Return of the Real Deal: Twins' Durbin vows to bring swagger back
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- J.D. Durbin is a human energy drink, a fast-talking, bold, brash right-handed pitcher for the Minnesota Twins who will never be accused of being passive.
Last season, though, he lost a little bit of his swagger.
"I'm not real comfortable with being that quiet, mellow guy. I've got to be myself and have that attitude about me," said Durbin, one of the game's top prospects who was named Minnesota's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2002 and debuted with the Twins last September.
Durbin, 23, acquired the nickname "Real Deal" just minutes after his professional baseball career began. Proudly returning to the dugout after a successful first inning in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Durbin turned to a teammate and said, "See, I told you I was the real deal."
That was the summer of 2000, shortly after Minnesota drafted him in the second round out of Coronado High School in Arizona. Since, Durbin has risen through the organization and is ready to establish himself as a big-league starter.
Even if there doesn't appear to be room for him, at least right now.
"I'm going to make you send me back to the minor leagues," Durbin said. "I'm going to make you say, 'Hey, we don't really want to do it, but we have to just because we don't have a roster spot."
That sounds like the Durbin the Twins are used to.
"I'm a loud person myself," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "As long as he doesn't irritate the person around him and kind of bother people with some of his stuff."
At the encouragement of the coaching staff, veterans Torii Hunter and Joe Mays each pulled Durbin aside last spring and told him, well, to shut up.
Minnesota has long been a low-profile team without big-name players and the egos that go with it, and some of his antics were starting to chafe certain people in the clubhouse.
Durbin heeded the advice, and he just wasn't the same when he got called up in September -- he made four appearances, including one start.
"He didn't talk a lot, he didn't joke a lot," pitching coach Rick Anderson said.
It seems Durbin was just a bit misunderstood before.
"Now that I've got to know him, I know he's a good kid," Hunter said. "What I told him last year -- throw it out the window. Be yourself, man, be yourself. If that's the way you can pump yourself up to play this game, if you've been pitching well in the minor leagues just being cocky ... don't change for nobody."
"If you're not yourself, you're not going to have success," Anderson said, "but you've got to learn how to grow up and use your enthusiasm. Channel it in the right way, know when to talk and when to not.
"Look at Santana. He'll screw around and have the best time of anyone, but when it's time to get after a drill or throw a pen there's no screwing around."
He is cocky, yes, but Durbin is lauded for his caring nature and his sincerity. During a recent interview, he made sure a reporter's recorder was ready before beginning to talk. During breaks in workouts, he's consistently asking teammates if they need water.
"He's serious, no doubt about it," Hunter said.
Durbin has also received high marks for his hustle, his attention to detail and his willingness to work overtime. During spring training games, pitchers are allowed to leave after the fifth inning if they've already thrown or aren't scheduled to that day.
"He stayed the whole game and just sat," Anderson said, "for about a week."
Durbin still has plenty to learn, and an injury-free spring by Twins pitchers will probably send him to Triple-A Rochester. Prospect Scott Baker, veteran C.J. Nitkowski and Rule 5 pick Ryan Rowland-Smith -- who must be sent back to Seattle's farm system if he doesn't make Minnesota's opening day roster -- are also pushing for spots. But Durbin is probably the first one who steps in if somebody gets hurt or falters.
"A lot of people in this organization feel right now he's ready to pitch in the big leagues if we need him," Gardenhire said. "If things don't go the way we expect, he's got a good chance."
That's what Real Deal wants to hear.
"Now I've got to live up to that," Durbin said.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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