In some ways, 2011 had to be relatively gratifying for utility guy Brian Dinkelman. Sure, he played on Red Wings and Twins teams that struggled mightily, but he reached the ultimate peak as a player, the major leagues, and not only did he reach the bigs, but he held his own against major league pitching.
And while Dinkelman is a 28-year old utility guy without a clear path to regular playing time with the big league club, he loves the Twins, and the Twins love him back, having re-signed him early in the minor league free agency period last fall. Dinkelman was gracious in chatting with TwinkieTown's Brandon Warne last fall toward the end of the Twins '11 campaign.
Brandon Warne: Who is Brian Dinkelman?
Brian Dinkelman: I’m a pretty simple guy. I come to the field every day and just do my work. I play a couple of positions, play the game hard, and just try to do what I’m asked. Off the field, I like to golf, hunt, and fish and do stuff like that. I’m married, and from Illinois. I just enjoy my time off.
BW: Let’s chat a little bit about your youth, and about playing baseball growing up in Illinois.
BD: Growing up, I started playing baseball when I was six or seven. I played Little League, and played through grade school and high school before going off to college. Growing up I played more than just baseball; I played basketball and golf all the time. I didn’t stick just to baseball, but I grew up playing all sorts of sports, me and my friends.
BW: Do you think playing a lot of sports helped you be more well-rounded as an athlete?
BD: Yeah, I was actually talking to our strength coach about that last night. I think that kids that limit or restrict themselves to one sport don’t see the value that you can get by playing multiple sports. For instance, I played basketball in high school and I felt that helped my footwork in baseball a lot. I think playing multiple sports is good for any athlete.
BW: You played at McKendree College, and won tons of awards. Take us through that time in your life.
BD: It was a good time. I was fortunate to have some good players around me, and we had good teams the four years I was there. I did well while I was there, and was fortunate enough to get drafted. I came into college after high school playing second base, and switched over to shortstop for the last three years. I did well, and it worked out good.
BW: You were drafted your senior year; was the draft on your mind at all during that season? What did it feel like when you started thinking about your chances of getting picked?
BD: I thought about it, because people talked to me a bit about it during my junior year. Then I didn’t get drafted (after the junior year), so I knew going into my senior year I’d have a few people looking at me. I got a few letters, and had a few scouts at my games. So, it was on my mind, because I knew there were people there to watch. So, I went out and played the way I did, and it worked out well. I got drafted, and got the chance to play with the Twins.
BW: As a brief segue: If you weren’t drafted, what would you be doing today?
BD: That’s a tough choice; I don’t know. I did get my degree in business management, so I’m done with that already. I got that the first year after I was out of college. It’s hard to say right now. do substitute teach a little bit in the offseason, but I don’t know if I’d be a teacher. It’s always a possibility.
BW: You were a senior sign. Can you explain what that means to the average fan?
BD: I was drafted after my senior year, so being a senior sign is where you don’t have the leverage like a junior might where you can go back to school. As a result, your contract offer is sort of a ‘take it or leave it’ scenario.
BW: So the draft is coming around and you start hearing that teams might give you a look. Take us through the pre-draft time and also draft day.
BD: Pre-draft, I hadn’t really heard a lot from teams during the couple weeks leading up to the draft. The Twins called me about a week before the draft and wanted to know if I was interested in coming up to the Metrodome for a workout. There were about six or seven of us there -- Joe Benson was one -- and I worked out and it went well. I didn’t hear anything from the Twins until draft day, so when draft day came -- I knew I wasn’t going to be too high of a draft pick -- it came to me in the eighth round, and the Twins called and told me they were going to make me the pick. I was excited.
BW: As an aside, what was your thought of the Metrodome when you were there?
BD: It was nice. I mean, for me being from Illinois, I’d never been to any other stadium but Busch Stadium. So I thought the Metrodome was real nice, and I enjoyed the experience.
BW: Talk about coming up through the system; what it has meant to you, how it’s affected your work ethic, and also what you hear preached to you as you’ve risen through the ranks.
BD: They always preach coming up doing the fundamental things. We always -- even in spring training and through the season with all our coaches -- work on everything from bunting, to baserunning and fielding just to prepare you for when you come up here because you’re going to be asked to do numerous roles when you’re up here to play. Even coming up, my first three years I played all infield -- mostly second and shortstop. Then the last couple years, I’ve moved to the outfield and played a lot more out there to mix in with some infield play. So, they just prepare you for everything because you never know what’s going to happen when you’re up here.
BW: So your big league debut was about five years to the date from when you first signed with the club; first, take us through your call up and the situation around it, and when you found out.
BD: We had a day game at home in Rochester that day, and I was back home in my apartment with my roommates just sitting around. I got a phone call from our manager Tom Nieto, and he told me I was headed to the big leagues. I was excited because I really wasn’t expecting it at the time, and when he told me I was coming up, it was exciting. I had to call my wife and family and let them know. It worked out well.
BW: Can you tell us about your first game, first hit, and all the other firsts that come with a big league career? The way the other guys have explained it to me is that you have nerves up until the on-deck circle, and then instinct takes over.
BD: Yeah, it’s nerves at first. I got there, and the first day I wasn’t in the lineup. I think that helped a little bit, not being thrown right out there. The second day I was in the starting lineup, and when you get up there you know, you’re nervous. It’s your first big league at bat, after all. You step out on-deck, and you get a little more nervous. Then you get up there, and you try not to think about it too much. The first pitch hit me right in the foot, and I think it eased it up for me, getting hit and going down to first and getting on base without even having to put the ball in play!
BW: I don’t want to say you’ve necessarily taken the league by storm or anything, but you’ve definitely been very solid since coming up. What’s the adjustment period been like for you, adjusting to big league pitchers for the first time after spending the bulk of your career in the minors?
BD: Yeah, you know it’s tough; a lot of these guys you’re facing for the first time. You have to ask around other players who have faced them, and get an idea how to approach each guy. You still have to have the same approach no matter where you’re at. Fortunately, I’ve been able to get a few hits here and there and help out the team where I can.
BW: Do you rely a lot on advance scouts and video?
BD: Yeah, you know we have our video system, and I look at that some just to get an a little thought or idea in the back of my mind in regards to what he has. But you know, it’s still just going up there and doing what I can do to put the ball in play.
BW: As a utility guy, what does the word versatility mean to you?
BD: You know, just being able to do whatever is asked of you, and adjust to whatever happens. Some days I start at second base, and maybe somebody gets hurt or a move is made, and I have to move to the outfield. I’ve done that a couple times. You just have to be ready for whatever, and you never know what will be thrown at you. You just have to be prepared.
BW: How has the move to the outfield treated you?
BD: Not too bad. I’ve enjoyed it, getting some days in the infield and some in the outfield. I feel comfortable at either, having played enough at each position to handle it either way.
BW: Where are you absolutely the most comfortable?
BD: You know, I’ve been asked that before and I feel comfortable at either one (infield or outfield). If they told me to pick a position, I don’t know if I could. I’ve played enough games at both positions that I feel like I could handle either one.
BW: Sort of a put me in coach situation?
BW: Any final thoughts? Anything like twitter, or social media, or anything?
BD: I’m not big into the social media thing, and don’t do too much of that -- he’s since got a Twitter account -- but I try to keep it kind of personal with me and my wife back home. Other than that, you know, I enjoy my time off, and hunting and fishing and stuff like that.
BW: So you’re in the perfect place for that here in Minnesota?
BD: Oh yeah.