Posted at 7:27 PM on September 11, 2008
by David Zingler
When the Twins selected Denard Span out of high school with the 20th pick in 2002 draft, he was immediately tabbed the heir-apparent to Torii Hunter in centerfield. But, a mediocre season at Triple A Rochester in 2007 had the organization looking elsewhere when Hunter signed with Anaheim in November.
The Twins, of course, acquired Carlos Gomez in the Johan Santana trade and basically handed him the job despite a stronger spring showing by the more seasoned Span. The 24-year-old didn't sulk however and now looks to be on the verge of big league stardom. I caught up with the Florida native on Wednesday to talk about his rookie campaign:
DZ: It's been a pretty special year for you - a lot of things have happened - could you talk a little about that?
SPAN: Oh man, it's just been an unbelievable season for me. It was a whirlwind off-season for me; not knowing what was going to happen, not knowing where I was going to be come spring training and starting the season. I weathered the storm, put forth a lot of hard work and I am just happy that I am able to contribute to this team and bear the fruits of my hard work.
DZ: Last year you started off slowly in Triple A, picked it up in the second half and have pretty much been going strong since then. What clicked for you?
SPAN: I don't know. I don't know if it was just my confidence. I just relaxed a little bit. In the beginning of the season I put a little too much pressure on myself and the second half of the season, I just kind of relaxed, stayed within myself, didn't try to do too much and tried to carry that on into this season.
DZ: You know Torii Hunter, everybody knew his situation here (last year) - that it was going to be his last year (in Minnesota) - did you put too much pressure on yourself thinking you were going to succeed him?
SPAN: Yeah, I think I did now that I look back at it. At the time I didn't think I was, now that I look back at it I remember going into the season thinking that hopefully by the All Star break that I would be up with the big team. I think that maybe I put too much pressure on myself by thinking that instead of going out there and taking it one day at a time and playing the game and enjoying the game. I had the wrong mentality. This year I tried to relax and have fun and play my game.
DZ: Did the talk about the team getting another centerfielder and eventually getting Gomez in the Santana trade take the pressure off at all because you didn't have to come into spring training with all the expectations (of taking over for Hunter) or did that just motivate you more?
SPAN: I wouldn't say it took the pressure off me...I had dealt with pressure ever since the team drafted me in the 1st round - being a 1st rounder you have to deal with a little bit of pressure. It definitely motivated me, I'll tell you that. I was already motivated before they traded for (Gomez), but when they made that trade it definitely put more fuel in my tank. I just wanted to work harder and prove to the organization that I was still the guy they chose in 2002.
DZ: You must have talked to Torii Hunter when you were in Anaheim a couple of weeks ago, what did you talk about?
SPAN: You could just tell that he was happy for me and he just told me to keep doing it, keeping working and "You are showing everybody and you are proving to everybody that you belong up here". To hear that coming from him meant a lot.
DZ: Since you've been in the big leagues, you've been rotating between rightfield and centerfield and batting 9th and leadoff, how do you approach that?
SPAN: When Gardy moved me from the nine-hole to the one-spot, I tried to keep the same approach. When I was in the nine-spot, I would try to put together good at-bats and take pitches and try to get on base for Morneau and Mauer and those guys. So, when he moved me to the leadoff spot, there was no difference. I led-off in the minor leagues for five or six years, so I was pretty comfortable, it wasn't like it was an unfamiliar spot for me.
DZ: One last thing, I've started to notice people with No. 2 t-shirts with "SPAN" on the back, that's got to be pretty cool.
SPAN: Yeah, it is man. I still can't believe (it). Whenever I see somebody in the stands (with my shirt on), I catch myself staring at them. It's unbelievable; I go places and people recognize my face - it's just a dream come true. Like I said, it just feels good to be bearing some of the fruits of the hard work that I put in. Really, I am a spiritual guy and I thank God.
(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
See more of David Zingler's interviews with Twins players:
September 10: Mike Redmond
August 21: Randy Ruiz
August 20: Glen Perkins
August 12: Matt Guerrier
August 1: Nick Punto
July 31: Justin Morneau
July 30: Scott Baker
June 30: Brian Bass
June 27: Brian Buscher
June 18: Matt Macri
June 6: Craig Breslow
June 4: Michael Cuddyer
May 25: Nick Punto & Mike Redmond
May 20: Justin Morneau
May 1: Nick Blackburn
April 29: Brendan Harris
April 20: Jason Kubel
April 17: Denard Span
April 2: Matt Tolbert
Where would we be without this guy? I've really been impressed with his whole approach at the plate, he seems to get his money's worth every time. With his emergence, the Twins are going to have some decisions to make about the outfield next season.
I think Denard might actually finish second in the ROY voting. That is pretty cool.