Apparently, February 12ht has been unofficially declared Nick Punto day, with bloggers all across Twins nation chiming in on the little utility man who could. So it just wouldn't be right if your humble li'l blogger didn't throw in his $.02.
To me, Punto is a perfect example of everything that is simultaneously right and yet so wrong about the Minnesota Twins. He's a guy who plays with an intense love of the game, emphasizing speed, hard work, terrific defense, and mediocre (at best) hitting. Nick fits in in Minnesota only because no other major league team would start a man of his proportions and batting skills, but yet you can't help but love the guy.
Sure, he slides head first into first base. Now, this is possibly the stupidest thing a baseball player can do. For starters, it's far faster to continue running. In fact, baseball long ago recognized how much faster it is to keep running to first base and not have to slide so they allow you to over run that base. So not only does sliding into first actually slow you down, it also significantly increases your chance of injury.
Yet when Nicky does it, you can't help but feel he knows what he's doing. And even if it never works (and it doesn't), you've got to love the sight of a hustling little midget man sliding into first. He's just too lovable not to.
And sure, could the Twins find a better hitting third baseman who could still play good defense? Sure they could. But that's not their style. Their style is to find guys like Nick who make highlight reel catches at a rate of about one a game, and who then seem very confused by this long, cylandrical piece of wood they're forced to carry up to the plate several times a game. It may not be high scoring baseball, but it sure is fun to watch.
And now more than ever, as the Twins are actually making off-season moves and acquiring players who may actually be able to play the game of baseball at an above-average level (let's not jinx it yet), I think the Twins need to keep guys like Punto around to remind themselves of who they are. Because yes, I want them to win championships, but I don't want them to do it at the expense of their soul.
Can you win a championship with the likes of Nick Punto starting at 3rd base? I don't know, but I do know that win or lose it's a lot more fun than watching some steroidal jerk like Alex Rodriguez play homerun derby for you. And I'll take that...