News Columns & Blogs

Lutz From Deep (Plus Dustan Mohr)

I promised Will Savage I would title my next blog entry “Lutz from deep” because of an amazing shot I made during a game of H-O-R-S-E last night. Actually, it was a three-letter game, but I don’t know if it’s family friendly. OK, it was N-U-T.

I got caught up in playing N-U-T with Savage, Brooks, Pearson and team trainer Chris Roy. I swished a shot from well beyond the fence that encloses the basketball court. I think I got Brooks a letter with that one. Then Savage and I started endlessly competing in best-of-10 free throw shooting. I think he came out ahead.

This was all well after last night’s game — I went to the postgame get-together to talk to Thunder GM Joel Lomurno about travel plans to Lincoln. On my way out, I drained a jumper and had to keep playing. I ended up shooting for a while — Savage said he couldn’t lose to the beat reporter, and I guess he didn’t. But it was close. He’s 6-foot-4 with a nice-looking shot. What chance did I really have?

Anyway, that wasn’t the point of this blog entry. Some of you may have read the story I wrote on Dustan Mohr that ran in Sunday’s edition. I interviewed him for nearly a half hour in Sioux Falls nine days ago, and I had to leave a lot of good quotes out of the story. Here are some of them:

On reaction to learning he had a cancerous thyroid growth:Once we found out, it was tough on everybody. Not just me, but my parents (wife Denise’s) parents, everybody involved. But at the same time, we knew what was going on, so we had a game plan on what we had to do to get better. Hopefully that happened.

Coming into this year, it’s been totally different. I’ve had a different perspective as far as… I feel great, I’m having fun. Because last year wasn’t fun for many reasons — being sick, mostly. So I’ve just tried to enjoy every minute of it because this could be my last year playing. Not because I want it to be, because other reasons — not just baseball, but off the field, too.

Once I found out what it was, I just felt like, OK, now what information do I need to get so I can get rid of it. My whole time (in the majors), I was only on the DL once, with a calf injury, and I knew how to get over that. It was a sense of relief, in a weird way, I guess, because it’s like now we know what it is and we know what we have to do. As opposed to not knowing and you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. It was a sense of relief.

On differences between the big leagues and independent ball:I’ve played at the highest level and I know what I’m capable of. At this level, for me, you have to keep perspective. There’s a lot of things about playing at this level that are a lot different from Triple-A or the big leagues — pitching, defense, umpires, strike zone. That’s just being honest. I’ve actually tried to convey that to other players, especially pitchers. It’s good that you do well in this league and you should feel good about it, but you have to also be realistic that in the upper levels you’re not going to have as big of a strike zone. For hitters, the defenses are going to be much better, so the balls that are hits here aren’t going to be hits at higher levels.

On the realization that he wouldn’t be picked up by a major league organization this season:I kind of felt fairly early that nothing is probably going to happen like last year. I had been in contact with several teams, and it was always sort of the standard answer: Hey, we’d love to have you, but we just don’t have a spot right now. That’s just code for, we just think what we have is better. And that’s fine. In terms of, did it make it easier to be here or more fun, I don’t know. If I’m being honest, which I try to be always, sometimes it’s hard. That’s the one thing that’s hard about playing in this league. There’s something to be said for knowing that you’re playing for advancement.

It’s just like anybody with a regular job — you want to know there’s an opportunity to be promoted up the ranks and get to the highest place of whatever it is you do. And sometimes feeling like, Hey, I’m doing all this and what’s it really doing? Clearly you play for the team and it’s good for the team, but I think if everybody is honest about it, you want to know that if you do well you have an opportunity to get some recognition for it, to get signed by an organization. So sometimes it’s harder to know that you’re going to be here all year.

On the benefits of having good team chemistry:The most fun you can have in this game, I think, is when you go out there and when as a team. It’s nice to get your numbers and everything, but in the end if you don’t win there’s a hole there. A piece of the pie is missing. So you feel good about yourself and you can go to parties and tell everybody you hit .300, and it sounds good and it sounds cool, but you’re watching the playoffs like everybody else and wishing you were there.

On the definition of a leader:Sometimes guys base what they think of you on your numbers, which is totally wrong in my opinion. But they seem to look up to the guys who have great numbers that season, as opposed to the guys who, maybe they don’t have great numbers, but they know what they’re talking about. (In Colorado in 2005), it was uncomfortable and it was different. I got hurt at the beginning of the year and missed six weeks and could never catch up when I got back. I wish it could have worked out differently there, but it didn’t. I’ll always remember that year, even though we weren’t very good, because I learned a lot from a lot of guys.

On the clubhouse atmosphere with Barry Bonds in San Francisco in 2004:A fluid clubhouse, you have to have it that way. If there are guys that are uneasy about being around other guys for whatever reason, you’re not going to have a successful team. Barry was polarizing to everybody, whether you liked him or not. Everybody wants to talk to him. It’s like the president — you may not like president Obama, but you’re not going to pass up a chance to meet him. You’re not going to say, I don’t want to meet him because I don’t like his policies. Barry was that way. We had a good clubhouse in San Francisco, but everybody knew it was Barry’s clubhouse.

The difference between San Francisco and Minnesota is that it Minnesota it was everybody’s clubhouse. There were the guys that were the team leaders. They would set the standard, but it was for everybody and everybody had fun. You could pick on everybody, and nobody was exempt from a little hazing. A fluid clubhouse is going to be more successful.

On fitting in with this year’s team as opposed to last year’s:I get along with everybody. We had some people last year, their character probably wasn’t where it needed to be. I don’t need to mention any names — people who were here last year know who those people are. This year, there’s all good guys. Porter’s experienced, Blasi’s experienced, Kelly’s got some experience. The new guys that come into our clubhouse know what is expected.

Of course, that all starts with (manager Kevin Hooper). There are some things that just aren’t going to be tolerated, regardless of how good a player you are or think you are. Everything is run really smooth and everybody has a good understanding of how we’re going to play the game under Hoop as our manager. Regardless of what happens from here on out, it will have been a successful formula.

On being an ex-major league on an independent league team:I don’t look at it as being the big fish. I enjoy sharing my experiences with (teammates). I don’t go out of my way to tell people things. I don’t go out of my way to say, Hey, I played in the big leagues and this is how you should do it. I don’t do that. If people have questions, they ask. I don’t force myself on anybody. I don’t just go up to people and say, You’re doing this or you’re doing that. For the most part, I just enjoy talking about baseball and, because of how long I played and the places I’ve been, I have a lot of stories to tell. And I’m more than willing to tell them if people ask. But if people don’t ask, I don’t really tell them. I enjoy the fact that I have knowledge, because of where I’ve been, to help them.