FORT MYERS, Fla. Underneath Hammond Stadium, two former baseball players throw batting practice to current ones. The scene isn't that unusual for spring training. In this instance, several Minnesota Twins take their swings before a 10 a.m. "B" game against the Boston Red Sox.
At the far end of the cage, however, the two former players aren't just any ex-Major Leaguers. Paul Molitor and Rod Carew are Hall of Famers. They've combined for 6,372 hits and 40 seasons in the majors.
The former Minnesota greats have been helping the current Twins this spring in Fort Myers in more ways than just throwing BP. Molitor has worked especially close with some of the team's infielders, while Carew a seven-time batting champ who hit .388 with the Twins in 1977 has done plenty with Minnesota's hitters.
When either Hall of Famer player shares a bit of information, the young players in the Twins' camp become sponges, absorbing everything these two men have to say.
"Whenever those guys speak, you listen to every single word they say because they've been there, they've done it. They've had success," says Trevor Plouffe, a shortstop-turned-outfielder.
Added infielder Luke Hughes: "Obviously there's a lot to learn from these guys. It's fantastic and hopefully something that can continue down the road with them staying here with the Twins organization."
After Wednesday's "B" game, Molitor grabbed the empty chair next to outfielder Joe Benson, who sat at his locker. The two exchanged words, with Molitor giving pointers.
The 24-year-old Benson says he often picks the brain of the 55-year-old Molitor, a St. Paul native who spent his final three seasons with the Twins.
"Just having them around, to use them for their baseball knowledge, their experience around the game is a privilege probably a lot of guys in different organizations don't have," Benson said. "If you ever get a chance to work in the cage with them or just have them around you observing, if they have something to say, I try to listen and absorb and take in as much from them as possible."
Molitor finished his career with 3,319 hits. He reached the 3,000-hit mark while wearing a Minnesota uniform and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004. The 66-year-old Carew spent 12 of his 19 seasons in Minnesota and recorded 3,053 hits during his career.
Yet despite the fact that Molitor played 15 years in Milwaukee and Carew spend his final seven years with the Angels, both men continue to stay near the Twins organization. Minnesota has managed to keep many former players around after they retire, including Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek and the late Harmon Killebrew, who worked with the team before he passed away last year.
"I just think this is an organization that welcomes them back because they know how great of a benefit it is to have them around," Plouffe said. "I don't know why anyone wouldn't want them around. They're mentors for not only us but I'm sure for some of the coaches as well. They've been around the game for a long time and had success."
Coaching younger players is something Molitor has enjoyed doing for years, and it's something he said he sees himself doing for more years to come. Starting Thursday, Molitor will head over to the Twins' minor league camp. Just like the major leaguers, those players will no doubt absorb whatever advice Molitor has to offer.
"I get a chance to teach the game, be around the game, be in the game," Molitor said. "With the younger guys, it's sometimes baseball related, sometimes more mentoring and trying to help them to develop as people. It creates maturity and eventually results in being a better, more consistent player. It's a nice situation for me."
Yet as much as he enjoys coaching, Molitor said he doesn't give much thought to one day managing a team.
"I don't think about that very much. I used to think about it more," he said. "If an opportunity ever came up, I'd be foolish not to at least consider what other people had to say. I would imagine that I would continue on this road for a while and see where it leads me, but I don't see any change in the near future."
And that's just fine with the Twins, who will continue to learn from two of baseball's greats.
"What I notice from them is they make everything seem so simple. The way they talk about the game, they can really simplify it," Plouffe said. "It could be an issue that's complex as far as mechanics, but when they present it to you, it seems simple. That kind of shows you how they were so good. They were able to simplify the game. For a lot of young players, I think that's something you need to do. You can't just go out there going a million miles an hour trying to think of a million different things. You have to simplify it. That's what they do, and that's what I take away from it."
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