to the bone, it just tore off the bone. They clean that up and drill a hole in the bone, connect it, stretch it, pull it back in, tie it back on and it kind of mends itself back on the bone and forms a tendon. It’s muscle from here to here (points to above his right wrist to the upper forearm) when it gets closer to the elbow it becomes a tendon.
DZ: How scary was that?
GUERRIER: I had been dealing with some pain for about a year at that point, so I had been pitching through some pain, but when it finally happened I looked down at my arm – it was swollen, almost looked like a softball inside my arm. I figured something was wrong, was hoping it wasn’t my ligament. I am fortunate it was just that muscle and they were able to fix that. It was shorter recovery than Tommy John surgery.
DZ: Could you move your fingers?
GUERRIER: Yeah, everything was fine. It didn’t hurt even after I did it. I had fully mobility, I was able to bend and straighten my arm. It just looked really bad, kind of felt really numb as I touched it. It felt fairly normal and a week later I ended up having surgery.
DZ: Obviously you have to go through the physical rehab, what’s the mental part of that like?
GUERRIER: It’s tough. I went home the middle of August and had surgery and then didn’t know if I would have an opportunity to play in the major leagues again, which is tough. I felt like that with as much pain as I pitched through over the past two years, that if things were going right with the rehab and surgery that I’d come back and feel great and be able to get back to where I was healthy and compete just like I had before the injury. I was very fortunate to sign back here and have an opportunity to pitch for the Twins again.
DZ: This spring you got released (by the Twins) and then picked up right away. What happened with that?
GUERRIER: It was kind of a – we had talked before the release – that’s what they were going to do and if I would be interested in signing back. I tentatively said I would, so when they released me I knew they were going to (pick me back up). It was just kind of a paper thing they had to do, so they released me and a day later I signed back. At that point I was still a little bit sore from the surgery, rehabbing still. I thought it was in my best interest to sign back with this team. I felt like I had a good spring and felt like I was only getting better every day and thought my best opportunity would be here.
DZ: One last thing, you are a guy who came up when the Twins were in the Metrodome, have you been down there at all and seen (the former site)?
GUERRIER: I haven’t really driven over there on that side of town. I am interested to see when they get started on the new stadium. It looks awesome, I’d like to drive by and see…I still, when I talk about coming here (Target Field), I say “Oh yeah, I gotta go to the Dome”. I don’t know why, I forget and call this place “The Dome.”
See more of David Zingler’s interviews with Twins players: