Twins' Goodrum has the ring, but glasses changed his game

FORT MYERS, FLA. — Only three players in Twins camp this spring own World Series rings, the ultimate prize in the sport, enshrining their role in winning a championship. Carlos Correa, of course, possesses that precious souvenir from the Astros' world title in 2017, and Christian Vázquez owns a pair of them, from the Red Sox in 2018 and the Astros in 2022.

The third training-camp Twin with such dazzling jewelry? Go ahead, ask him about his wonderfully vivid memories of that splendid October in 2022, the tense six-game showdown with the Phillies, the euphoric champagne shower in the clubhouse afterward, the victory parade through the streets of Houston

"Yeah, none of that," Niko Goodrum said, shaking his head. "I was home in Georgia. I blew out my hamstring in two places [while with Triple-A Sugar Land] in June. They wanted to bring me back, but it never stopped hurting."

The pain of that leg injury lasted well into the 2023 season. The pain of missing the Astros' championship run? It still hurts a little, too, though he does have that glittery ring to help soften the disappointment.

"You realize, oh wow, it's crazy how much they spend on these rings," Goodrum said, showing off a photo of his ring, with his name on the side and diamonds forming a giant Astros star in the middle. "They're huge. It's pretty cool. I just wish I could have helped a little more."

He made the Astros in spring training, but got off to a terrible start, hitting just .116, and was sent down in mid-May.

Now the veteran utilityman — he's played mostly shortstop and second base during his career, but can handle all three outfield spots as well — would like to earn another championship ring with a franchise he was once pretty sure would get there. Drafted by the Twins in the second round in 2010, Goodrum came up through the minor leagues as a teammate of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sanó, Max Kepler, Taylor Rogers, José Berríos, Eddie Rosario and Tyler Duffey, each of whom reached Target Field in the mid-2010s.

"We were basically one class, all together coming up," said Goodrum, who will turn 32 on Wednesday. "There was so much talent in that group, we all thought we'd stay together and be great" in the major leagues.

Didn't happen, for a variety of reasons, and Goodrum was the first to depart. He earned a September call-up in 2017, but with the Twins fighting for a wild-card spot, he only started three games all month and rarely got more than one at-bat. He went 1-for-17 and was released at season's end.

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It turned out to be a blessing, when he signed a week later with the Tigers, then played 243 games for them over the next two seasons, hitting 28 home runs and stealing 24 bases. But then injuries and the pandemic began nibbling at his career. A finger tendon frayed while diving, a groin injury sustained while running the bases. And that disastrous hamstring blowout, which had him still limping nearly a year later.

"The last few years have been brutal," Goodrum said. "That's why I'm so excited to be back here."

He spent three months with Boston's Class AAA team last year, but when he posted an .888 OPS and still didn't get called up, he opted out and finished the season playing in Korea. When the Twins called with a minor-league contract in December, he jumped at the chance to return to his home country — and his original team.

"I remember watching his videos as a high-school player" while serving as an amateur scout for the Rays, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "I can't even count how many times I've seen him play over the years. He's proven to be a pretty good bat from the right side of the plate, especially against left-handed pitching, a guy who can play different positions. Anyone who knows our club knows that's something that can fit us."

Particularly if Goodrum's game has transformed as much as he believes. Though his time in the Red Sox organization was a disappointment, "I made something good out of it," Goodrum said. "I got glasses."

After noticing he couldn't read the nameplates on his teammates' lockers, Goodrum had his eyes examined and began wearing glasses during games. It's been a revelation, he said.

"Standing in the box, trying to pick up the spin on a slider, or 100-mph fastballs? It helped a lot," he said. Goodrum's walk rate skyrocketed to 23% with the Worcester Red Sox. "I drew 66 walks in 65 games, and had only 60 strikeouts. It's a whole new approach for me."