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Twins' bullpen catcher and MACCRAY alum Dammann to catch Home Run Derby

Nate Dammann feels like he’s been living a baseball dream since 2007.

The dream is about to get even better.

Dammann, a 2000 MACCRAY graduate and the Minnesota Twins’ bullpen catcher for eight years, will catch the American League’s entrants in tonight’s Home Run Derby at Target Field. On Tuesday, he’ll be in the bullpen catching pitchers warming up for Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Dammann said. “I wish I could watch the game as a fan, just sit in the stands. But this will be cool.”

The AL team, led by captain Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays, includes the Twins’ Brian Dozier, Baltimore’s Adam Jones, Oakland’s Josh Donaldson and his A’s teammate Yoenis Cespedes, the defending Derby champion.

Each hitter chooses who will pitch to them so Dammann goes from catching familiar arms in the Twins’ bullpen to catching a variety of pitchers in the Home Run Derby, including Dozier’s brother, Clay.

Dammann will talk to each of the hitters’ chosen pitchers to get a feel for what they want him to do, but for the most part he’ll keep it simple.

“Set up right down the middle and close the glove,” Dammann said. “Stay out of the way.”

Dammann’s been right in the middle of the Twins’ on-field, day-to-day activities since 2007.

After high school, Dammann played football and baseball at Hamline University and graduated in 2004. The education major was working as a substitute teacher when he learned from former Twins star and broadcaster Dan Gladden that the team was interviewing for a bullpen catcher. Dammann got the job beginning in the 2007 season.

His duties include preparing the field for batting practice, shagging balls and then throwing about an hour of BP. He catches off-day pitchers who are scheduled to throw bullpen sessions, and during games he warms up relievers preparing to enter games. He travels with the team to do the same during road games. After the Twins won two of three against Colorado over the weekend, Dammann got back to his St. Paul home by about 10:30 p.m. on Sunday.

In the last few years, his job description has grown to include assisting minor league coaches in the Instructional League and in the last four years he’s worked at the Twins Academy in the Dominican Republic, coaching minor league players.

But he’s aware that the road ahead in MLB is a tough one to negotiate. The Twins have lost more than 90 games the three previous seasons and they are 44-50 at the break this year. Shakeups come often when teams have sustained losing skids and new managers usually bring in their own staff members.

“It’s a process,” Dammann said. “It’s different when you’re winning championships and things are going well. I’ve been in this eight years and you don’t get where you want to be in eight years. I don’t know where this is going to lead and it can take a long time in baseball. That’s why I’m Gardy’s (Twins manager Ron Gardenhire) biggest fan.”

And it’s why he takes pride in his accomplishments and special events like an All-Star Game.

MLB usually gives the first crack at bullpen duties to the World Series champion, but Boston’s bullpen catcher preferred the days off. Dammann had made some calls to let MLB know he was interested and they contacted him about a month ago with the offer.

“Major League Baseball asked, and I said yes,” Dammann said. “I told them if nobody was doing it that I’d gladly do it.”

In addition to his catching duties, Dammann will throw BP during the American League team’s workouts. He will be available for Dozier during the Home Run Derby in a pinch.

“(Dozier) told me, ‘If I wanted to win, I’d pick you’” Dammann said with a laugh. “But we’ll get out there and see how his brother does. It’s tough out there, standing all by yourself. But I’m sure he’ll do fine and (Brian) wants his brother to be part of the experience.”

While the festivities and game will keep him busy, Dammann has lined up tickets so family members and in-laws can attend events and the game. But as much fun as it all will be, it’s what happens after the break that occupies a lot of his thoughts.

“We had a bad streak there where if we would have played .500 we’d be in good shape,” he said. “But we’re 44-50 at the break and we haven’t been in that good a position in the last three years. We’re home for about two weeks after the break so if we get on a nice run here, I think we’ll be OK.”

Tom Larson

Tom Larson is the sports editor of the West Central Tribune.

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