FORT MYERS — Glenn Williams doesn’t feel cheated.
The Minnesota Twins infielder doesn’t feel slighted, wronged or unlucky that after more than 11 years in the minor leagues, his big chance was cut short by a separated shoulder.
Everything was coming up aces last summer for Williams, a native of Gosford, Australia. He made his major league debut with the Twins on June 7 and recorded a single in his first at-bat, a pinch-hit appearance against Shawn Estes in Arizona.
Thirteen games later, Williams was hitting .425 in 40 at-bats, and carrying a 13-game hitting streak. Williams was providing the Twins with exactly what they were looking for — production from the third base slot.
Maybe there really was something to the Aussie wunderkind the Atlanta Braves inked and sent to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 1994 at age 17.
“If Mr. Ryan and Gardy didn’t put their necks out and give the guy that everyone thought was washed up a chance to play, none of that would have happened,” Williams said of Twins general manager Terry Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire.
“When we brought him up last year, it was a very special moment for him,” Gardenhire said. “He was playing so well when he got hurt last year.”
Less than a month into his big-league career, the aces dried up. Williams separated his right shoulder diving back into first base, and on July 1 he was placed on the disabled list. Williams didn’t play again and had surgery to repair a torn labrum on Sept. 14.
Now 28, he finds himself in another difficult position as a non-roster invitee to this spring’s camp. The Twins signed free-swinging Tony Batista during the offseason to play third base, and have Michael Cuddyer (penciled in as the starting right fielder) and Terry Tiffee — two capable players already on the 40-man roster — that have played third.
Batista has rebounded from a slow start this spring, getting his average up to .286 and slugging three home runs entering Wednesday night’s game. To further cloud the picture, both Tiffee (.359 with seven RBIs) and Cuddyer (.500 with two home runs and six RBIs) have been red-hot this spring.
Not that any of that is discouraging Williams.
“I’m definitely not giving up,” Williams said. “(Reaching the Major Leagues) was something I worked hard for my whole life. I’ve always said if I wasn’t able to compete and didn’t think I was good enough to help the team at the major-league level, then I wouldn’t be playing any more.
“I’m still here. I still think I can help out. It’s just a matter of getting that opportunity again.”
Williams has the support of countryman Trent Durrington, who was Williams’ teammate at the World Baseball Classic earlier this month.
“He’s got plenty of tenacity, and I’m in the same book,” said Durrington, an outfielder trying to catch on with the Boston Red Sox. “I’ve spent most of my career in the minors, so I guess that’s the Australian grit. You hang in there, give it your all and see what comes out the other end.”
Williams, a member of the Australian Olympic teams in 2000 and ’04, finished 0-for-6 in the WBC, but did get a chance to pinch hit for David Nilsson, the former Milwaukee Brewers catcher who, along with former San Diego Padre and current Boston Red Sox vice president of international scouting Craig Shipley, helped pave the way for Aussies to reach the big leagues.
Nilsson “has helped me a lot in my career, so to play alongside him is always good,” Williams said. “I guess it’s something I can tell the kids and the grandkids, that I had the chance to pinch hit for Dave Nilsson.”
Williams, who entered Wednesday’s Grapefruit League game hitting .273 in 22 at-bats, says his surgically repaired shoulder feels fine. He just wants another chance to play.
“I’ve worked hard the whole offseason to be healthy enough to play every day in spring training,” Williams said. “I guess it all depends on how the team makes up, who plays where and stuff like that. There’s a lot of guys that are pencilled in, if not inked, into spots, so you can’t really think about it, just go out there and play. If there’s an opportunity that I fit into, then great. But if not, I’ll just have to keep working hard.”
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