Ben Revere was still a minor-league prospect at this point last season, hoping for a shot to be called up to the Minnesota Twins.
Terry Ryan thought he was done as general manager of the Twins after retiring in 2007 to become a special adviser under former GM Bill Smith.
Revere finally got called up by Twins on a full-time basis and Ryan is back as the team’s GM, albeit on an interim basis.
Both are also major pieces in hopes for a turnaround for a Twins team that finished with an American League-worst 99 losses in 2011.
Revere and Ryan spoke with confidence that 2011 was more of an aberration than the norm.
Both were at The Country Club of Beloit on Thursday for the Beloit Snappers’ eighth annual Hot Stove Banquet.
“About everything that could go wrong did,” said the 58-year-old Ryan, a Janesville native. “It started with the health of this club. We were hurt from the get-go. We came out of spring training and everyone was healthy on the 25-man (roster). Then, about a week in, we were done. Guys started to drop.”
The injuries gave Revere a chance to be promoted to the major-league level.
The former Snapper was called up in May to replace an injured Delmon Young in left field.
As soon as Young returned, Revere was given another position, replacing Denard Span (concussion) in center field.
Revere never went back to Triple-A Rochester, hitting .267 in 117 games with 34 stolen bases, 30 RBIs and 56 runs scored for the Twins.
“The first time I got called up (in 2010), I was in awe, but last year I wasn’t,” said Revere, who hit .379 and stole 44 bases in 83 games for the Snappers in 2008. “We’re all on the same level now. Every person is just another person. I’ve talked to them and tried to pick their brain and get any kind of help I can.”
Revere had a solid rookie campaign for the Twins and was named the team’s rookie of the year. He also had two of the most highlight-worthy plays of 2011, or as they’re called the “Catch” and the “Somersault.”
Revere’s “Catch” came in an August game against the Baltimore Orioles when he made an over-the-shoulder grab, while scaling the center-field wall at Target Field. The somersault was just as impressive as Revere lined a triple into the outfield, stumbled after touching second base, rolled into a somersault, got back up and wound up at third base.
Both of those moments are two of the most popular moments from Major League Baseball last season. They’ve also made Revere a YouTube sensation.
“I didn’t mean to do the somersault,” Revere said. “I just peaked into the outfield to see where the ball was. When I looked back down, I toe-tapped second base and fell down. Luckily, I was safe. As for the catch, that was one of the most unbelievable things I’ve ever done. It happened so quick. I just found the ball in my mitt. It’s something I’ve been working on and doing those drills every single day.”
Revere will move back to left field to begin the 2012 season after questions were raised about his arm strength.
It’s something Revere has worked on during the offseason, playing long toss at almost every opportunity.
“After a few weeks, the ball was just taking off,” Revere said. “Hopefully, by spring training I could get an Ichiro arm.”
Ryan was pleased with Revere’s progress last year, but said he expect more from his 23-year-old left-fielder.
“He had the type of year you’d expect a rookie to have,” Ryan said. “He stole a lot of bases, made some acrobatic catches. There are a few things we need to iron out. We have to get him to bunt more and we’ve got to get him to get his on-base percentage up. He’s not going to hit the ball over the fence, so he has to use the whole field. People talk about his arm, but moving him to left should take care of some of those questions.”
Revere was one of the few Twins that remained injury-free throughout last season.
Injuries to Joe Mauer (leg weakness) and Justin Morneau (concussions) hampered the team’s chances of building any continuity or momentum throughout the season.
While Ryan was confident in a healthy Mauer for 2012, he was “guarded” about Morneau’s status.
“(Mauer’s) hopefully going to catch 130 games and he can play DH or first when Morneau needs a rest,” Ryan said. “Until you get (Morneau) to spring training and see how he walks through the repetitions and the heats and how he reacts to the day game after a night game and sliding into a catcher at home plate, you just don’t know for sure. We’re not going into this thing blindfolded. At this point, he’s doing pretty well.”
The same couldn’t be said for the Twins’ organization, which hadn’t fired a manager or general manager since 1986 before dismissing Smith in November.
They turned the keys of the franchise over to Ryan, who stressed during Thursday’s banquest that “interim” shouldn’t be removed from his job title anytime soon.
“The owner came to me and asked me if I could step in, but it was a little awkward,” Ryan said. “I have some familiarity and know everyone, but we lost 99 games last year and it wasn’t good for us at all. We’ll see where this takes us.”
Ryan’s had a busy offseason, signing more free agents than any team in baseball, according to baseball-reference.com.
Most of Ryan’s signings have been aimed at improving the farm system that has been somewhat lacking since his departure in 2007.
“Elizabethton had an excellent year last year and that’s probably where our best prospects are,” Ryan said. “Our Triple A club for two years running has had disastrous years. Consequently, we had to rush guys up to the big leagues that weren’t ready. We took guys out of Double A, which I don’t like, but it was a necessity. We’re not as bad as people give us credit for, but we aren’t what we used to be.”
The Twins also lost Michael Cuddyer (Colorado Rockies), Joe Nathan (Texas Rangers) and Jason Kubel (Arizona Diamondbacks) to free agency.
All three played an integral role in helping the Twins win the AL Central title and 94 games in 2010.
“We had trouble scoring runs before (Kubel and Cuddyer) left,” Ryan said. “When Nathan went down and was struggling we had to over-expose (closer Matt) Capps more than we wanted. We did sign some guys and the good thing about that is putting certain guys back in Triple A where they belong.”
One of those guys won’t be Revere, who is hopeful that a healthy team will translate into a winning team — once again.
“Every day I tell people I want to bring a ring back to Minnesota,” Revere said. “Deep down in my gut, I feel like we can do something special.”
• SNAPPERS STADIUM UPDATE: The chance for a new baseball stadium in downtown Beloit is off the table, according to Snappers Chairman of the Board Dennis Conerton at Thursday’s banquet.
“We are down to one option site and that’s along the interstate,” Conerton said. “The downtown site was removed from our list of options by the landowners, who had other options to pursue. We’re focusing on the interstate site for now.”
With a majority of the funding coming from private donors and the recession still lingering in the economy, the announcement of any progress for a new stadium has been put on hold.
“We don’t have any announcements scheduled at this time,” Conerton said.