Chris Gimenez loves to play baseball. In 14 years as a professional, he’s played in 884 minor league games and 301 in the majors. The 34-year-old has suited up for five big league teams, including two stints in Cleveland. He’s played catcher, first base, third base, leftfield, rightfield and even pitched 4 1/3 innings.
A career .216/.298/.332 hitter, Gimenez was signed for his defense and versatility. And, although it won’t show up in his stat line, the California native brings something to the team that was noticeably missing last year: perspective, positivity and a little feistiness.
I chatted with the affable, veteran backstop in the Twins clubhouse prior to Wednesday’s game.
DZ: We’re a month into the season now, what’s it like being with this new team in this new city?
GIMENEZ: This has been a very, very fun experience. There’s a lot to like about a lot of these guys in the clubhouse. We do a pretty good job of keeping it very light. Very professional, I guess you could say. What I was told, is that last year things got a little low in the clubhouse. I’ve been on teams like that, I’ve also been on winning teams. I’ve tried to learn, the best I possibly can, from both of those situations. See what works and what doesn’t. Just try and keep it loose and just have fun with the guys. We’ve got a really good group of guys here.
DZ: Going back to spring training, when did you find out you made the team?
GIMENEZ: I think I found out – I think we left on Friday – maybe, Wednesday? Whatever they wanted to tell me, I was OK with it. This is a situation where I felt, for me personally, it was going to be a really good fit. Knowing the potential situation with Jason (Castro), being a lefthanded hitter, me being a righthanded hitter. Our numbers against lefties and righties being what they were and (the Twins) looking for more of a veteran presence to help some of these younger guys. I felt it could be a really, really good fit for me personally.
DZ: So, even if you were sent to the minor leagues (out of spring training), you felt like you had a good chance of being up here at some point?
GIMENEZ: Yeah. Anytime you sign somewhere, your main goal is to be in the big leagues. If it would’ve come to that or if it does come to that, I always feel like there is a chance I could get back up here or would’ve been up here at some point. There’s also a chance I could not have been. Then my job would have been to help whoever I could help in the minor leagues with some of the experiences I have had throughout the years.
DZ: Did you know any of the guys coming in here?
GIMENEZ: I’ve played against a ton of guys. I made my debut in the big leagues in Minnesota in the Metrodome (June 3, 2009). Joe (Mauer) was there, obviously. I’ve played against Dozier for a long time. (Eduardo) Escobar and I came up together in the minor leagues. Phil Hughes, when he was with the Yankees; I’ve known him for a long time. Glen Perkins for a long time. I was in the AL Central for three of the last four years, so I’ve played against quite a few of them. You get to know them from a different perspective playing on the other team, but a lot of those memories carry over and just see what these guys are like personally.
DZ: Do you talk to Joe (Mauer) about catching at all?
GIMENEZ: We actually do, yeah. We talk a lot about it. That’s something that he really misses. Obviously, if it weren’t for certain circumstances, he would still be there. I know he definitely misses the little nuances of catching that he was very, very good at; the communication with the pitching staff, seeing what a guy has on a certain day and using it to a certain extent. We’ve had numerous conversations about that.
DZ: I wanted to ask you about your gloves, I know you’ve played catcher, a little outfield, a little third base, maybe even first (base)?
GIMENEZ: First, yeah. First, third, leftfield, rightfield, pitcher, catcher. Hopefully, I don’t have to pitch that many more times, cause that usually means we are not doing very well (pitched in a 13-4 loss to Detroit on April 23). I enjoy it. It’s a new challenge. It’s not the same, tedious thing every day. I take it as a challenge because every day, I could be at a different position. And I like to think of myself personally, as very capable fielder at all of those spots. I don’t ever want to be a liability out there, I guess you could say. I feel like I am better than all of these other guys because they just have to focus on one spot, I have to focus on, like, six (laughs).
DZ: Gotcha. How do you stay sharp?
GIMENEZ: Early work at batting practice, I will go out and shag fly balls to get my outfield work in. I take ground balls usually once or twice a series, either at first base or third base. I continue to do my catching work every day. You find little spots just to pick it in there and just work when you can. You have to work smart too, I am not 23 anymore, so I can’t go all positions all times of the day. You learn to make it work for you.
DZ: How many gloves do you have right now?
GIMENEZ: Let’s see, I’ve got first, third, outfield, catcher in my bag down there (points to bottom of his locker). I’ve got three more catchers gloves here (points toward top of his locker). My third base glove would be second base and my pitching glove. I’ve got, like, seven (laughs). Too many. It’s too heavy (laughs).
DZ: Do you bring them all on the road then?
GIMENEZ: No, I bring my catchers gloves and my fielding gloves, so I think I bring five.
DZ: That’s still a lot.
GIMENEZ: Yeah, my bag is pretty heavy. I feel bad for those guys. They have to carry it (laughs).
DZ: It’s your 14th year as a professional. You’ve played a lot of games in the minors and a decent amount in the majors. At any point, did you think about giving it up and trying something else?
GIMENEZ: Let’s put it this way, there has probably been about a million times where that’s crossed my mind. I think that at any point during the season when you start struggling (you ask) — now, especially, that I am getting older, do I have it anymore? I also have a wife and three kids now and that tugs on you in a little different direction. I still feel like that I kept myself in great shape. Funny enough, I have been a back-up for a really long time, so I don’t feel like that I have as many miles as somebody else my age might have on me. I feel like I still have good years left.
The one thing too is that I don’t really feel that I’ve reached my full potential yet. I have been a back-up my entire career, but I’ve tried to really embrace that and work with that as much as possible. There is always times during the season, where I am pretty sure every single person in this room, All Star or not, has thought, “Do I still have it?” There is always somebody younger and better looking than you trying to take your job.
DZ: And with hitting, you just never know…
GIMENEZ: One thing from a catching perspective too, is that the game is starting to change. It’s not so focused on the offensive part of the game. They are starting to really understand some of the little things that go along with the catching position. I think that’s helped out with my case too, because those things got overlooked in the past. When I first came up, it was all about “How far can you hit the ball and how many homers can you get?” That still helps these days, don’t get me wrong, but people are more aware of the camaraderie between pitcher/catcher, the framing aspect of it, the game calling aspect of it. And that’s kind of where I think I excel to begin with. Not so much with the offense. I can hit, but I pride myself on my defense and being able to get these guys (pitchers) through the tough times. Hopefully, that continues in that direction.