REUSSE COLUMN: Willians Astudillo might be gone from Twins, but he absolutely won’t be forgotten
Astudillo brought hundreds of smiles in fewer than 100 games for the Twins from 2018 through 2020.
MINNEAPOLIS — He was the Minnesota Twins' one-man protest to the current marathon version of big league baseball, which years ago succeeded in turning away casual followers, and is now working overtime to do the same with us hardcores.
In this game of three true outcomes, strikeout, walk or home run, he offered one true outcome: If a pitch was within reach, even marginally, he was going to do his all to put it in play.
In the midst of the surge of this worldwide enemy, the COVID-19 catastrophe of 2020, when the big league schedule was reduced to 60 games and there was no minor league play, he headed back home to Venezuela and played the full 40-game winter schedule, plus playoffs, plus the Caribbean World Series, for league champion Caribes.
Willians Astudillo is a Spanish speaker from Barcelona, Venezuela, but with his "Fun is Good" attitude toward baseball he could be a great nephew to Bill Veeck Jr. from Chicago.
Astudillo brought hundreds of smiles in fewer than 100 games for the Twins from 2018 through 2020, and then even he could do little to change the dreary vibe that surrounded the 2021 Twins — perceived contenders to 73-89.
We became so grumpy that even Astudillo, the beloved La Tortuga (The Turtle), was having his presence on the roster questioned. Previously, it had been hilarious that in many of the Turtle's professional seasons (starting in 2009), he reached base more frequently on hit by pitches than walks.
That was the case again in 216 plate appearances for the 2021 Twins, four HBPs and three walks, but when the batting average fell to .236 … well, that .259 on-base percentage made what happened Friday inevitable:
Astudillo, 30 last month, was dropped from the 40-player roster to make room for prospects.
Once he clears waivers Monday, the Twins could offer a minor league contract. In truth, they no longer see him as a third catcher, which means little chance for him to make it back to the big leagues here.
Thus, he's likely gone, but long to be remembered. What he did, this man in which the joy of swinging a bat overwhelmed any good intentions for patience, was go from myth to mythical in his short time in Minnesota.
He had spent nine years in the minors when signed by the Twins as a minor league free agent on Nov. 25, 2017. "Who's this guy?" we asked when he appeared on the list of spring training invitees.
A week into spring training, that still was the question. He had trouble with paperwork and was a late arrival in Fort Myers.
It was quite a sight when he showed up: Short, wide, round face, wild hair, looking like a backup catcher for the Midway Snurdbirds.
Then came the March 14 home exhibition with the Yankees: Astudillo was catching and picked off the Yankees' Shane Robertson with a no-look throw to first base.
That was it: Love at first oddity.
Followed by a major league debut on June 30, 2018, at Wrigley Field, maybe the hottest day I've ever experienced in a big league park. Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Bobby Wilson all leaving with heat exhaustion, and Astudillo finished his first career game as the most unlikely center fielder in six decades of Twins baseball.
The internet has an amazing number of Astudillo clips considering his limited big league action. My second favorite comes from Venezuela:
La Tortuga takes a mighty swing, winds up on one knee, rests that way with his right arm on top of the bat waiting to see where this home run blast finishes, and then makes an insane trip around the bases.
Numero uno on the all-time list remains Astudillo's hair-flying race from first-to-home on Max Kepler's seventh-inning double vs. the Yankees on Sept. 12, 2018, at Target Field.
That is the GIF that stands as La Tortuga's gift to the world, as well as a video that Deadspin's Chris Thompson described thusly (salty adjectives removed):
" … True Hero Willians Astudillo hoofed it around the bases like a man being chased by a large predator."
And where was Astudillo this past week, when getting the news of his Twins departure? Playing for Caribes, of course. If there was a La Tortuga business card, it would read, "Have Bat, Will Swing."
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