Correa Era officially underway for Twins

Shortstop records first hit, defensive highlight in new uniform Sunday

March 27th, 2022

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- To celebrate Minnesota Day at Hammond Stadium, the Twins sent a trio of National Baseball Hall of Famers in uniform -- Tony Oliva, Rod Carew and Bert Blyleven -- to exchange the lineup card before the game. It might as well have also served as a celebration of Carlos Correa's arrival in Minnesota.

Minutes after that, Correa started building his Minnesota Twins highlight reel from the first batter of the game.

Minnesota's new $105.3 million man ranged to his left, laid out on the infield dirt, corralled the baseball, sprang to his feet and made an easy throw to first base to retire Kiké Hernández in his first defensive opportunity in a Twins uniform. Minutes later, he lined a single down the left-field line for a big first impression in the first inning he played for his new team.

"I usually don’t like to go dive first game in Spring Training, but I couldn’t let my boy Kiké from Puerto Rico get a hit," Correa said. "And you know you want to cause a good first impression to the pitchers, feel like they can trust you."

In fact, Correa had tried to arrange for that to happen. Joe Ryan, the Twins' starter in Sunday's 6-3 win over the Red Sox, said his new shortstop had asked him for that shot, and the young right-hander did his best to oblige.

"He was just saying, joking around, ‘Let me get a ball,’" Ryan said. "And I was like, ‘I’ll try my best to keep it on the ground.’ It’s fitting that it was the first one."

Though Correa's shocking agreement with the Twins was made official Tuesday, it took him several days to build up into game action because he hadn't seen live pitching since he played in Game 6 of the 2021 World Series on Nov. 2. He would usually have taken some live at-bats during the offseason, but he refrained from doing so this winter to avoid risk during his free agency.

Correa has been hard at work on the back fields taking live at-bats to ramp up into these game appearances -- and his 1-for-2 performance with a single, groundout and the defensive gem Sunday put him far, far ahead of where he was when that work began, 22 live at-bats ago.

"The first eight were atrocious," Correa said. "I think I went 0-for-8 with eight punchies. Something like that. I mean, not eight punchies, but it was not good. I was seeing pitches like 120 mph the first day."

Even as Correa was slowing the game down on the field, he wasted no time in speeding up his orientation in the clubhouse. Earlier this week, he took the Latin American infielders (and catcher Gary Sánchez) to Gandules Grill, a local Puerto Rican restaurant, to get to know them and understand their drive to win. He's got a series of dinners scheduled with other new teammates to get to know them, too.

"It's very important, especially if we're trying to win and we get together," second baseman Jorge Polanco said. "We talk about the game, we talk about family, we talk about a lot of really good things."

As part of all those conversations about winning, Correa preaches the idea of striving for perfection all the time, from swinging in the cages to pregame warmup drills to execution on the field. One thing that the superstar shortstop noted was that even before he put up Sunday's performance, he was already thrilled because the infield drills ahead of the game were "really high-quality," with Polanco noting that the intensity was noticeably higher.

There's no time to waste -- in developing chemistry in the clubhouse, in ramping up for the season -- and that's why Correa is already laying out for baseballs. It's who he is.

"I don't think he's doing anything out of the norm for who he is," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "I think that's the player he's been in Houston all these years. That's the way he approaches the game. That's who he is when he shows up to the ballpark. I think we're getting a taste of who Carlos Correa is and how he approaches playing shortstop for the Minnesota Twins. This is how he's going to do it, I think, from here on out. We're seeing that from Day 1."