'Part of this family forever': Polanco returns

May 9th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Do-Hyoung Park’s Twins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Apparently, Fogo Power is just a thing with switch-hitting former Twins infielders, because the thing on ’s mind as he came back to Minneapolis for the first time as a visiting player this week was … visiting his favorite Brazilian steakhouse.

“I’m probably going to go to Fogo [de Chão], man,” Polanco said. “I visit Fogo a lot. The guys that work there, I got to know them. I got to spend time with them. I’ll probably go to Fogo, yeah.”

Spoken like a true lifelong Twin who’d been ushered into the Major Leagues in a clubhouse with noted Fogo lover Eduardo Escobar.

It’s that same old Polanco who arrived at the visitors' clubhouse at Target Field with the Seattle Mariners on Monday following the offseason trade that sent him out west. When he knocked a little flare into right field to start a Seattle rally in the seventh, it was that same swing the Twins had seen hundreds of times before. When he bunted for a hit on Wednesday, more of the same.

“I miss him a lot,” Max Kepler said. “I told him. It's also fun playing against him, though, and getting to be on the bases with him and chatting it up. It kind of just brings me back to being a kid and when we started in the GCL. And the game comes a lot easier when you have friends out there, regardless of what side.”

Polanco’s exit did, in a way, feel like the ushering out of that old era of Twins baseball defined by the core of Polanco, Kepler, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sanó -- because now, there are no longer “several” of them left. It’s just two: Buxton and Kepler, with the latter able to depart via free agency this offseason.

There was perhaps some sense for the gravity of that when the Twins played a tribute video for Polanco, doing the impossible task of distilling the years from 2009-23 into a few minutes. There was Polanco standing next to Escobar as part of the “Escobar Name Game” video series. There were a few of Polanco’s clutch walk-off hits. There were a few notable firsts.

Then, towards the end, there was that poignant moment in the bowels of Minute Maid Park from last season, when Polanco and Kepler -- roommates in the Minor Leagues, signed in the same international class -- told each other how proud they were of each other, for still being there to bring a playoff victory back to Minnesota.

“I have a lot of memories here,” Polanco said. “While I played, I made a lot of memories that I’ll always remember.”

Though Christian Vázquez was only teammates with Polanco for one year, he understood what Polanco meant to this organization -- and let the moment play out accordingly when, for the first time in his life, Polanco stood in the Target Field batter’s box in another uniform.

As Polanco’s longtime walk-up music -- “Te Siento En Para” by Liro Shaq, Bulin 47 and Ceky Viciny -- played on the stadium speakers, Vázquez walked to the mound so Polanco could have a moment by himself next to home plate as fans applauded to welcome him back.

Polanco doffed his helmet, looked around and took it in. Vázquez walked back and gave him a hug before entering his crouch.

“He’s part of this family forever,” Vázquez said.

“He's one of my favorites,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “The organization here owes him a lot. … You feel lucky when you get a chance to manage and coach and play with guys like that.”