Warne: For 'Everyday Eddie,' Twins have stayed a key part of his life
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Often in baseball, legends are found in the oddest places.
That's certainly the case with Minnesota Twins legend Eddie Guardado, who was officially inducted into the Twins' Hall of Fame on Friday.
Guardado was drafted in 1990 in the 21st round as a draft-and-follow (drafted one year, signed the next) out of little-known San Joaquin Delta College in his hometown of Stockton, Calif.
So small was Guardado's college that his 17 big league seasons account for half of all big league seasons from SJDC alumni. Detroit Tigers reliever Phil Coke and journeyman catcher Ken Huckaby account for 12 more.
Guardado rose to prominence in the Twin Cities in the mid-90s as "Everyday Eddie" by making 60 or more appearances in his last eight seasons with the club. He cemented his legacy by saving 40-plus games in back-to-back seasons when the Twins were just getting into the business of winning division titles back in the early 2000s.
But like most late-inning stoppers, especially in Twins lore, Guardado didn't come out of the chute as a reliever.
No, Guardado was drafted as a starter, and he was in the big leagues just two years after scout Jay Robertson signed him.
"We don't want to talk about that," Guardado joked, clearly in reference to his 6.18 ERA in 1993, the only season in which he was primarily a starter.
"In the minor leagues I did well (as a starter). But I got called up from Double-A. Down there, you could leave the ball up and get away with it a lot of times. Up here, they're either going to look at it, or bang it off the wall. Coming up, I didn't know that."
But even after getting "banged up" by his own admission, Guardado said he learned his lessons.
"You learn, and you keep learning, and that's how I approached it," he remarked.
Success wasn't immediate for Guardado, even as he made his home in the bullpen down the left field line at the Metrodome. Guardado made 83 appearances in 1996, but posted a 5.25 ERA and was used largely in a situational role. Forty of his appearances that season resulted in him recording two or fewer outs.
But he made 51 of those appearances on zero or one day's rest, which clearly endeared him to manager Tom Kelly and his staff.
And when LaTroy Hawkins faltered as the Twins' go-to reliever down the stretch in the 2001 season, it was Guardado whom Kelly turned to at that critical juncture. Guardado rose to the occasion, recording eight saves from Sept. 8 on. Guardado was scintillating in that time frame, fanning 10 batters and walking none in 8 1/3 innings pitched with an opposing batter's line of .143/.143/.250.
So when Ron Gardenhire took over as manager in 2002, there was little question who his closer was going to be.
"It's a rush, especially when they're playing music," said Guardado, who always made his way from the Twins bullpen to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck."
"It's funny, I think I saved 45 that first year in '02, but in '01, when I saved 12, I wasn't the closer at the time. But they played some music, so in '02 when they asked me what song I wanted I said, 'Whatever you guys played last year' and it was 'Thunderstruck'. I had never heard that song before in my life."
Guardado's run as a closer was about quality, not quantity. He left the Twins for the Mariners in free agency following a two-year run in which he saved 86 games.
But Guardado claims that while he left Minnesota as a player, part of him stayed put.
"I met good people (in Minnesota), not only in the stadium but off the field," Guardado said. "I'll tell you what, when I left, my heart stayed here. I'm always going to love Minnesota, even when I'm six feet under."
Guardado attained some success after he left, but it was never quite the same as it was in Minneapolis. He never again saved more than 40 games.
The Mariners traded Guardado to the Reds just before his contract was up. He floated around the league a bit after that, signing with the Rangers after a season and a half in Cincinnati.
Guardado's Twins career came full circle when, in the midst of a pennant race in 2008, the club re-acquired the lefty in a waiver deal in late August for minor league reliever Mark Hamburger. And while Guardado didn't pitch particularly well in his final Twins stint, he was happy to have the opportunity.
"It's always good to be back," Guardado said. "Whether it was playing or visiting."
And this weekend, Guardado is back. This time, the party is for him.
Guardado said he'd been nervous for about a month preceding the hall of fame ceremonies. When he received the call this past winter, he couldn't believe it.
"I got the call from (team president) Dave St. Peter, and he said he had someone to talk to me," Guardado said.
It was Rod Carew.
"I had played golf with Carew before, but he said he was calling to tell me I was being inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame," Guardado said. "I asked him if he'd slipped and hit his head in the tub that morning."
But Guardado said that he was humbled and grateful to be in the company of such a prestigious group of players, executives and team personnel.
"It's a great honor, there's no question about that," Guardado said. "But it's not just about me, but the people who helped me along the way -- our families, friends, and those who had an impact in our careers and lives. Those are the people we need to thank."
For as fun-loving as Guardado was, he took his job as a closer very seriously.
"You just try to do your job the best you can, but in the ninth inning, the game is on the line," Guardado said. "I had some bad days. Believe me, you want to save every game. It's not going to happen. But when I was on the mound, I said it was you or me, and I gave it all each time I went out."
Guardado's former Twins teammate, Torii Hunter, has plenty of stories about the colorful closer, but most are not of the variety that he wants to share publicly.
"You guys have heard about Bert Blyleven, right?" Hunter, in town with the visiting Tigers, asked a gathering of reporters. "Think of that, times two."
Guardado has fond memories of the Twins teams of the early 2000s, and the struggles and successes they had as a team threatened by contraction that fought back with a vengeance.
"We had a good time together -- Jacque Jones, Torii, Dougie (Mientkiewicz), A.J. (Pierzynski). Good or bad, we laughed," Guardado said. "But we also played the game the right way. We played hard and we had a great time."
Hunter's overriding message was one that was echoed by general manager Terry Ryan, Gardenhire and everyone else who knows Guardado: There was no one else quite like Eddie Guardado.