Back with Minnesota, rehabbed Mark Hamburger relishes moment

Updated: March 1, 2015, 11:10 AM ET
Associated Press

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AP Sports Writer

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With 61 players in spring training with the Minnesota Twins, the paths taken to major league camp are many.

Mark Hamburger's winding journey included a month in rehab.

"I don't believe in coincidences, so all that stuff that happened to me and even stuff that's going to continue to happen, whatever path I take I know that it's meant to happen," Hamburger said. "So I just try to live in the moment and try to let things come. If you try to push for things, it doesn't really work out as well. It's just letting them go."

The right-hander posted a 3.69 ERA in 70-plus innings last season, mostly with Triple-A Rochester after a promotion from Double-A New Britain. Hamburger is 28 now, well past the age of most prospects, but he has always been a late bloomer.

The 6-foot-4 Hamburger grew eight inches his senior year at Mounds View High School, a suburb about 10 miles north of Minneapolis, and didn't turn pro until he was 20 when the Twins signed him out of their annual tryout camp.

Traded to Texas in 2008, Hamburger made his major league debut with eight innings for the Rangers in 2011. But he was left off their 40-man roster the following year and bitterly bounced around the minors, getting let go by Texas and then San Diego and Houston, too. He turned to marijuana to deal with the frustration and after a second failed test was slapped with a 50-game suspension in early 2013.

Since he wasn't with a major league organization at the time, he didn't serve the punishment until last season after the Twins gave him another chance for 2014.

"He did a nice job for us in the minor leagues. He was a model citizen. He threw the ball pretty well," general manager Terry Ryan said. "He's changed his life and that's a good thing. Because he was headed in the wrong direction there for a while, like a lot of us. He did something about it, which was good."

Hamburger's velocity touched 98 mph last season. The fuel for his career these days isn't so much the fastball but that month he spent in 2013 after checking himself in to the Hazelden treatment center in Minnesota.

"I put myself in because I wanted to look good in the eyes of MLB. I wanted to show them that I wanted to make a change," Hamburger said this week, sitting in the Twins clubhouse. "Honestly, within my fourth day being in treatment, I kind of gave everything up to God. I just said, `I don't know if I'm going to play again. I don't know if this is going to be something that I continue, but whatever it is I don't want to continue down the path I'm on."

He lived with his parents that year and pitched for the independent league St. Paul Saints, hoping his opportunity for the majors would resurface but not banking on it.

"I was holding onto a lot of stuff from prior years, moneywise and stuff like that, and the expectation of being moved up to the majors in 2012. I had a lot of anger built up toward other people, versus looking at myself," Hamburger said. "So once I completely gave that up, I had the greatest time at Hazelden because I was in the moment. I was like, `Man, I'm here to better myself no matter what happens. If I don't make baseball again or if I'm in some other job, then I'm going to be a better person for it."

There's another factor in the motivation Hamburger has carried to camp: honoring the team's new bullpen coach.

Eddie Guardado, the All-Star closer in 2002 in 2003, was reacquired by the Twins in 2008 from Texas for late-season relief depth. Guess how they got him? For Hamburger.

Last week, Hamburger proudly reintroduced himself to Guardado, who was added to manager Paul Molitor's staff in November.

"I just went up to him and said, `Mark Hamburger,' and he's like, `Oh, hey!" Hamburger said, smiling widelly. "So it's really cool for me. He's `Everyday Eddie.' He's someone I grew up watching."

Hamburger was with Minnesota's rookie league affiliate, Elizabethton, at the time of the trade. He didn't feel worthy of it.

"The fact that I'm still playing, I think that's respectful to him because if a guy got traded for him in short season and a couple years later was done, that's a little shot to his legacy," Hamburger said. "I'm really happy I'm still doing it, because I'd really like to someday make a career out of it and for him to be like, `Man, that's the guy I got traded for."


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