The Twins' secret to success? Being themselves

October 4th, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- felt very much at home from the moment he first walked into the Twins' visiting clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field following his trade to Minnesota.

Romo loved the energy. He loved the camaraderie. And above all, it reminded him very much of the clubhouses from his nine-year run with the Giants. You know, the Giants that won three World Series championships in five seasons with Romo in the bullpen.

That's not a bad comparison for these Twins to draw on the eve of their first appearance in the American League Division Series since 2010.

"There was a sense of respect," Romo said. "There was a sense of openness. There was no tension. There was no ice to be broken. There was no anything awkward. I think, right away, my first experience in the clubhouse, that kind of told me that right away. Like, 'Wow, OK, cool. That's dope.' There's no need to be nervous or no need to feel like at any time I need to be someone else."

For the Twins' younger players in particular, having fun and being comfortable and stress-free in the clubhouse are pivotal parts of preparing themselves to be at their best on the field. To many around the Twins' clubhouse, it's no coincidence, then, that this club's young core has, to a man, taken a leap forward in 2019 to drive the team's success.

"This is something I learned with the Giants and what we did, too. We tried to make all the younger guys feel comfortable," Romo said. "If they're able to be themselves and show us who they are personality-wise, I personally feel talent gets you to the big leagues, but those of us that stay and are able to establish themselves have a sense of identity, and we know how to be that every day."

Added veteran : "Comfort breeds good results. If you're comfortable in the locker room setting, if you don't feel out of place and you don't feel like you don't belong because you're a young guy, you're going to fit right in and you're going to do what you've been doing. I think that's the best part about here and the culture that we've established. Everyone's allowed to be themselves, regardless of if it's your first time up in the big leagues."

's teammates watch the 26-year-old's at-bats and see him starting to command the respect of an elite slugger at the plate, as he hit 34 homers in 105 games. had his long-awaited breakout and finished among the AL leaders in home runs. was the AL's starting shortstop in the All-Star Game. produced unheard-of numbers from the catcher position. , the biggest surprise of all, is drawing Tony Gwynn comparisons as his batting average stubbornly hung around .340 in his rookie season.

The Twins' projected postseason roster includes the most WAR from homegrown players among the five AL postseason teams.

"Myself, as a veteran, my message to the young guys, especially the ones coming up: 'This is your clubhouse,'" said. "'Whatever you do at home, you can do it here. Just respect people. Feel free to do whatever you want.' They have to understand that they're a huge part of the team, too. They're here because we need them."

Here's what you'll see when you walk into the Twins' clubhouse several hours before first pitch on, really, any given day:

At the table directly in front of you, assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez emphatically slams a black domino onto a wooden table, drawing a cacophony of complaints in frenzied Spanish from and .

Look to the far end of the room, and you'll see the 22-year-old Arraez yelling, "No, no, no, no, no!" as he vigorously shakes his head at one of the team's beat reporters, who plunges recklessly on and asks Sanó for an interview despite Arraez's best efforts at diversion.

A quick glance to your left gives you a glimpse of 30-year-old rookie , who leans back in his chair, immune to the chaos, engrossed in his latest paperback mystery novel. He picked up a reading habit to keep himself entertained as he crisscrossed swaths of the American heartland on buses during his eight-year Minor League career.

Somewhere in the room, is probably draped over a teammate's back like an overgrown lemur with a bright head of inexplicably springy hair. He won't be hard to spot.

This is the clubhouse that first-year manager Rocco Baldelli imagined for his team.

From the moment Baldelli took the job, he stressed that he wanted all of his players to feel natural, free and comfortable, from the 39-year-old Cruz -- older than Baldelli himself -- to Randy Dobnak, the 24-year-old former Uber driver with an outstanding mustache that began the year in Class A Advanced but could be in line to start a postseason game for the 101-win Twins.

Everybody has something to contribute. Everybody is here to win.

"That was something we talked about a lot, early on, as a group," Baldelli said. "Everybody. Staff, players. We meant what we said. I think the way that we all treat each other and respect each other here, that gives it the backing. It's every day. You don't just make a statement like that and stray away from it a month later when things get rough."

That philosophy has been built -- and implemented -- from the top down, from Spring Training all the way to the end of September. Now, this loose, homer-happy bunch that has been freed to be comfortable and play at its best can bring that attitude into the Bronx and just have fun together, as friends and teammates, on the game's biggest stage.

Who knows? It might even win a lot of baseball games along the way.

"We all trust Rocco because of that unselfishness and the fact that nobody wants to shine brighter than the other," Romo said. "It's great. Everybody knows that we can help out in our own ways, and we respect that about each other."

By the way, if you need to locate Romo in that clubhouse, you can find him in his bright green "Legend of Zelda" shirt, talking about his favorite taco joints in the background of a teammate's TV interview.