Twins youth camp comes to Red Wing Athletic FieldErik Lovdahl got a surprise call from Terry Ryan, general manager of the Minnesota Twins, in the winter of 2002.
By: Chris Harrell, The Republican Eagle
Erik Lovdahl got a surprise call from Terry Ryan, general manager of the Minnesota Twins, in the winter of 2002.
Ryan needed a batting practice pitcher and wanted Lovdahl, then a pitching coach at Bethel University in St. Paul, to come try out.
“I was nervous,” Lovdahl said. “He had me throw to the Triple-A guys first, but it’s just normal BP, just try not to do too much but yea, definitely was nervous.”
Lovdahl passed the test and became the Twins’ left-handed batting practice pitcher in the spring of 2003.
“Just the back route to the majors,” Lovdahl said. “You’re obviously not a player or anything but living the dream.”
His path to pitching for major league hitters is the opposite of most. Instead of trying to get hitters out, Lovdahl tries to make hitters as comfortable as possible with straight fastballs on the field, but in the batting cage sometimes hitters will ask him to present game-like situations.
“In the cages they’ll have you mix it up,” he said. “They’ll ask. They’ll want to do kind of a game situation at times. Normal (batting practice) on the field is four-seamer down the middle and get in a groove. … But again they’re all different; they all have a different program.”
Lovdahl also has twin sons, Bo and Nick, who get to enjoy the perks of having their dad in a big league uniform.
“It’s nice to go down and take batting practice,” Bo said. “We do pretty much anything down there, just chill down there.”
The boys said it’s a great experience to meet all the top players and manager Ron Gardenhire.
“It’s really cool watching that,” Bo said.
But even after throwing batting practice at every home game for nine years, Lovdahl said he still gets nervous at times, especially when throwing to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Throwing against left-handed hitters is especially nerve-racking because one mistake could end up hurting an important player.
“Your worst fear is one will sail and hit them,” Lovdahl said.
In addition to his position as batting practice pitcher, Lovdahl has spent years coaching baseball at the high school and collegiate levels after pitching at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and with the Boston Red Sox organization for one year. He also helps lead the Minnesota Twins Training Academy at the National Sports Center in Blaine with Brian Raabe, the head baseball coach at Bethel University.
Lovdahl is also in his seventh year as director of the Minnesota Twins Youth Baseball Training Camps, four two-day sessions throughout the state, one of which came to the Red Wing Athletic Field Monday and Tuesday.
There are also three one-day training camps at Target Field in Minneapolis.
“I love teaching the game of baseball,” Lovdahl said. “Molding kids on and off the field. … Just having the Twins’ name behind it gives it huge credibility.”
The camps draw some of the best coaches from Minnesota and National Baseball Hall of Famer, Rod Carew. Carew spent Monday in Red Wing and provides frequent one-on-one time teaching young players on the fine points of hitting.
“I love working with kids,” Carew said. “I think my reason is that I want to see kids do the right things when they step up to the batter’s box to hit. I want them to be disciplined. I want them to know where they are in the batter’s box. I want them to know how to transfer their weight through the hitting zone, how to use their hands, how to use their legs, just simple stuff that staying on balance is going to help them to hit.”
John Wilkens, an assistant baseball coach at Division III Northwestern College in St. Paul and a coach since 1970, said the Twins camps run by Lovdahl are special because they focus on the fundamentals. In the same way a teacher can’t just hand a book to a student and expect them to learn, a coach can’t simply put players on the field and hope they know what they’re doing.
“You have to show them the right way,” he said. “To me, a lot of camps go through things so fast. If you don’t teach them the right things, it’s almost like a daycare situation.”
And with Lovdahl, Wilkens, Carew, Augsburg head baseball coach Keith Bateman and others, the players will be pushed to get better and no punches will be pulled.
“I’ll never get disgruntled or upset, but I’ll push them because I want them to learn,” Carew said. “That’s what teaching is all about. We’re supposed to encourage these kids, not discourage them and that’s why I’m doing this. They have a good group of guys that are working these camps.”
As he gets closer to 10 years with the team, Lovdahl said he still feels privileged to have the position. Not everyone gets the chance to help their favorite childhood team and work with players like Carew.
“You got to kind of pinch yourself,” Lovdahl said. “Just being around the Hall of Famers and guys you grew up loving. It’s huge.”