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Updated: March 8th, 2012 10:21am
Mackey: A come-to-Jesus meeting last spring led to Perkins' extension

Mackey: A come-to-Jesus meeting last spring led to Perkins' extension

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- On March 24, 2011 the Minnesota Twins loaded up the team bus for a two-hour spring training road trip to Clearwater.

Just four days remained until final cuts, so that day's game against the Philadelphia Phillies meant quite a bit to fringe-roster guys like Luke Hughes and Glen Perkins.

Hughes belted his team-leading sixth home run of spring training in what turned out to be a 7-3 win. But Perkins sat in the bullpen and watched as four other pitchers took the hill.

Despite the fact that Perkins had allowed only one run all spring while showing increased velocity, riding four hours, round-trip, only to sit on the bullpen bench for three hours was a red flag.

"I called my agent on the bus ride home and said that's the first time that's ever happened," Perkins said Thursday, just 30 minutes before the Twins announced his three-year, $10.3 million contract extension. "I said, 'What the hell's going on?' He said just go in and talk to them."

The next day, Perkins approached pitching coach Rick Anderson, who told him to talk to manager Ron Gardenhire after the morning workout.

At the time, the Twins had roster conundrums -- Hughes, even with his spring power burst, was on the outside looking in. Left-hander Scott Diamond was a rule-5 pick that was to be offered back to the Atlanta Braves if he didn't make the 25-man roster. And Perkins was out of minor league options.

There was even speculation among major league circles near the end of spring training that Perkins could be the one dealt to Atlanta in order for the Twins to keep Diamond (righty Billy Bullock wound up getting dealt in the end).

And perhaps more importantly than just the roster conundrum was Perkins' tumultuous relationship with Twins management, and even coaches, that dated back to the service-time grievance he filed in 2009.

"I just wanted to know," Perkins said. "I knew I had pitched really well in camp, and I wanted to know what was going on. ... I went in and said, 'What's the deal?' (Gardenhire) said, 'What do you want to do?' I said I wouldn't still fight if I didn't want to be here. I mean, I do want to pitch here. There was times when I didn't, or I thought I didn't. But I said, 'I fully intend on making this team. I came in and I got ready and pitched this spring as good as anybody and wanted to make the team.'"

Perkins left that meeting to go fishing on Captiva with his father-in-law, and as they approached Sanibel Island on the drive out, Gardenhire called and said, "You're coming with us."

"I went in there and said, 'I want to be here,'" Perkins said. "And him and Anderson both said to me, since then, that was really the moment they were like, 'Wow, we never really knew.'"

That discussion shoved a 10,000-pound elephant out of the room -- one that hadn't moved much since 2009 -- and cleared the way for Perkins to become the Twins' best reliever in 2011.

"Everyone rolled their eyes when we went through everything a few years ago, thinking that this guy was buried," Twins assistant GM Rob Antony said Thursday. "'He was in the doghouse, this guy's gone.' And we kept saying, 'You know what? This guy's a member of our organization. We want him to become what we through he could become.' And he did that last year. He showed that. ...

"We're about winning. We believe in having good people. And we think Glen has matured and become a good person. Not that he wasn't before. But you can have your differences. That's all off to the side. That doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. We want to win games, we want good people who want to be in that clubhouse, who want to help contribute to winning games, and he's there."

There were times two, three years ago when Perkins said he barely wanted to make eye contact with coaches and management -- and possibly vice versa.

"That was partly I felt I was letting them down, I was letting myself down," Perkins said. "It was never anything that they did. In the moment, you're mad at everybody. The person I was most mad at when the dust settles is myself. Any issues that we had were more or less related to my performance. They weren't related to any personality issues, anything like that. I think with this organization, that's where they draw the line. They stick with guys that go through ups and downs performance-wise. It's personality issues, that's what ends a lot of guys' time with the Twins."

Guys like Kevin Slowey, Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse, etc.

"We have a pretty good plan here and a program here, and sometimes when you're young you fight the system," Gardenhire said. "You're trying to do different things, and it doesn't go your way, and that's human nature....

"But the bottom line is, we always say, 'Hey, I can push past things if you can.' And that's easy for me to do. I push right by them. We have a program, we have a system, we believe it works, and we're going to stay with it. And we're not going to have too many people change it. And like I said, Perk, there was some issues, right? There was some things that happen, that we wanted him to do this and that, and it all gets worked out in the end."

Perkins' relationship with the team has changed drastically over the past 12 months, due in large part to his performance on the field, but also due to him now becoming one of the leaders in the clubhouse.

With Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer and others gone, Perkins is just a notch below Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau as one of the longest-tenured Twins players.

"I mean it's changed a lot, in a lot of ways," Perkins said. "It's changed, obviously, in performance on the field, but you get to know people more. You spend more and more time with someone, and more time consecutively. It's not up and down and around and injured and healthy. And I think obviously the better you do the better relationship you're going to have. ...

"It's tough, because (the coaches') job depends on us, and if we're not doing our job it's hard for them to look you in the eye and want to be your friend, or want to like you. I get that. I think where we're at right now is great. I say hi to them when I see them, and it's still the employer-employee relationship -- we're not going out and having beers and that. Which I think would be an issue if we were. I'm cool with where we're at right now and where we've been for the last while here."

The road to Thursday's contract extension may have started in Tampa last April, shortly after Nathan agreed to step out of the closer's role. Gardenhire and Anderson moved Capps back to the ninth inning, and it was Perkins who was summoned to pitch the eighth inning of the next game.

"The next day, Rick Anderson said, 'Were you surprised?'" Perkins said. "I said I feel like I'd been pitching well, and I knew that Nathan obviously wasn't just going to start pitching in the eighth, because he couldn't pitch the ninth. I knew they were going to back him off. ...

"It gave me a lot of confidence. It really did. When you know that a team wants you and they're relying on you, it makes it that much easier to go out there. I don't want to say that I ever felt unwanted, but that was the first time when it was really like, 'We need you. How you go is our how we're going to go.' That, as much as anything else, contributed to a great season."

And if not for a come-to-Jesus meeting with Gardenhire at the end of last March, the contract extension may have never been inked.

Perkins may not even have been a Twin in 2011.

"It gets to the point where you either fight or you give up," Perkins said. "I went in there and I was scared, to go in there in the office. I mean, we hadn't had the best of times in the last couple years, and I said, 'What the hecks' going on? I want to know what's going on.'

"A lot of things have changed in the last year. A lot."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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