So it turns out Bill Smith does know what he's doing. We all knew Jim Thome was going to hit #600 this year, and that the baseball would be worth a lot of money. There was some concern that Thome might not be able to get the ball back if a fan, for instance, just wanted to keep it. Accordingly, the Twins had dozens of people at Target Field working the outfield areas when Thome would come to bat, with the goal of quickly finding the lucky spectator that caught the ball, and organizing a meet & greet with Thome himself, in exchange for the ball. But what to do when the Twins are on the road??
Leave it to Bill Smith to come up with a crafty, if not unorthodox solution that had totally escaped me: in-house options for ball retrieval; namely, the bullpen. It makes sense. These guys are on the payroll anyway, just sitting there in the outfield doing nothing until the 3rd or 4th inning, so put them to work when a Thome fly ball looks like it's headed their way! As luck would have it, #599 sailed directly into the Twins' bullpen, and #600 was deposited into the Tigers' pen. This made for a quick and easy exchange. In a matter of seconds, that priceless baseball was in Matt Capps' meaty hands.
Though it looked smooth and flawless in execution last night, a lot of behind-the-scenes work went into constructing this particular bullpen. Instead of focusing on pitchers that could eat up innings, strand inherited base runners and save games, Smith wisely chose to focus in 2011 on relief pitchers with three particular skill sets: the ability to track and retrieve home run balls; and the ability to barter with members of the opposing bullpen or fans; and the ability, if necessary, to physically intimidate those same persons into giving you the ball if everything else has failed. It all makes sense now. Even though Jim Hoey didn't work out as a pitcher, he's so damn tall that his vertical leap makes him an attractive bullpen home run catching candidate. So too with Matt Capps - - he may not be great at saving games, but if there's a skirmish over a home run ball with a fan, I want plump, stocky Cappy in there duking it out. And those rumors about the Twins trying to re-acquire Jon Rauch, he of the gigantic height, muscles and crazy neck tattoos, before the trade deadline? It all adds up. Well played, Mr. Smith.
Here's some more serious blog coverage of #600.