FORT MYERS, FL — There’s a plaque in the garage at Brooks Lee’s family home in California of a former player who represents everything a first-rounder could want in the 2022 Twins game. Not only was the player an elite hitter, but his meticulous approach to baseline runs helped him become one of seven player in baseball history to finish with 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases.
When Lee found out earlier this week that Hall of Famer Paul Molitor would be serving as the Twins’ head coach in spring training, he was excited. Just seven months into his professional career, this is the second time Lee, the son of a college coach who idolized Molitor, has worked with him personally.
At the request of Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, Molitor returned to the Twins’ big league camp this week to help the club improve its base. This is the first time Molitor has worked with the Fort Myers Senior Twins Knights since he was fired as the team’s manager after the 2018 season. Although Molitor was initially reluctant, Lee said the local legend wasn’t afraid to speak his mind.
He told me, “It’s like the encyclopedia of baseball.” “Almost every time, he has something to say.”
When it comes to running the bases, Molitor has to be stubborn. His consistently aggressive nature made him one of the best baserunners in the majors during a 21-year career.
He hits 504 out of 635 stolen attempts, and his 79.3 percent success rate is nearly 11 percent better than the rest of the league.
But the biggest focus in the Twins camp rests on Molitor’s ability to take the extra 90 feet.
Even after undergoing knee surgery in 1981 and suffering a series of hamstring injuries, Molitor boasted a 48-percent-to-league average of 44, including a whopping 67-percent in 1984. His XBT average drops below 44, and five of those cases occurred after he turned 32.
“There is probably no one better to talk to about running the base,” Baldelli said.
Although he knew many of the players and most of the coaches, it wasn’t until he spoke with Baldelli that Molitor became comfortable with the situation.
As part of the team’s look inside after last season’s collapse, the Twins knew they needed to improve on the bases. The team achieved 52 rule breakes in 2022, four short of the league average and tied for sixth on worst teams.
Knowing that baseball also implemented rules intended to increase activity on the bases, Baldelli identified fixing the team’s run from one station to another as a primary focus early in the season. To help, Baldelli wanted to incorporate Molitor.
The two discussed the topic after the season and reconvened last month at TwinsFest to set things up.
“He (Baldelli) mentioned at the time that the game is changing and we want to run the rules better and more aggressively,” Molitor said. “We had a nice long talk…. I was a little hesitant because you’re out and about respecting the coaches.”
But Molitor felt more comfortable with the situation when he realized how committed Baldili was. This wouldn’t be a topic mentioned at first and then covered up. The twins included basic running drills every day during their first week at camp.
“He’s trying to make it a foundational point here early in camp that he wants to see more bold rules and little things, run a little bit more aggressively outside the box and look for additional rules and different ways players can do that and get ready,” Molitor said. The stuff and I share with him and we kind of go back and forth about how we want to teach it. That’s what we’ve been doing here for the past two days.
“We’re not going to be there all day doing it, but we’re going to do something every day and stick to it. To make it a point of focus, you have to back it up with the work that you’re going to ask them to do.”
Although Baldelli and bench coach Jayce Tingler lead the drills, Molitor is very hands-on. He plays an active role in every session, disseminating information when needed.
The idea is to knock home so the Twins can’t always rely on the long ball to generate offense and have to find alternative ways to score. Molitor appreciated the way the team was trying to adapt and wanted to help.
“It won’t be all of 2019,” Molitor said. “I used to talk about core operating in terms of risk and reward. For a while there, it just became risky. … But with the changes and the personnel, I sort of decided to create an identity. We’ve seen the Cleveland identity and how it’s changed over the past year. They’ve used that aspect of The game to collectively deepen their team and that was impressive.”
Most of the guys in the camp already know Molitor’s impressive body of work; They played under him or were instructed by minors. But Tingler still posted his resume when he introduced Molitor before the team held its first full team workout on Monday.
Since then, the twins have focused on everything from taking an extra base on the strike to secondary leads to working out how to implement safety pressure. All aimed at creating a strong foundation to build on during the season.
“I feel like we did a really good job with the attention to detail,” said outfielder Michael A. Taylor. “We are fortunate to have so many guys with so much experience around us that we can draw on and learn from.”
Lee, of course, didn’t need a refresher on Molitor. He also worked with Molitor at a minor leagues camp in November.
Having recently come out of the college game, which is generally more aggressive on the bases, Lee realizes how important a side he can be. Between that and after being considered for the Hall of Famer, Lee listens intently whenever Molitor or the others speak.
He told me, “It’s very important.” “When you’re on top and you’re not being lazy, that’s what makes a championship-caliber team. Everyone plays like a college team during the playoffs, but not everyone does in the regular season.
“(Molitor) has his parts and parts. He lets the main players talk and then if he has something to say, he will definitely say something.”
(Top photo by Paul Molitor: Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins)
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