Warm Up the Bus…Warm Up the Bus

Calvin Anderson had never hit below the Mendoza Line in his baseball career.  We’re not just talking about pro ball, by the way.  We’re talking about baseball.  Calvin will tell you he’s never hit below .200.  Not in college or high school, summer ball, Little League, pee wee ball or sandlot fun.  Now that stats are sort of sketchy in the pee wee baseball world, but we’ll take his word for it. 

Now is that really much of a surprise?  Not really, no.  We’re talking about a professional baseball player.  This is a guy that’s always been the best at every level at which he’s played.  And let’s be honest, he’s from the state of Washington…not exactly a baseball powerhouse.  He’s only the second pro player out of his high school, Seattle Prep.  The only other guy was Ryan Riley, who made it to class A-Advanced with Tampa Bay in 2005.

So imagine the culture shock for Anderson when he began the season hitting .191 through 12 games.  Come May 5th, he was still only batting .195.  Not just that, but the strikeouts were piling up; 20 in a span of eight games to begin the month of May.  A guy who batted fourth in the lineup, and only fourth, his first professional season, Anderson found himself dropped to eighth in the Marauders lineup.  As they might say in a Disney movie, it was a dark time.

Calvin Anderson has worked hard to regain and grow beyond last season's form

Then rolled around May 20th.  Calvin went 0-3 with three strikeouts.  Enough.  Bradenton hit the road for an eight game trip in Lakeland and Daytona.  The team would limp to a 1-7 record, but Anderson would catch fire.  I actually started talking to a scout the first day of the series.  He told me he really liked Anderson and that he has 80 raw power (scouts grade players on a 20-80 scale, with 80 meaning there is no better…Albert Pujols has 80 power).  There was a hitch to that evaluation though.  As much power as Anderson had, it wasn’t usable.  Power does you no good if you don’t make contact and that’s something Anderson wasn’t doing.  And thusly the beast within awoke.

It’s May 22nd at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland and Anderson is penciled in eighth in the batting order.  He grounds out in the second and walks in the fifth.  That sets him up for a homerun, his sixth of the year in the seventh and a line drive double in the ninth.  Hitting coach Ryan Long called the double the hardest ball he’s ever seen hit.  The thing thudded into the wall on the fly.  And fly is a generous term considering the ball never got higher than 10 feet of the ground.  Honestly, if they Army weaponized the thing, the War on Terror would soon be over.

It’s now day two in Lakeland.  Anderson doesn’t homer.  But he also doesn’t strike out.  He goes 0-3 with a wlak.  Day three he goes a mild 4-5, a triple shy of the cycle with a homerun that cleared the leftfield berm, picnic pagodas and sidewalk.  It was gone from sight.  The next day he doubles.  You get where this is going.  In Daytona for the next series, Anderson finds himself batting fourth.

Since going 0-3 on May 20th and watching his season average drop to a low of .178, Anderson has turned into one of the best players in both Minor and Major League Baseball.  From May 21st through June 20th, Anderson had the second best average in the Florida State League.  His .357 clip is just short of St. Lucie’s Juan Lagares, hitting .389.  His 17 extra base hits are tie for the league lead, his seven homers third, his 19 RBI eighth and his 23 strikeouts put him all the way down at 17th.

Anderson is also riding a 10 game hitting streak, two shy of a team record set last year by Calvin and Brock Holt and this year by Ramon Cabrera.  During the first nine games of the run, Anderson batted .486, the sixth best average in all of baseball, and ironically second best in the Florida State League. 

1 – Logan Watkins, Daytona, .571

2 – Alcides Escobar, Kansas City, .543

3 – Ricardo Nanita, New Hampshire, .519

4 – Travis Snider, Las Vegas, .519

5 – Wily Mo Pena, Reno, .500 (promoted to Arizona this week)

6 – Calvin Anderson, .486

Now, look deeper into those statistics.  First off, three of the five guys ahead of Calvin have Major League service time and one of them, Pena, isn’t human.  I mean, have you met Wily Mo Pena?  He’s enormous.  He what you get if like King Kong and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man produced offspring.  Aside: I actually know Wily Mo from when I broadcast in Buffalo.  He is an enormous man but a really good dude.  

Anderson swings for the fences, or not the fences...he's thinking contact now

Two more stats to throw out at you….in that same span from post-May-20th, Anderson has gone from a strikeout every 2.14 at-bats to every 3.65 at-bats.  He’s also hit four homeruns to push his season total to a career high 12 (at the midway point of the season).  Only 10 players have hit more homeruns across baseball in that span and only one has more than five, Paul Konerko of the White Sox. 

So we can officially mark the day, May 20th as the line in the sand.  Everything before it goes down as BB and after is AB…Before Bus and After Bus.  If you’re new to Calvin Anderson, the Marauders faithful call him the ‘Bus’ for a homerun he hit off a bus last season.  Here in 2011, May 20th can be the line of when the true ‘Bus’ returned. 

But let’s look a little deeper still.  What’s the reason for the turnaround?  Well…

“Right now I’m not trying to hit homeruns,” Anderson said.  “I’m just trying to get base hits and the homeruns will come.  The small focus is just to make contact first.  Right now it’s a work in progress.”

