FORT MYERS, Fla — A.J. Pierzynski is reminded every day of his beginnings with the Minnesota Twins.
Back then, David Ortiz — who was known as David Arias — was behind Doug Mientkiewicz on the depth chart because “the Twins stressed defense” and Mientkiewicz could play it better than Ortiz.
Mientkiewicz and Ortiz later became teammates again with the Red Sox during the glorious 2004 season. Pierzynski, who played for the Twins from 1998 to 2003, could have returned to Minnesota this offseason. He turned down a two-year deal from the rebuilding Twins, feeling his best chance to win was with the Red Sox, even though it was a one-year deal.
In response, Pierzynski was booed Saturday by Twins fans in his first at-bat at refurbished Hammond Stadium.
“It’s funny how we were all together so long ago,” said Pierzynski.
“I know [Twins GM] Terry Ryan always regretted losing David. But he said the stupidest thing he ever did was taking Dave McCarty [third overall] in the 1991 draft over Manny Ramirez, who went 13th overall to the Indians.”
Ryan, who recently underwent cancer surgery, can’t bring Ortiz back. He can’t redraft Manny Ramirez over Dave McCarty. He tried to sign Pierzynski to no avail. But he did bring back Mientkiewicz as manager of the Single A Fort Myers Miracle.
Now they’re all in this southwest Florida community, competing, rekindling, and renewing old friendships that were forged when they were so much younger.
Pierzynski (third round, 1994) and Mientkiewicz (fifth round, 1995) will share a house together in Fort Myers during spring training.
They were roommates as they came up through the Twins’ system, and again in Arizona during spring training one year. Now, with Mientkiewicz managing in Fort Myers and Pierzynski in his first Red Sox spring training, it just seemed like one more chance to relive a special time in their lives.
Mientkiewicz, 39, hasn’t arrived in “The Fort” quite yet, but once he does he will have a nice posh country club home that Pierzynski secured for camp awaiting him.
“We’ve known each other a long time,’’ Pierzynski said. “We went to instructional league together in 1995 and we became close friends and remained that way through all these years.
“He knows me really well to the point where he can see something I might be doing wrong in my swing and he’ll text me with it during the course of the season, so we remain in close touch. When I came over here to Boston, knowing we’d be in Fort Myers together, we said, ‘How about we room together again?’ Here were are. My wife and his wife are close friends, so it’s been nice to have that relationship over the years.”
Mientkiewicz grew up in Miami and was a high school teammate of Alex Rodriguez at Westminster Christian Academy. He spent a career defending A-Rod and has probably spent as much time defending Pierzynski from those who believe there are legitimate reasons for why he’s regarded as the most hated man in baseball.
Pierzynski has heard all about Mientkiewicz stealing the ball from the final out in 2004. “He told me if we win the World Series, not to keep the ball,’’ Pierzynski said. “That was the biggest piece of advice.”
In Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, Mientkiewicz caught Keith Foulke’s throw to first, ending the 86-year Curse of the Bambino.
Mientkiewicz kept the ball. The Red Sox wanted the ball. Cooperstown wanted the ball.
The Red Sox took Mientkiewicz to Suffolk Superior Court, arguing that he had the ball only because he was a Red Sox employee at the time and that the ball should be Red Sox property.
The sides struck an agreement and the ball was returned and now displayed at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
After his half-season in Boston, Mientkiewicz played a season each for the Mets, Royals, Yankees, Pirates, and Dodgers. His playing career ended in 2009, after which he became one of the Dodgers’ minor league hitting coaches.
Last season, he secured the job managing the Miracle, a team he played for in his first pro season with the Twins. He was named Florida State League manager of the year for his 79-56 record, which was the best record in Miracle history.
He’s overseen the development of some of baseball’s top prospects, including center fielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano, who yesterday heard the bad news that he will undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Mientkiewicz’s first season was punctuated by a brawl against the Bradenton Marauders, a Pirates farm team, on Aug. 19. Mientkiewicz sprinted from his dugout as if he were shot out of a cannon toward Bradenton manager Frank Klembas, whom he wrestled to the ground.
The dugouts emptied and the two had to be restrained. Players from both sides struggled to keep their managers separated and the Twins organization had to issue an apology on behalf of Mientkiewicz.
Obviously, Pierzynski and Mientkiewicz have strong personalities and long last names.
Pierzynski’s tallest order will be getting up to snuff with his pitchers. On Saturday, Pierzynski, wearing No. 40 in honor of his friend, former Red Sox slugger and White Sox broadcaster Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, caught Allen Webster, who got slapped around.
So far, any reputation Pierzynski’s had about being tough on teammates — and certainly the opposition — hasn’t surfaced.
He kidded with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire about the long, drawn-out spring training intro of players at JetBlue Park on Friday.
“He’s not trying to be someone he’s not,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Pierzynski.
That would be impossible. Just as it would be impossible for Mientkiewicz.
Birds of a feather.
And they’re back together.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.