Patrick Reusse
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FORT MYERS, FLA. – The amazing tale of Caleb Thielbar, now being less than a month away from six years of major league service time, will always contain an intriguing footnote. That being, he was the first player to appear for the St. Paul Saints and then to be signed by the Twins.

Those teams are partners now, and Saints that arrive in mid-afternoon at CHS Field in St. Paul to prepare for pregame drills can find themselves being driven 11 miles to Target Field to be available that evening for the Twins.

The lefthanded Thielbar was a basketball star for the Randolph (Minn.) Rockets and a decade ago, his late, great mother Janet said:

"If you had asked me when he was in the eighth grade, I would've said Caleb would play basketball in college. He was a very good shooter and a tremendous leaper."

He chose baseball as his college sport, pitching four years for South Dakota State from 2006 to 2009. Why there?

"That was the only Division I school that wanted me," was Thielbar's explanation back in 2013.

The Brewers drafted him in the 18th round in 2009, he had a bad second pro season in 2010 and was released.

The only invitations to continue pitching came from independent league teams. He chose the St. Paul Saints. Explanation: "I signed with the Saints because it was a 40-minute drive to the ballpark."

Thielbar was outstanding for the Saints that summer and was signed by the Twins late in the season. He rose through three minor league levels with the Twins in 2012 and was placed on the big-league roster for 2013.

I made that 40-minute drive to Randolph in January 2013. Caleb was home that afternoon with his mom and his black lab, Cliff. Thielbar's original intention was to name the dog after his pitching hero, Johan Santana, but decided two syllables wouldn't work well with a hunting dog, and named the lab after Cliff Lee, another lefty.

Let me pause to state this: Janet Thielbar was a trip, and anyone meeting her was saddened by news of her death in October 2014.

By then, her son had pitched 103 games as a reliever for the Twins, with a 2.59 ERA and 75 hits allowed in 93⅔ innings. The Twins made the odd decision to option Thielbar to the minors at the end of 2015 spring training,

He was back with the Saints for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

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Thielbar was 31 years old and had a nice little taste of the big leagues. What more could a guy from Randolph (pop. 465) expect out of his left arm?

Plenty, as it turns out.

We've heard about Thielbar taking his last shot — going to Driveline Baseball Training to add a few miles per hour to his fastball — and having a fantastic season for the Tigers' Class AAA Toledo club in 2019.

And again it was the Twins that leapt, bringing him to spring training for 2020.

We're entering Season 5 in Twins Career 2 for Thielbar. In the clubhouse Tuesday, Carlos Correa was asked: "What would you do with that big, slow curveball Thielbar throws?"

Correa said, "I'd take him deep," then smiled and said: "He's a tough lefty … important to our excellent bullpen."

This Twins' redo for Thielbar has been twice as long and more amazing: 179 games, 174 innings with 143 hits allowed, and a 3.21 ERA.

There was a stat that bothered him greatly about the past three seasons, though: 20 home runs allowed. So he went to work on the problem.

He has been located in Brookings, S.D., for years now, with his wife Carissa and now 4-year-old son Josh. This is Carissa's 10th season as an assistant to Aaron Johnston with South Dakota State's extra-successful women's basketball program.

Thielbar worked out daily on campus with a conditioning program of his design. And then a month ago, he tousled Josh's hair and headed here to the Twins facilities, to throw and to run some ideas past the team's pitching gurus.

"First time I was with the Twins, everything was 'keep the fastball down,'" Thielbar said. "Now, it's 'keep the fastball up.' So, pitching is always changing. And I'm going try some things to stay away from that long ball."

Thirty-seven years old, still here. Amazing.

"I'm the old lefty in the bullpen," he said, "and when you look around at veteran players that don't have jobs, I appreciate that."