Meet the 'Regulators' of Twins camp

March 24th, 2023

TAMPA, Fla. -- They’re not the players that fans flock to the ballpark to see in Spring Training. They’re the players who finish out the late innings in the hot Florida sun -- simply because someone has to.

Long after the Byron Buxtons and Carlos Correas of the world have played their innings, showered and driven home, these are the players who don nameless jerseys with absurd numbers suited more for football wide receivers than for baseball players.

These are the “Regulators.”

“Every one of us is just trying to make our own splash,” said High-A outfielder Willie Joe Garry Jr., a Regulator since 2020. “We're just trying to be seen. Playing the game the right way, playing it fast, playing it with respect.”

Regulators have mounted ninth-inning comebacks this spring to snatch victory (or a tie) from the jaws of defeat. A Regulator has stolen home as the tying run. Sure, these are the sleepy closing innings of games in the doldrums of a lengthy spring; but for Regulators, these are very real opportunities to make an impression in front of the big league staff.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli is the one who eagerly calls them the “Regulators.” He has no idea where that came from, or if that’s an industry-wide thing. (None of the Regulators interviewed for this story even seemed to know that they had a collective name.)

The Regulator experience begins the night before the game. The Twins’ coaching staff plans out in-game workloads for their entire roster throughout Spring Training. They know their positional needs late in an upcoming game depending on how long they expect the starter at that position to play that day.

Quality control coach Nate Dammann relays those needs to Minor League field coordinator Kevin Morgan, who determines which Minor League players will fill those roles, based on development needs and preparation. They’re not often top prospects, because many of those would already be in big league camp -- but they’ll also need to be able to hang in the environment.

Those selected will be informed via text message from Morgan sometime that evening.

“I'm waiting up late at night, hoping I get the text message to come over the next day,” Garry said.

If the next day’s game is a road game, they’ll show up for the 7:30 a.m. bus for the longest trips. If it’s a home game, they’ll get their morning work done on the Minor League side and trudge over to Hammond Stadium about two hours before first pitch.

They go to the equipment room and sign up for the jersey they want, each player choosing a nameless top from 84-99. With numbers that high, they’re not choosing for numerical preference as much as they are for functionality: The jerseys come in different sizes, so players will just try to find the first one that fits.

“I think Aaron Judge has made 99 a pretty cool number, but that also is a huge jersey,” said Double-A outfielder DaShawn Keirsey Jr., who first went Regulator in 2020.

The uniform number assignments for the Twins' Regulators for a game against the Orioles this spring.

They’ll go through pregame warmups after the starting players, and then, their job is to wait their turn -- and absorb. Individualized as baseball development and mechanics can be, there’s often more to take away from watching the meticulous preparation of big leaguers, because many of these Minor Leaguers are still trying to establish daily routines.

They absorb everything from the efficiency with which players at the highest level work during every minute at the ballpark to, well, personalized milkshakes.

“[Buxton] has his drinks he takes,” Garry said. “Same thing with Correa. They call it the C4 shake. I've been taking it the last three, four weeks now. I feel like it's helping me a lot. I feel fantastic. ... I come in, I get my C4 at the beginning of the day, I get my C4 at the end of the day.”

On a Regulator’s first big league assignment, it’s understandably easy to get caught up in the excitement, even if it’s Spring Training. Baldelli himself still remembers being “so freaking excited” for his first start in a big league spring game, two decades later, even recalling that journeyman left-hander Nick Bierbrodt was on the mound that day in Fort Myers.

“Nerve-wracking. My nerves were going crazy,” said Double-A outfielder Will Holland about his Regulating debut in ‘22. “I was so excited. I called my mom to let her know.”

“They're so wound up, sometimes, about being out there that you're not getting the real version of them,” Baldelli said. “That can happen with guys.”

Even for experienced Regulators like Keirsey, there are still moments that stand out. This spring, he got a rare opportunity to play at Tropicana Field, where the Rays are playing Spring Training games because of the lingering effects of Hurricane Ian on their spring complex in Charlotte County. Keirsey hit a homer at the Trop -- but had it called back by a replay review.

“Having that opportunity to be in a big league setting, a big league stadium, wearing our big league uniform, it was definitely an awesome moment,” Keirsey said. “It's just one of those things where you take a step back and just appreciate the little things, just how far I've come, just knowing I'm getting to where I want to be.”

That’s the essence of the Regulator experience: A taste of what this could be, where the road could lead.

The big leaguers are happy to help, too. Keirsey still remembers being an awestruck youngster a few years ago, when Nelson Cruz sat next to him on the bench and messed with him (he can’t remember what it was about). His family got a photo. They all speak of Buxton and Correa as willing mentors who never shy away from their questions.

“Correa today was talking to me about ways that I can better myself mentally,” Holland said. “How can we just take advantage of every single day and learn from every single moment, good or bad, and just better yourself for the next day? I soak these guys in like a sponge. It's very motivating.”

The endless days, weeks and months of baseball season can be a grind, and rarely can that feel more prominent than in the middle weeks of Spring Training. But the next time the innings start to bleed together, consider the Regulators -- and remember that, for these youngsters, those are the opportunities they live for at this time of year.

“I would say honored,” Garry said. “They picked you out. There's a bunch of guys over there. You being able to put in that work and then them being able to see it and giving you that invite to come over here, that's why you do the work.

“This is where we want to be. They say to dress and act like you're going in for the job you want. Now, we're over here, and this is what we want. … We just come over here, try to make our splash, try to put our name on the map a little bit.”