Dammann in third season as Twins' bullpen catcher
MINNEAPOLIS - As the clock hits 6:22 p.m. on the clubhouse wall inside the Minnesota Twins locker room, Nate Dammann begins to walk downstairs to Metrodome dugout to prepare for that night's game.
"If it's a night game, I always go downstairs to the dugout at exactly 6:22," Dammann said by telephone on Monday. "I'm very superstitious."
There's nosignificance to the time. It's not a favorite number of his or anything like that. It's just a time he started leaving the clubhouse and now he makes it a point to leave at that time every night. You know how ballplayers are.
"I have to go to the bathroom in the second inning, even if I don't really have to go," Dammann continued about his superstitions. "And I have to sit by Steve Liddle (the Twins' bench coach) in the bottom of the second inning. "I can't tell you why that is either, but it's something I do every game. Then I make my way out to the bullpen."
Dammann, a 2000 graduate of MACCRAY High School, is in his third season as the Twins' bullpen catcher. He has an array of duties on game day and is still in shock that he has this job with the organization.
"I still can't believe I'm doing what I'm doing," he said. "I think about it every day. I remind myself that it could be over any day so I just try to do my job. I'm always telling my fiance (Katie Andresen, a 1998 graduate of MACCRAY) that I can't believe I get to go here or there. She just rolls her eyes."
Dammann is third on the Tribune area's all-time hit list with 105 while playing for MACCRAY. He went on to play four years of baseball and football at Hamline University. While helping out with a baseball camp at Hamline, he met former Twins outfielder and current Twins broadcaster Dan Gladden, who was also helping with the camp. Gladden urged Dammann to apply for the Twins' vacant bullpen coach position.
Dammann got the job in 2007 and has warmed up every pitcher the Twins have had during that time, including Joe Nathan, Matt Garza, Scott Baker and R.A. Dickey.
"I enjoy it a lot," said Dammann. "I get to travel with the team and I have a good seat for every game."
If the Twins are playing a night game at home, Dammann's day begins like most any other job.
"If it's a night game I can sleep in," he said. "Then I get up, read the paper, maybe eat something and then head to park around 1 p.m. I live in St. Paul and it's only a five-minute drive to the stadium."
Once he's inside the locker room, Dammann dresses, grabs something to eat and then looks to see who has bullpen sessions that day.
"Generally, there are two starting pitchers that need to throw down in the bullpen to keep loose for their upcoming start," Dammann explained. "I'll go and talk to them to see when they want to throw."
Then he goes downstairs to get baseballs ready for batting practice.
At 2:30 p.m., he catches in the bullpen for an hour, then shags balls in the outfield during batting practice for another hour, then throws an hour of batting practice. He returns to the locker room for a pre-game meal.
Once the game as started and Dammann and others are down in the bullpen, there isn't a lot going on as pitchers wait to see if they will be asked to get loose.
"There's not a lot of joking around or anything," he said. "We'll talk about the other teams and players. Things like that."
Some of the pitchers are superstitious, too. They can't throw in the bullpen until (bullpen coach) Rick Stelmazek hands them the ball first.
"They won't get the ball themselves," laughed Dammann. "They have to wait until he hands it to them before they can begin to loosen up. Or if we've lost a few in a row, we'll get a new rosin bag and see if that has a few wins in it."
Reserve catcher Mike Redmond keeps things loose in the clubhouse and the bullpen.
"He's been around so he knows what to say and when to say it," Dammann said. "He keeps a close eye on me to make sure I'm okay. He's sort of taken me under his wing."
Among the current pitchers on the staff, Dammann said Joe Nathan has the nastiest overall stuff, in terms of different pitches. Matt Guerrier, he said, has the best curveball. Nathan has the best slider.
And the hardest to catch? There's little doubt that would be veteran right-hander R.A. Dickey, a knuckleballer.
"He was the first professional knuckleballer I caught," said Dammann. "It wasn't very easy at first ... it still isn't. But I'm getting more used to it now."
Dickey brought two oversized catcher's mitts with him when the Twins acquired him this season. Knuckleball pitchers generally supply catchers with mitts to help them catch the pitches that are sometimes like trying to chase a butterfly in the wind.
When Dammann would play catch with Dickey in spring training, he would have to wear his mask.
"I didn't know where the ball was going and it would almost hit my face every time," he explained. "So I wore a mask. Some of the guys on the team got a kick out of that. I don't have to wear one now, though."
Because the Twins don't have an enclosed bullpen area, Dammann has to be extra careful when catching Dickey so a pitch doesn't get away and go onto the playing field during a game.
"I know that his pitch moves a lot more inside the Metrodome or when it's at a place where it's humid," Dammann said. "I still get a little nervous when he is called to warm up. But once he's in the game, I know I don't have to catch him anymore."
Dammann enjoys traveling with the team on road trips.
"I think my favorite place to go was Chicago (Wrigley Field) when we played the Cubs," he said. "I like California a lot, too."
The Twins seem to have confidence in Dammann's abilitiy and his knowledge of the game. They sent him to the instructional league in Fort Myers, Fla., to help. And they also sent him to the Dominican Republic for two weeks to work with players.
"I'd like to coach some day," he admitted. "Whether it's with the Twins or somewhere else. I think this job has helped me at least get my foot in the door."
There will be a lot of changes by next season for Dammann. The Twins will move into a new outdoor stadium and he will be getting married in November.
And when he decides to have children, he should have an advantage over other parents when trying to round them up for a bath. After all, he's been chasing Dickey's pitches around all season.