There was a sense, in the late 00s, that the Twins would simply "find a way to win." It was perhaps true, in the sense that those teams never dipped into free agency for a big name and consistently added not just decent but good players by developing their own talent. Ozzie Guillen famously dubbed some of that talent, the guys at the bottom of Minnesota's batting order specifically, "Piranhas" - they couldn't hurt you individually, but working as a group they could be surprisingly effective.
Luis Castillo, Jason Bartlett, Jason Tyner, Luis Rodriguez, and even Juan Castro could all claim membership to that crew. But perhaps none of them could lay as strong of a claim as Nick Punto.
The Twins always liked Punto. They tried drafting him in 1997 but he didn't sign as a 33rd-round pick, and so they had to wait until December of 2003 when the Phillies would ship him and Carlos Silva to Minnesota in return for Eric Milton. Punto would go on to play seven seasons in a Twins uniform, putting in time at second, third, short, left, center, and right fields.
It was that versatility, the whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts ambition of Punto that made him a Ron Gardenhire favorite...and a RandballsStu's legend. It was Punto's get-after-it-ness that defined not just his time in Minnesota or his career, but it defined his legacy as a player and how we remember him. We all know he wasn't the most talented ballplayer and that he wasn't always an ideal choice, but that's exactly what gave him his appeal. Punto was one of us. He was the guy who made it because while his talent was perhaps "just good enough," his effort and his commitment elevated him as a player.
Maybe it's all poetry. Yet there's no denying that Punto made the most of his ability and that he - sometimes with his eyes closed - put it all out there. Sometimes that meant throwing his body head-first into a base. Sometimes it meant diving just to get his jersey dirty. Sometimes that meant playing any position his manager needed him to.
The Twins don't have anyone who can match all of Punto's attributes for grit and hustle and get-after-it-ness, but they do have a guy who basically plays any position in Eduardo Escobar. Any player in baseball is happy to do whatever they can do to make sure they're in the lineup, but the truth is that most guys can only play one or possibly two positions. Escobar, in four years with the Twins, he's played the same six positions that Punto played; in just 2015 he's played short, second, third, left, and right fields.
Nobody can really embody who Nick Punto was for the Twins. Maybe Roy Smalley or Randy Bush or something, because honestly can you imagine the stuff we'd have come up with if the Internet was around for those guys. Punto, though, is in a category all his own. All we can hope for is a player who embodies the best parts of him - a player whose contributions aren't tied up into any single fantastic skill, a player whose "intangibles" may drive a few of us crazy yet have an undeniable impact on his ability to earn and keep a roster spot, and a player who can field multiple positions on the field well.
For now that guy is Eduardo Escobar. To be honest, I'm not sure the baseball gods will ever see fit to grace us with the likes of Nick Punto ever again.
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