MINNEAPOLIS – Ever since the twins brought Nelson Cruz to their clubhouse ahead of the 2019 season, Miguel Sanó has often referred to the veteran bat as his father.
And sometimes a father pulls his son aside to help him when he’s down.
On the morning of May 15, Cruz invited Sanó to his home in the Twin Cities to do extra work outside of the stadium with his personal hit coach Frank Valdez. The group has met three times this season to help Sanó find his mechanics and approach to the record after a brutal start to the season of .119 / .280 / .209.
That night, Sanó met a three-time homer who won the game against the A’s. He has since beaten .771, with seven homers and an OPS of 1,110 in a 13-game stretch that will face the Royals at Target Field on Friday in the series opener.
“We talked to each other and worked together,” said Sanó. “I got a lot of information from him. I just like to stop right before the ball and see how the routine I’ve done with Nellie. We’re working on that.”
“Nelson and some of the people Nelson speaks to and works with also have great baseball heads,” said manager Rocco Baldelli. “Every time Miggy spends time with Nelson there are sure to be a lot of positives coming out of it.”
The first time Cruz pulled Sanó aside in this way, Cruz said, was last year when the couple went to Justin Morneau’s batting cages and partnered with Valdez, who played as a minor leaguer in the Twins’ organization from 1986-1991 and now operates a baseball training program in Florida. Valdez’s social media shows photos of him at his facility with players like Cruz, Sanó, Jean Segura, Starling Marte and Jeimer Candelario.
This season, Cruz used his own garage, where Sanó only got different eyes and a different voice to work on his mechanics. Sanó said the focus of these sessions was similar to the work he did at Target Field with coaches Edgar Varela and Rudy Hernandez.
“I see the fights he’s had, especially with the fastballs,” said Cruz. “And fastballs early, with balls breaking, his timing wasn’t there. And I have a feeling his legs weren’t working properly so we focused on that and he’s been swinging the bat a lot better since then, so definitely, that’s something what we all love to see. “
Even when they don’t work together in person, Sanó says that he sometimes phones Valdez to explain various elements of their training.
“We’re trying to focus on the mechanics and the approach and it’s more mentality that we’re talking about and that we’ve done,” said Sanó. “The simple stuff that he teaches me, that’s what I’m trying to do in the games right now.”
Take this as yet another example of how Cruz specifically takes Sanó, a younger Dominican, under his wing. The pair are virtually inseparable during the pre-game warm-up when Cruz picks up ground balls alongside Sanó on the first base. When Cruz arrived at 19, the twins set up his locker in the clubhouse near Sanó.
His influence helped unlock a career-best season for Sanó in 2019, with the young thug hitting personal bests with an OPS of 0.923 and 34 homers.
This year the work with three homers from Sanó who made the difference between victory and defeat paid off, together with Shane Bieber, the winner of the 2020 American League Cy Young Award, and a three-homer game. The Twins often say that with his timely strength, Sanó can change the course of the game and that was especially important given the club’s struggles earlier this season.
Sanó wasn’t shy about getting the job done – and Cruz helped make that work pay off.
“It’s amazing to see people like Nellie,” said Sanó. “He can help anyone with anything. The moment we’ve played with him from 2019 to here is amazing. Those are special moments. I love Nellie. Everything he does comes from the heart. When every player acts like that would be like him, would be baseball. ” really different. “