Batista reports to Twins camp

Batista a welcome addition to Twins camp

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With several reporters gathered around Tony Batista's locker, Ron Gardenhire came barreling along to split the throng of media members Friday morning like a well-thrown bowling ball going through pins.

The Twins manager was eager to greet his new veteran slugger, who showed up in the Minnesota clubhouse with rosy visions of what his encore performance in the Major Leagues could be like after a year in the Japanese Pacific League.

"Welcome here. We'll have some fun," Gardenhire said after offering Batista a warm hug.

If Batista picks up in his power game where he left off with Montreal in 2004, the good times could indeed roll at the Metrodome. The Twins generally pitched well but were an offensively challenged club in 2005, which spelled the end of their three-year reign as American League Central Division champions. Along comes Batista, who has hit 26 or more homers in each of the last four seasons.

Before signing a two-year, $15 million contract to play in Japan, Batista hit 32 homers with 110 RBIs for the Expos in '04. He finished at .263 with 27 homers and 90 RBIs for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks last year, but the club decided to go younger this season. That provided an opening for the Twins to swoop in Dec. 15 and sign Batista to a low-risk deal that could potentially translate into high rewards. Batista still gets all his money from Japan and the Twins get a proven run producer to help bolster their attack.

"Back to the Major Leagues," said Batista, a deeply religious man. "It's going to be exciting. God opened the door for me again to be here on this level."

Batista offered compliments regarding the pitching he faced in Japan last year.

"The pitching there compares pretty good," Batista said. "Almost the same. They just don't challenge as much as they challenge here. They throw more breaking balls on 3-1 [counts]. Sometimes they throw a slider on 3-0. They prefer walking a guy to giving up a base hit."

Batista made it clear he wanted to finish the two-year contract he signed with Fukuoka. But Batista said the team wants to create an opportunity for a younger player, and Batista's mission is to be a regular.

"I'm just going to put my uniform on, practice, play every day and get better," Batista said.

Batista made the early morning rounds in the clubhouse wearing blue jeans and a short-sleeve white shirt. He then headed for the equipment room and returned with jersey No. 77, his number in Japan last year.

"I like No. 7, but somebody had it here and somebody had it over there," Batista said. "So, I take No. 77."

Batista acknowledges that weight reduction will be an issue for him during Spring Training. Hard work coupled with a broiling Florida sun should help him achieve the weight he wants by Opening Day.

"I want to play at 205 and right now I'm 215 or 220," Batista said. "The same Tony Batista you saw for eight years in the Major Leagues ... you're going to see it this year."

If that happens, Gardenhire and the Twins will be delighted. At 32, Batista doesn't have the range at third base that he once had and he's not a guy the Twins can expect to draw a lot of walks. But Gardenhire said Batista potentially brings a lot to the table, both offensively and defensively.

"You read his bubble gum card and those numbers jump out at you," Gardenhire said. "Those two-out home runs sometimes can break a team's back, and he's the kind of guy who can do that."

For now, it's Batista's job to lose at third base.

"Everybody knows his range isn't as good as when he was younger, and that's to be expected," Gardenhire said. "All we ever ask here is that you catch the balls you are supposed to catch and get the outs you are supposed to get.

"Hopefully, this will work out. The general manager (Terry Ryan) is confident this can help us. I'm going with him. He has been pretty good with all his other decisions and we're excited to have Tony in this camp."

Robert Falkoff is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.