|In the 2003-04 Major League Baseball off-season, there were plenty of earth-shaking developments.
The biggest quake came when the New York Yankees acquired Alex Rodriguez, a move that shook baseball to its core. The A-Rod rattler spawned aftershocks so strong in Boston, Fenway Park almost turned to rubble.
Meanwhile, in Minnesotawhere off-season acquisitions rarely move the earththe Twins signed unknown free agent catcher Henry Blanco, who is barely a household name in his own house.
The Blanco deal didn't register on the MLB Richter Scale, caused no grief in Kansas City or Chicago and got scant attention in the Twin Cities.
However, when the season started, Blanco made a name for himself by shaking up the AL Central with torrid hitting in the season's opening weeks. Blanco cooled a bit in late April, but still had a .263 average with three home runs and 10 RBI in the Twins first 21 games. Meanwhile, a hyped up $252 million third baseman known as A-Rod, was batting .253 with three home runs and six RBI in the Yankees first 21 games.
I wasn't expecting it to be big news, Blanco said of his signing with the Twins. I'm one of those guys who just shows up to the park ready to play and win some games. So far it's been fun. They [teammates] kid me that I have more home runs than Jim Thome and am hitting better than A-Rod. It's early in the season and I don't know why they compare me with those guys. They can hit better than I do, but so far everything's going pretty good.
Blanco, of course, was supposed to be nothing more than catching insurancean experienced backup to occasionally spell the Twins young phenom, Joe Mauer.
But when Mauer suffered a knee injury in game two against Cleveland, and Matthew LeCroy injured his ribs in game three against the Indians, Blanco had a job. Henry-who? stepped in and produced, causing Twins fans from Warroad to Winona to take notice of his sizzling start.
The secret is, I work hard and give everything I have, Blanco said. I give 100 percent every night and when I don't play, I'm ready just in case somebody needs me. I think sometimes you need to have some guys that have some experience. I think this was the best team for me to sign with.
He's really contributed in the short amount of the season so far, said Twins General Manager Terry Ryan. Hopefully he will keep it up, but I don't think anybody could have predicted he'd start hitting home runs at the pace he is. You've gotta give credit to Henry. He's gotten to play a lot more and he's doing something.
The Twins expected Blanco to contribute defensively, but didn't expect this much pop from his bat. Last season in Atlanta, Blanco batted just .199 with one home run and 13 RBI. In 2002, he hit only .204 for the Braves with six home runs and 22 RBI. In 2001, Blanco had a meager .210 average for Milwaukee with six home runs and 31 RBI.
The only sign that Blanco might produce offensively came when he played winter ball in his home country of Venezuela.
I kept getting reports all winter that Blanco's catching every day and he's leading the league in home runs down there, said Ryan. So it's carried over some. He's just getting a chance to play.
Said Blanco: I did pretty good, I had 11 home runs and drove in 51 RBI in just 2 1/2 months.
Still, no one expected Blanco to outhit A-Rod in April, especially his teammates, who gave him the moniker, Hammerin' Hank.
Before this season, Blanco was best known as Greg Maddux's catching caddy in Atlanta. When Blanco went to the Braves in 2002, he caught games when Maddux pitched, giving him a firsthand look at a future hall of fame pitcher.
He's one of the greatest pitchers in the major leagues right now, Blanco said of Maddux, who has 290 career wins and four ERA titles. Everybody knows what he can do on the mound and all that kind of stuff. I think what makes him so special is he's a
gentleman inside and outside the clubhouse. He's a professor. I don't know how he does it. He's studied a lot of guys, a lot of hitters and that's what's made him so successful.
I think he was back there because Maddux was comfortable with him, Ryan said. They seemed to be on the same page.
Like most good tandems, this duo eventually split up. Maddux signed with the Chicago Cubs and Blanco chose the Twins over two other teams. If they want to see each other this year, it will have to be in the World Series, a reunion that Cubs and Twins fans would love to see.