Long talked to me about Alex Rodriguez earlier this week.  I don’t remember the exact math, but we broke down his statistics.  Last year, A-Rod had (minus the RBI you get for driving in yourself) about the same number of RBI on singles and homers.  The point there is that you don’t have to hit homeruns to score runs.  All you need to do is make contact.  Think line drive and let everything else come and grow from there.

“I’m just looking for the pitch and not thinking about how the pitcher wants to pitch me,” Anderson said.  “That’s enabled me to stay on the ball and see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand.  Early in the year I was thinking too much about how they want to throw to me and I was thinking slider and getting it but already swinging because I was swinging because it was a slider and I knew I was getting it, but it was a ball.”

So here’s to the Bus.  He’s back.


Don’t Talk With Your Mouth Full…My Chat with Joe Mauer

Disclaimer:  This blog is dedicated to Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.  The interviews in this blog were conducted back in Spring Training and are written down now that Joe Mauer is on MLB rehab in the Florida State League.  Well, that and the fact that the Marauders are playing Mauer and the Fort Myers Miracle this weekend.  So here’s the story…

When the Twins came to Bradenton is was near the end of Spring Training and Joe Mauer was making his first roadtrip.  About an hour and a half prior to first pitch I meandered down to the Twinkies clubhouse to talk to Mauer about his time in the FSL.  It was for our series on big leaguers that had been in the league.  Lucky for me Joe was at one of the first lockers when you walk in so I didn’t have to go searching around in foreign territory.  As I walked up to him he had finished a sandwich a was opening a bag of Sun Chips.

“Hey Joe.  Can you talk and eat?” I asked him.  He appeared to be on the verge of saying yes when Gardenhire comes from the other side of the clubhouse.

“Hey can’t we just let the man eat!” Gardenhire bellowed as he essentially chased me away.  On the way out I quickly set up to talk with Joe after the game.  In hindsight I think this would all make for a good Sun Chips commercial.

Anyway, I did end up speaking with Joe, his brother Jake (the Fort Myers manager) and Pirates outfielder Garrett Jones, who was a teammate of Mauers with the 2003 Miracle.  What ensued is as follows.


“Awesome teammate,” said Pirates outfielder and former Twins farmhand Garrett Jones of Mauer.  “An unbelievable athlete.  We would joke around and play basketball and go bowling and you name it he was good at it.  He is a natural at everything he does.”

Joe Mauer hit .335 in 62 games with the Miracle in 2003.  He was one of 12 players on that team that would eventually make it to the Major Leagues.  Mauer was, of course, the most high profile having been a first round pick.  That ’03 season was Mauer’s second full year as a pro and only his third overall. 

“It’s a process,” Mauer said.  “I’ve had some great coaches to prepare me heading into pro baseball but the blinders kind of came off in instructional league and things like that.  I was able to go to big league camp when I was 18 years old and learned a lot of things and just tried to keep my ears open.”

Among the other members of that Miracle team were Jones, Jason Kubel, Jose Morales, J.D. Durbin, Jesse Crain and Pat Neshak — all eventual Major Leaguers.  The team got off to an outstanding start and finished 73-63 overall.

“It helps with your confidence and knowing you can hit the pro level,” Jones said.  “Just to build off that and improve each level you move up and get better every year.”

And as always, the best and worst part of the league according to both guys…travel, or lack thereof, and the heat.  Some answers just never change regardless of who you speak with.

“I remember how hot it was,” Mauer said.  “It’s just that Florida state heat.  It’s definitely a good league.  You’re going to see a lot of talent in this league.”

“It’s Florida and it’s the summer time and in the seventh inning you’ve got a lot of humidity and you’re sweating your butt off,” Jones said.  “You try to eat as much as you can but there’s a lot of good restaurants in Florida to try to keep the weight on.”


But Mauer had something on his side to help him through the rigors of the FSL.  The catcher started his professional career with his big brother on the same team.  Jake Mauer, four years Joe’s elder, hit .279 in 109 games for Fort Myers in 2003.  He reached Double-A in 2005 but his career was cut short due to injury.

“It was great,” Joe said.  “My oldest brother is four years older than I am so we never really played together until that point.  Spending more time with him for a year and a half in the minor leagues was great.”

The two have crossed paths again since, with Joe playing on rehab stints in the Gulf Coast League and now in Fort Myers, were Jake has been the manager.

“You know he was a pleasure to have down in the Gulf Coast League,” Jake said.  “Joe never does anything different.  It’s a little thing but we take batting practice with our helmets.  A lot of big league guys that come down don’t do that.  He says ‘well everybody else is doing it so I’ll do it.’ It helps drive the point home to these young kids that here’s a guy in the big leagues and he’s doing the same things you guys are doing.  We’re not just doing it.  We’re doing it for a purpose.”

But Joe’s rehab stints don’t come without strings attached. 

“I told him I better be catching and hitting third,” Joe said with a laugh.  “I was.  So it was good.”

“Maybe I’m not going to play you today,” Jake responded smiling.


On a side note, we also found out that Garrett Jones and Joe Mauer were roommates in the minors.  Jones didn’t really have any inside dirt on the catcher but he did realize he owes him money. 

“I actually broke the basketball hoop in his swimming pool,” Jones said.  “But he thought it was pretty funny when I did it.”

Till next time,