FORT MYERS, Fla. — I want to introduce you to a pretty-obscure relief pitcher for the Twins — even though you really can’t miss him.
His name is Loek Van Mil (first name is pronounced “Luke”). He’s 7-foot-1, and when the Twins signed him in 2005, he became the tallest player in baseball. Now, after being protected from the Rule 5 Draft by being placed on the 40-man roster this offseason, the 25-year-old right-hander is in Spring Training camp with the Twins.
Van Mil — a childhood friend of Dutch pitchers Rick VandenHurk (Marlins) and Alexander Smit (Reds), whom he grew up within 20 minutes from — speaks fluent German, English and Dutch, and he can hold a conversation in French and Spanish. I joked with him after his workout on Wednesday that I wanted to do the interview in Latin. Not surprisingly, he said, “I can only speak a little bit of Latin.”
Anyway, Van Mil (he would be the tall guy to your right here) impressed in the Twins’ high A and Double-A affiliates in 2009, posting a 2.79 ERA in 33 games. They say an in-season call-up would be most likely for Van Mil. Regardless, the Twins could eventually have a bullpen that features the 7-foot-1 Van Mil and the 6-foot-11 Jon Rauch.
I don’t care how much basketball they’ve played in their lives, they’re running with me.
And here’s a Q&A on my chat with him …
What do you think of having the distinction of being the tallest player in baseball?
Honestly, I don’t really care about it. If I’m just one of the guys, that’s fine with me. … But I take my advantages from it. It’s pretty hard not to, I guess, as a pitcher. It’s what brought me here. I think if I was 6-foot [tall], I wouldn’t be here. They would’ve found a 6-foot American.
So, if you’re not 7-foot-1, you’re not in the Majors right now?
[The Twins] definitely scouted me on potential. I wasn’t a very polished player when I signed. So, all they had was really my potential. Now it’s just up to me to get to that potential. But I think they definitely scouted me on my height at first. And then they started looking at my athleticism, how many injuries I was likely to have. … But I do think my height has gotten me here.
Talk about some of those advantages to being so tall.
The angle that I throw. The ball comes from higher, so it goes from high to low. It’s a different view for a hitter. My step is bigger, so I’m closer to the plate. Once I let go of the ball, I’m about a foot closer than you would be, or than a 6-footer would be. Plus, I like to think it’s kind of intimidating.
There must be some disadvantages, too, right? Like, fielding a bunt?
I like to think I don’t have too much of a problem with it, but obviously it is a little bit. I obviously have a disadvantage [compared to] a 5-foot-5 guy who’s right there on the ground. Sprinting to first base might be a disadvantage because the first step is kind of slower. It’s the same for every tall guy. You’re faster in long distance than short distance. But I can’t remember being late at first base ever, so I’m fine with that.
What about some of those disadvantages in everyday life?
Outside of baseball, you have a lot of disadvantages — finding clothes, ducking the doors, the hotel beds are too small, stuff like that. People say annoying stuff about it, which I don’t really care about as much.
They just come up to you, and they’re kind of rude about it. … They’re trying to be funny, but I have company, or I’m on the phone or something, and somebody just starts pulling your sleeve. They want to ask how tally ou are, they kind of measure you. But I’d probably ask you, if I was 6-foot and you were 7 feet, how tall you are.