The Twins were nearing the end of exhibition play in Florida and manager Paul Molitor was asked to identify the catcher next in line if Jason Castro or Mitch Garver were to require a replacement.
“Bobby Wilson,” said Molitor, and now the Twins have the 35-year-old for as long as he remains viable.
Castro underwent knee surgery that proved more complex than anticipated and will be lost for the second season of his three-year contract.
There were some national reporters quick to suggest the Twins would be looking for a No. 1 catcher, although I don’t see the team in a panic over that. Garver, 27, is here to hit and hopefully improve as a receiver, and Wilson brings as much in handling pitchers and “framing” as did Castro.
Wilson arrived on May 6 and in the 10 games since then, he has started five and Garver has started five at catcher. The last of those for Wilson came Tuesday night, when he caught Jose Berrios for the first time since early in spring training.
Berrios had three tremendous starts and one with misfortune to start this season. He had totaled 18⅓ innings with an ERA of 8.84 in his next four, with Castro and Garver each catching him twice.
A fix was needed, and it might have started when Wilson caught Berrios’ between-starts bullpen session.
“We were working on [the curveball] in the bullpen, really driving that breaking ball in the zone …” Wilson said.
Berrios was outstanding vs. St. Louis: one run, two hits, one walk and 10 strikeouts in 7⅓ innings. Being behind the plate for such a performance would have made it a dandy night for Wilson, but there was a bonus:
He hit a two-run homer in the seventh — one pitch after Wilson fouled off a bunt trying to get Byron Buxton home from third.
Wilson’s 16th and most recent big-league home run before that had been on Sept. 21, 2016. He hit his second of the month off the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka in a Rays’ loss in St. Petersburg … a few miles from home.
Wilson grew up in Seminole, Fla., an enclave of 18,000 on the west side of Tampa Bay. He graduated from Seminole High in 2001. The Seminole Warhawks were Class 5A champions and rated No. 1 nationally.
First baseman Casey Kotchman was taken No. 13 overall by the Angels and shortstop Bryan Bass No. 31 by the Orioles in the 2001 draft among numerous selected Warhawks.
Wilson was picked by the Giants in the 26th round, didn’t sign, played one year of junior college at St. Petersburg College, and then signed with the Angels as a 48th-rounder in 2002. The scout doing the signing was Tom Kotchman, Casey’s father.
He started his pro career in 2003. Name a league or a baseball outpost and Wilson probably has played in it, either for the home team or as a visitor. This April, he was in Rochester, N.Y., with the Twins’ Class AAA club.
“I know the Twins had weather problems in Minnesota,” Wilson said. “I’ve started the season in a lot of places in 16 years. What we had in Rochester … that was the coldest baseball month of my life.”
He had wrist surgery in December. There was a bit of leftover stiffness and the cold weather didn’t help. He was 5-for-40 (.125) at Rochester before the Twins sent for him.
Wilson shrugged and said: “I try to advance the base-runners, and I’ll run into one once in a while.”
He had seven home runs in a 2016 season split between Texas, Tampa Bay and Detroit, then wound up with the Dodgers’ Class AAA farm club in Oklahoma City for the entire 2017 season.
OKC in the summer?
“Very hot,” he said. April in Rochester, N.Y.? “Very cold.” And Tuesday night at Target Field? “Just right.”
The weather was gorgeous. Wilson caught a gem from Berrios and hit his first big-league home run in 601 days. And his wife, Lori, and the kids — Blake, 6, and Jace, 4, and baby sister Shae, 7 months — were in town from Seminole for a visit.
Life couldn’t get much better than that for the last pro ballplayer standing (or crouching) from the mighty Seminole Warhawks of 2001.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org