The 25 players the Twins are bringing to Toronto for Friday's season opener are not only their best baseball players but good citizens as well, general manager Bill Smith said Wednesday.
Solid character, Smith said, is paramount for the Twins.
"Critical," Smith said from Atlanta, where the Twins on Wednesday defeated the Braves to complete their spring training schedule.
"At what point do you sell your soul to the devil to bring in a good player who you know isn't a good teammate?" Smith said. "We don't want to risk losing a lot of the positives that we have built up over the years in this organization. It's who we are and who we believe in. We want good players, but we want good people."
That's the approach throughout the Twins system, Smith said.
"Our scouts do a tremendous job in the process of finding players and getting to know players," he said. "Not only your regular players, but your bench players. All those things on the field are important, but a lot of times it's players' character and makeup off the field and in the dugout as teammates that helps them become successful on the field."
The Twins researched Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka extensively before signing him to a three-year contract last winter, Smith said.
"How is he going to fit on our ballclub?" he said. "All the questions we asked came back with a thumbs up that he would be a good teammate, a good member of this organization. We're thrilled about that."
On the field this spring, Nishioka has fit in well. Smith said the second baseman is the fastest player on the club and a strong defensive player.
"We knew that he was Gold Glove-caliber," he said. "And, maybe most importantly, he has become a good teammate. I give him credit, his interpreter credit and our players — who welcomed him into our organization from the first day — credit.
"We want one team of 25 players, not 24 plus one. Nishioka has personality, some flair, some charm, a sense of humor, and he can run like crazy. He can do a lot of things.
"And he has worked very hard to fit into the club. I think we've got the right mix of players to welcome him on board."
Smith said he received a letter from a fan of the Twins' Class AA New Britain (Conn.) team that pleased him.
"He brought his family down to spring training and sent us a note about one of our minor league players who went out of his way to sit down and talk with the kids," Smith said. "One of the kids had missed (top pitching prospect) Kyle Gibson to get his autograph. Our guy said, 'I'll get that for you.' He took the kid's cards and got them autographed.
"We always encourage our players, especially with children, to find a cause that's close to them and to get involved. A lot of our guys do fundraising events that are centered around children to benefit children. Our guys, to a man, are very accountable to representing our organization extremely well."
Bravo. Too many people in professional sports aren't willing to send their bad actors into exile and tolerate ridiculous behavior in hopes of winning championships. The message is not lost on society...