Committing to school led to pro career for Perkins

Trevor Born

In January 2002, Gophers baseball coach John Anderson called Glen Perkins into his office.

A true freshman at the time, Perkins was a high school standout and expected to pitch a significant number of innings for the Gophers that spring.

But his first-semester grades made him academically ineligible to play, and when Anderson, a stickler for academics, saw that, he suspended him from all team activities.

“It didn’t look like he was committing to school,” Anderson said. “I suggested that this might not be the right place for him.”

Perkins, now a starting pitcher for the Twins, looks back at that day as one of the defining moments of his career.

“Not pitching that year was one of the best things that has ever happened to me,” Perkins said. “Not only did it help physically, giving my arm a rest, but I grew up a lot.”

After having no contact with the team for a month, Perkins returned to Anderson in February saying he had recommitted himself to school and was ready to be back playing baseball.

It paid off the next year when, as a redshirt freshman, Perkins went undefeated in the Big Ten and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and one of four collegiate freshman of the year.

“It would’ve been real easy for him to just say, ‘The hell with this. I’m going to go to junior college,’ or something and run away from his problems here,” Gophers pitching coach Todd Oakes said. “But to his credit, he decided to stick with it and got himself eligible, and then went out and had a fantastic year.”

Still, committed to schoolwork or not, the Gophers coaching staff knew that their star pitcher might not be with them long.

Perkins made it clear from his first day with the team that his goal was to play professional baseball, and that he wouldn’t let school get in the way.

After a dominant sophomore season, Perkins decided to forgo his final two years with the Gophers after being taken by the Twins with the 22nd overall pick in the draft and offered a $1,425,000 signing bonus.

“Glen’s a very driven individual and his focus has always been on playing pro ball,” Ricky Michel, Perkins’ coach at Stillwater High School, said. “I remember when we had this day baseball program for fifth- and sixth-graders, and as a fifth- or sixth-grader he told us, ‘I’m going to be a professional baseball player.’ At the time we kind of brushed it off and said, ‘OK, right, sure you are. You keep dreaming and working toward that,’ and that’s what he’s done.”

Perkins rose quickly through the Twins minor league system, and when he reached the big league club in September 2006, no one was more excited than Twins catcher Joe Mauer.

Mauer, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft in 2002, roomed with Perkins for the Lions Club High School All-Star Game after their senior year, and the two had kept in touch through Mauer’s friend and former Gopher Tony Leseman.

“It’s cool to see how it went from us in high school, sitting in a hotel room in Jordan, Minnesota, to being in the clubhouse together at the Metrodome,” Mauer said.

In a few stints with the team, Perkins is 2-2 with a 3.36 ERA. On May 25, he turned in one of the Twins’ top pitching performances of the year, holding the Detroit Tigers to one run over seven and two-thirds innings.

Perkins trains at the University’s Gibson-Nagurski complex during the winter, and stays in close contact with the Gophers coaching staff.

He credits much of his success to the Gophers program, and the day when he nearly had to walk away from it.

“All of the great stories have adversity and setbacks in them, and I think Glen was at the crossroads,” Anderson said. “Who knows, if he had left and went to a junior college, we’ll never know what would’ve happened.

“But the thing I’ll remember about Glen is that he was willing to change, and found out that he needed to grow up and understand that there’s life after baseball at some point,” he said. “So he recommitted himself and grew up and made himself into an outstanding pitcher.”