Mientkiewicz brings history, experience as Raptors hitting coach

Jun 16 2012 - 7:40pm

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(NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner)
Ogden Raptors manager Damon Berryhill (left) and batting coach Doug Mientkiewicz run drills during practice at Lindquist Field in Ogden on Friday.
(NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner)
Ogden Raptors manager Damon Berryhill (left) and batting coach Doug Mientkiewicz run drills during practice at Lindquist Field in Ogden on Friday.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly already had two strikes on him before he got the answer he was looking for from new Ogden Raptors hitting coach Doug Mientkiewicz.

"I'm here because of Donnie," Mientkiewicz said. "He called me three times last summer and I told him no twice. He was like, I'm not calling you again. So, here I am."

The Raptors open the Pioneer League season Monday against the Grand Junction Rockies at 7 p.m. at Lindquist Field.

Mientkiewicz, who starred for the Salt Lake Buzz in 2000, has had some remarkable moments since his last minor league stint in Utah.

He hit a game-winning home run in the semifinals of the 2000 Summer Olympics to help Team USA win its first gold medal in baseball, won a Gold Glove with the Minnesota Twins in 2001 and caught the final out of the 2004 World Series as the Boston Red Sox celebrated their first title in 86 years.

Mientkiewicz was later sued by the Red Sox for the return of the ball before reaching an agreement to have it displayed permanently at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"I'm glad that baseball's out of my hands," Mientkiewicz said. "I got death threats. I had people calling me on my cell phone, describing what my wife is wearing down to the make of her shoes, saying she's not coming home tonight.

"The ironic thing is, the (Red Sox) never asked for it. The first time heard about them asking for it was for a newpaper article I got set up for. It was a whole long and drawn out ordeal and I'm just glad it's over."

At least, he noted, it didn't end up like the final out of Boston's 2007 World Series win, which was reportedly chewed up by reliever Jonathan Papelbon's dog "Boss."

"Trust me. Papelbon's dog ate it? If I would have tried that, they would have lynched me," Mientkiewicz saids. "They would have hung me and the dog from the tree if I would have dropped that excuse."

Mientkiewicz doesn't regret being the one to catch the toss from Red Sox reliever Keith Foulke to first base to seal Boston's sweep of the Saint Louis Cardinals, though.

"That picture, I think I've signed 150,000 of those," he said. "It wasn't so much winning it as the way we won."

Mientkiewicz, who came to Boston in a four-team deal at midseason, played a part as the Red Sox rallied from a 3-0 deficit to New York in the American League Championship Series. After that, the World Series against was anticlimactic, he said.

"If a World Series can be boring, compared to what we went through the week before ... No disrespect to the Cardinals, they had a solid group, but after we beat the Yankees, with that team, the way we were playing ... I think we could have played them 15 straight times and we would have beat them 15 straight times. Our team was that good."

He only played in Boston for half a season, but it was the closest-knit team he's ever been a part of, Mientkiewicz said.

The lefty-hitting first baseman (he throws right) hit .271 over 12 major league seasons, hitting 66 home runs with 405 RBIs. A former high school teammate of Alex Rodriguez, he played for the Twins, Red Sox, Mets, Royals, Yankees, Pirates and Dodgers in his career.

Mientkiewicz had only played with one team for the first half of his career before the midseason trade in 2004 sent him to the Red Sox in time to be part of history.

His stay in Boston was brief, however, and he didn't stay with any team longer than a year over his last six seasons. A dislocated shoulder suffered with L.A. in 2009 essentially ended his career despite a brief minor league deal with Miami in 2010.

"The negative of bouncing around so much late in my career is a huge benefit now, being that I've had so many other hitting coaches," Mientkiewicz says.

He tried to learn from each and will keep his instructions to Ogden hitters simple.

"The thing we forget the most is just competing," he said. "I try to explain to them, you're 6 years old in the back yard playing waffle ball and you're trying to beat your best friend's butt. That's how I approach it. I don't get too mechanically involved."

In 2000, being sent back to the minors in Salt Lake after spending time in the big leagues the year before with the Twins wasn't a disappointment, Mientkiewicz said. He hadn't done well in Minnesota and the Twins had a glut of young players who weren't all going back to the majors, he said. And the Buzz had a great Pacific Coast League squad, hitting .312 as a team and going 90-53 with players like Torii Hunter, Todd Walker, A.J. Pierzynski and Casey Blake.

In Salt Lake, Mientkiewicz hit .334 with 18 home runs and 96 RBIs and was named to the PCL all-star team.

"Honestly, 2000 was probably the most enjoyable year of my baseball career," he said.

"And it kind of lit a fire back in me to go, you know what, I learned my lesson," he said.

Then the Olympics came around.

"Crazy. Insane. Probably the best three weeks I've ever played in my life. Everything I wanted to do happened," Mientkiewicz said.

"I remember at-bats where I can see it right now. I remember thinking, how have I elevated a side-arm pitcher before? Well, get an off-speed pitch and get out in front of it. Right when the pitch left his hand, I was like, oh my gosh -- game over."

He'll remember that home run against South Korea and the gold medal win over Cuba forever.

"It put me back on the map," he said. "It gave me confidence that if I never play baseball again the rest of my life, I've done something that no one can take away from me. To win a gold medal for your country, it doesn't get any better than that."

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