We Are Family (Minus One)
I was saddened to hear yesterday that former Twin, Blue Jay, and Brewer Corey Koskie announced his retirement from professional baseball. As Twins fans, how can we not respect the tenacity that Koskie showed for the game of baseball, as he was one of those guys without much raw talent that needed every ounce of skill in his body to hit .280, 20 HR, and play fabulous defense at the hot corner. Sadly, however, his strange concussion-like malady has now forced him to leave the game he loves. Though even he admitted he could probably play through the discomfort, he did not want to put himself through another rough year or two, and with young children growing up at home I don’t know how you can blame him for that.
During my time as a writer for the University Register at the University of Minnesota, Morris, I penned an article about Koskie (and other former Twins) that I thought would be appropriate to share on this blog. Just remember that the article is a wee bit dated (written just in advance of the start of the ’07 season), but the basic principles of the piece still hold true:
Over the last seven seasons, the Minnesota Twins have become a perennial powerhouse in the American League. Yet, besides a winning product on the field, the Twins have created a family-type atmosphere that makes them so endearing and fun to watch. While many baseball teams disperse their own separate ways the minute a game is completed (i.e. the New York Yankees), the Twins stick together, evidenced by the roommate pairing of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau last season. Journeyman players who have wandered the major leagues or young rookies fresh from the bush leagues can be considered “part of the family” once assigned a Twins uniform. However, in order to stay competitive in baseball’s current economy, many a fine Twins “family member” has needed to be disowned. In almost all cases, leaving the Twins’ family produced disastrous results…
Christian Guzman–Endeared himself to Twins fans in 2001 with his unusual goatee and that “bionic sound” he made while scampering to third base with another triple. Since leaving the Twins after 2004, Guzy batted .219 for the Washington Nationals in 2005 and missed the entire ’06 season due to shoulder surgery.
Matt Lawton–Lawton was the most talented Twins outfielder during the doldrums of the late 1990s. Never sniffed .300 after leaving the Twins via a trade in ’01 and was busted for steroids with the Yankees in 2005.
A.J. Pierzynski–You know the fan who gets a few beers in him and annoys the heck out of his entire section? A.J. Pierzynski was that guy’s hero. Pierzynski is still a quality catcher for the Chisox, but his trade brought the Twins Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, and Boof Bonser.
Luis Rivas–A mainstay (admittedly if only because of a lack of depth) at the second base position from 2001-2004 and often single-handedly defeated the Kansas City Royals. Could not make the Tampa Bay Devils Rays roster in 2006, one year after the Twins released him.
David Ortiz–The one who got away. The gregarious “Big Papi” was a fan-favorite in 2001-2002, but also quite injury-prone, leading to his departure. Ortiz latched on with Boston and is now arguably major league baseball’s biggest superstar.
Doug Mientkiewicz–Led the Twins’ surge to prominence in 2001, but is now best remembered for stealing a baseball, not hitting or catching one.
Eric Milton–A solid, if not spectacular, starting pitcher for the Twins who pitched a no-hitter in 1999. Now regularly leads the NL in home runs allowed.
Joe Mays–Highly-touted Twins prospect who, after one great season (2001) fizzled out. Was recently cut from LA Dodgers training camp.
Jacque Jones–Teamed with Torii Hunter to create the “Soul Patrol” outfield but could not be afforded after 2005. Last year, Jacque was a steady contributor (.285, 27 home runs) for the Chicago Cubs.
LaTroy Hawkins–After first succeeding (then failing miserably) as a closer, “Hawk” became a premier middle reliever before pricing himself out of a Twins uniform. Hasn’t been nearly as dominant since leaving Minnesota (4.48 ERA in 60 innings for the Orioles last season) and still collapses in pressure situations.
Eddie Guardado–”Everyday Eddie” earned his nickname as a middle reliever, but transformed himself into a reliable (if not spectacular) closer. Recently, Eddie has become anything but reliable due to chronic left elbow problems.
Yet, there is one player who has fallen on especially hard times after leaving the Twins family. The name noticeably absent from this nostalgic list is Corey Koskie. In 2001, Koskie banded together with Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, and Doug Mientkiewicz in order to bring winning baseball back to Minnesota, much like Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, and Kirby Puckett did in the early 1980s.
Koskie debuted with the Twins organization in 1999 where, at third base and right field, he made an immediate splash (.310 batting average) on a punchless team. However, Koskie struggled mightily with his third base defense, not exhibiting enough quickness or range to play the position. Yet, on a team where playoff aspirations were nonexistent, Koskie was given the time necessary to develop his fielding skills, eventually molding himself into a perennial Gold Glove candidate, with his diving stops and on-target throws (even if he did have to occasionally bounce them off the old Metrodome turf) becoming commonplace.
After being a key contributor to the Twins’ playoff teams of 2002-2004, Koskie was courted by a number of teams who coveted the slick-fielding, decent power/average third baseman. Though pursued by the Twins, Koskie was ultimately signed by the Toronto Blue Jays of his native Canada. Before leaving Minnesota, in a gesture demonstrating his appreciation of the Twins’ organization and fans, Koskie took out full-page ads in both the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune expressing his gratitude for being allowed to thrive in Minnesota.
After a disappointing and injury-riddled season in Toronto, Koskie again changed teams, this time heading to Milwaukee. With a fast start to 2006, Koskie seemed to be getting his career back on track until disaster struck on July 5. While chasing a pop-up at Miller Park, Koskie overran the ball, had to bend backwards, and ended up falling to the ground, his neck whip-lashing before impact. While the incident did not seem overly violent, Koskie’s next at-bat was like something out of the fifth dimension of the Twilight Zone, complete with images coming in and out of focus and spells of dizziness.
Since that day, Koskie has not played an inning of baseball for the Brewers. A week after the concussion, Koskie tried returning to the Brewers’ lineup, but was overcome by dizziness, fatigue, and nausea, requiring him to leave the field once again. After visiting a neuropsychologist, Koskie was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome from his fall. For the rest of that season, Koskie could only work out in small increments without the symptoms returning. His head injury even affected his family life, as watching his son’s hockey games became impossible due to the bright lights giving him terrible headaches.
As for 2007 season begins, Koskie has begun rehabilitating both mind and body at his home in Minnesota, hoping to rejoin his team at the earliest possible date. Though post-concussion symptoms can last for years, Koskie seems to be on track to the major leagues again, as evidence by rising scores on the reaction-time and cognitive ability tests he regularly undergoes. According to Koskie himself (in an interview with the Star Tribune’s Patrick Reusse), “I’m going to play again. I’m sure of that. If I wasn’t, I would have a lot more depression to deal with.”
In 1982, a promising young outfielder named Jim Eisenreich debuted with the Minnesota Twins. After suffering several mystifying seizures at his left field post, Eisenreich was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, putting his major league career in serious jeopardy. However, after three years of undergoing treatment, Eisenreich returned to the major leagues. In 1993 he helped the Philadelphia Phillies to the National League Championship by batting .318. In 1996 he hit .361 with the Phillies, and ’97 brought him a World Series championship with the Florida Marlins. Hopefully, Corey Koskie can do much of the same.