Nick Punto is the Twins third baseman, earning the job last year with a .290 batting average, 73 runs and 17 stolen bases. Known for his grit and hustle, he along with several teammates were nicknamed "piranhas" by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen last season in the midst of the pennant race. Punto has started 2007 on the wrong foot with a .132 batting average but looks to turn it around soon.
Q: Last season was your breakout year. You have mentioned Rod Carew helping you change the mechanics of your swing. What was the story behind that?
A: It was just a matter of changing my elbow slot. We lowered that. And also just trying to put the ball in play more. I think it just gave me a chance to put a more level swing on the ball at a more consistent rate. I also looked to draw more walks and get on base anyway I can with Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer hitting behind me.
Q: It's only the second week of the season, but how are you feeling about your performance so far in 2007?
A: I'm struggling a little bit, but it's early. It's not something I'm worried about. It'll come.
Nick Punto is known for his grit and hustle. Photo/Minnesota Twins
Q: Up until last year you played primarily shortstop your whole career. Was there much of an adjustment moving to third full-time?
A: It's a pretty similar position. You're still getting the same angles because you're on the left side of the field. You're getting the same look off the bats. The main difference would be the reaction time. It's just a little quicker.
Q: Last season White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen dubbed you and some of your teammates the piranhas. Is there anything in particular that gives this Twins team great chemistry?
A: The character of the guys in the clubhouse, that's what makes our chemistry. We have guys who handle themselves the right way, who are very professional. We all feed off that. It's tough to have an arrogant attitude in this clubhouse because we'll put you in place.
Q: You were in the new Twins commercial with Jason Bartlett that takes place in the aquarium that plays on the piranhas theme. What was filming that commercial like?
A: I'll be honest with you, it was a little scary. There were a couple stingrays in there. I'm not a big fan of that species.
Q: I read that you were able to get down in the water to the camera angle right away but it took Bartlett awhile to get next to you?
A: Bartlett was floating and I was sinking. And it was a 30-second shoot. It's not a long time but when you have a glove on, spikes and a full uniform, it seems like forever down there.
Q: One of last season's stories was about you making a slushy every game for Justin Morneau. Is that still going on this season?
A: Oh yeah. 6 o'clock everyday.
Q: How did this ritual begin?
A: He's a superstitious baseball player, to say the least. One day he hit a couple home runs when I made him a slushy. It's history from there. The slushy is made with Mountain Dew and either purple or red slushy.
Q: Are you superstitious?
A: I'm really not. I like routines. Some people call routines superstitions. I don't think it's superstition.
Nick Punto looks to get back to his 2006 production. Photo/Minnesota Twins
It doesn't have to be real precise, but I like to go down at 6:45 and stretch. I also like to jump in the hot tub (shortly after arriving at the ball park). Things like that. I do things on a schedule.
Q: You see a lot of press on player's heights like World Series MVP David Eckstein and even yourself. Behind the scenes in baseball, how much does height matter?
A: It definitely matters on getting drafted. It's a lot easier to get drafted if you're 6-2, 220, than 5-9, 180. The good thing about baseball is that you can still get a chance whether you're big or small. Once you get inside professional baseball, height doesn't matter. It's just your skills.
Q: The other thing mentioned a lot in the press is hustle. How important is it to be a grinder in order to go out and win a starting job in the bigs?
A: Well I have to. I've always had to fight my way up the ranks. Each year was a fight to get to the next level. And that's the way I play - hard. I have to hustle and do all the little things because I'm not going to hit the home runs.
Q: Besides the White Sox, Cleveland and Detroit all look to be contenders in the AL Central this season. As a team, do you pay any more attention to them or just worry about your opponent tonight like the Devil Rays?
A: The old clich holds true, take one game at a time. Especially in this division, anybody can win. Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago are all tough. It's going to be a dogfight all year.
TREVOR WILLIAMS, sports copy editor, may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5866.
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