Gordon on callup: 'This is what you work for'

April 24th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- All that was on 's mind as he walked with his sister to Target on Thursday night was the delicious shepherd's pie that he was about to cook for his mother, who was waiting at his apartment.

Then, his phone rang. It was Triple-A manager Toby Gardenhire.

At first, Gordon thought he might be in trouble or something. Nope -- it was just the call that he'd been waiting for his whole life, throughout a difficult Minor League career marred by chronic gastritis and a lengthy battle with COVID-19 that both hindered him physically and proved untimely in the arc of his career.

Seven years after he was drafted by the Twins, after he'd struggled with his health to the point that he dropped from the No. 2 prospect in the organization to being out of the top 30 altogether, Gordon is finally in a Major League uniform. He did not play in Friday night's series opener vs. the Pirates.

"It was crazy," Gordon said. "I needed a moment. It was just a lot of feelings, just knowing that I’ve been through a lot and just keep my head and keep going, really, and there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel."

The first call went to his dad, longtime big league pitcher Tom "Flash" Gordon, who retired in 2009 following a 21-year career. Tom spread the word among most of the family after Nick ran back to his apartment to tell his mom in person.

He also turned to someone he knew could relate to the feeling better than anyone else: his half-brother Dee Strange-Gordon, currently with the Brewers on a Minor League deal.

"He told me congratulations and just to breathe and enjoy it, take it in," Nick Gordon said. "He and my dad both had wise words for me. That's great. They've been there and done it and, man, have seen it all. Just hearing, 'Enjoy it, take it in, breathe. Don't try and think about doing too much, relax.' That definitely makes me feel good and, like, I just need to be myself."

The long-term fit for Gordon, once the No. 5 overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft who appeared to be a possible fixture of Twins infields of the future, is still unclear. But for now, there's plenty of need in the middle of Minnesota's infield, with both Andrelton Simmons and JT Riddle on the COVID-19 IL. Gordon is able to fill in at both positions up the middle.

But that's the furthest thing from Gordon's mind right now, at the culmination of his difficult journey.

"It's special for every guy that gets an opportunity to come up and play in the big leagues, but I think with everything that Nick has dealt with, I think he's feeling maybe some emotion even beyond what you may normally see," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "I think it means a lot to him. He's put a lot into this. It has not been the easiest of roads for him, and it's not necessarily his fault."

His hit tool has always been strong, culminating in an .801 OPS in 2019 with Rochester, the Twins' Triple-A affiliate at the time. But crucially, Gordon was sidelined with a left adductor strain when the Twins had a need that year -- and Luis Arraez got the call to the Majors instead.

And for the last three years, Gordon has struggled to manage chronic gastritis, which weakened and pained him, necessitated wholesale changes in his dietary habits and caused him to drop weight. He saw doctor after doctor, tried medication after medication.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and made all that worse.

He got sick just before Summer Camp in 2020 and was unfortunate enough to feel two distinct waves of symptoms. He lost nearly 15 pounds in the process, he said earlier this spring, because he was weak and couldn't eat. It took until September for him to start ramping up to baseball again.

"I never feel like I wanted to quit," Gordon said. "I just felt like a lot of times the odds were against me. But I knew that working hard, only good things could happen. It could only be bad for so long. Just dealing with a lot of stuff that I’ve dealt with, just trying to keep my head up and staying as positive as I can for this moment and things like that. So this is what you work for."

He came into Spring Training this year at 153 pounds. Now, he's up to 173. He's working out every day, putting on strength. He's able to eat and sleep normally. He's getting hungry again.

"Now that we've got a hand on it, I'm going up and I continue to see everyday that I'm gradually gaining more and more," Gordon said. "That's an awesome feeling."

Considering all that, the Twins were just hoping to see that his body could handle the rigors of everyday baseball action this spring before setting any expectation as to his usage -- but the time still came, sooner than he could have expected.

So soon, in fact, that he forgot about something important.

"Man, the call came, and I totally forgot about the shepherd's pie," Gordon said.

It did end up getting cooked, much later in the night -- but his mom ended up having to worry about the ground meat and mashed potatoes and gravy and Worcestershire sauce instead.

Not that any of them are complaining.

"I was just pacing back and forth in the house," Gordon said. "Felt like I walked a mile. It just felt -- it was amazing, it was awesome. Still is awesome. I can't even explain it."