Catching Breaks

by HOWIE STALWICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n 1992, the 30 major league baseball teams drafted 1,481 players. Spokane's Mike Redmond wasn't one of them. Still, despite facing Texas-sized odds, he passed up his senior year at Gonzaga University to sign a minor league contract with the Florida Marlins as an undrafted free agent in the fall of '92.

Ten years after batting .200 as a rookie minor leaguer -- "I think I made $875 a month" -- Redmond helped the Marlins win the 2003 world championship. He did so by providing able support to star catcher Ivan Rodriguez and by keeping things loose in the clubhouse by, uh, letting everything hang loose.

It seems Redmond had developed a habit of occasionally taking batting practice (indoors in stadiums, mind you) with little covering his body but shoes, socks and batting gloves.

"I still have guys asking me to do it, because we won the World Series that year," Redmond says.

These days, Redmond is known more as a rock-solid 10-year major league veteran than as a quasi-nudist. He batted a career-high .341 in 47 games with Minnesota last season -- the sixth time he's batted over .300 in the big leagues -- and he's currently starting for the Minnesota Twins while all-star catcher Joe Mauer recovers from a leg injury.

Redmond, a Gonzaga Prep graduate who still lives in Spokane in the offseason, grabbed a phone at the Metrodome in Minneapolis last Sunday prior to the Twins' game with Detroit and engaged in a lively question-and-answer session with The Inlander:

Howie Stalwick: Most guys take the hint when nearly 1,500 players get drafted and no one wants you. What made you decide to turn pro after your junior year at Gonzaga?

Mike Redmond: I was all set to come back to Gonzaga for my senior season. I was playing summer ball in Wichita, and I got a chance to sign with the Florida Marlins, who were looking for catchers. It was probably one of the toughest decisions I've made in my life. I felt terrible letting down by teammates at Gonzaga, but it was my shot at fulfilling my dream of playing in the big leagues. It ended up being the best decision of my life.

HS: You came into the week with a .293 career batting average and equally impressive defensive numbers, but you've never played more than 89 games in one season in the majors. Has it been frustrating to play behind such outstanding catchers as Charles Johnson and Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez with Florida and now Joe Mauer with Minnesota?

MR: I've accepted my role as a backup player, but I'm prepared when I get the opportunity to play. My role is my role. When Joe Mauer comes back, I'm back on the bench. It's just the way it is.

HS: Did you ever think you would be a regular starter in the majors?

MR: The one time they told me I would play full-time was in 2003. Then about a month later, they signed Pudge. I was frustrated ... On the other hand, we won the World Series that year. That's something I'll never forget.

HS: Where do you keep your World Series ring?

MR: In a big safe. It's too big. I think it's the biggest World Series ring ever made. There were a couple times I've worn it. I wore it to a Gonzaga basketball game after I first got it just to show everyone ... I don't like drawing attention to myself. I don't like to wear things that are gaudy.

HS: You were in your sixth season in the minor leagues before you reached the majors. Did you ever consider quitting?

MR: Oh yeah. I thought about it a lot. There was one year [the Marlins] even talked to me about becoming a coach. I'd just had shoulder surgery. I talked them into letting me play one more year. That year (1998), I made the big leagues for the first time.

HS: What's the best thing about being a major league ballplayer?

MR: Just the adrenaline; how much fun it is to go out there and play and try to win. There's so much at stake every single game.

HS: What's the worst thing about being a major league ballplayer?

MR: Missing my kids and wife. And I miss Spokane, to be honest with you.

HS: What are your plans once you're done playing?

MR: I'm not sure. I want to play until I'm 40 -- four more years. Then we'll see what happens. Who knows? I might come back and coach at Gonzaga.