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Quiet Man Had a Big Impact / Stewart trade to Twins keyed run to 1st place

Detroit - While we weren't looking and couldn't hear

anything but George Steinbrenner, the American League Central season took a

quiet U-turn in the quiet of All-Star Wednesday while the quiet main character

quietly ate lunch at the Roaster N Toaster on Dixie Highway in his hometown,

Miami.

Shannon Stewart's cell-phone screen showed a call from his agent, so he

dialed back, whereupon he learned that the struggling Toronto Blue Jays had

traded him to the struggling Minnesota Twins, whereupon a nation reacted with

utter silence, fittingly somehow.

Voila. The 44-49 Twins became 90-72, but meanwhile, "You hardly know he's

here," former Met Rick Reed said of Stewart. "You hardly know he's here."

You hardly know, Reed hastened to rave, except on the basepaths of America,

where Stewart has parlayed his .322 Minnesota batting average and his

steadfast student-of-the-game ethic into roaming and disrupting and altering a

season's tone and generally playing himself into press-box Most Valuable Player

discussions, while not prone to discussion himself.

Along with breakthrough 24-year-old lefthander Johan Santana, he's the

reason that the Twins who will start an American League Division Series

tomorrow afternoon at Yankee Stadium differ fundamentally from the Twins who

went a lambasted 0-7 against the Yankees in April.

Everybody will tell you this except Stewart, who will say little except "I

mean, it makes you feel good." In a culture obsessed with home runs, a leadoff

hitter redecorates the Metrodome.

It's just one more installment in one of the more unusual baseball

biographies, which begins with the 29-year-old Stewart's early childhood spent

playing soccer. Soccer, as it happens, bestows body awareness that comes in

handy on other playing surfaces, or so went the demonstrably astute thinking of

Stewart's father, Harold. So the ludicrously talented forward would bolt

through the other kids like, like ...

Ronaldo?

"No," Stewart grins. "Pele."

And he would come to idolize Magic Johnson, play basketball until his high

school coach foolishly told him he had to quit other sports, take up defensive

back in football, and welcome a visit from that Mom-charmer of all recruiting

Mom-charmers, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.

"Nice dude," Stewart says, but adds, "I didn't get on the field with him,

and that's how most of them are, nice, until they get on the field."

The baseball scouts flocked to Miami Southridge Senior High games, and they

would clock this Stewart going from home to first, and as fact mixed with

legend has it, they would quibble amongst themselves over the veracity of their

stopwatches with readings like 3.75 and 3.9.

Stewart starred but, his coach Jeff Curry says, "If we asked him to

sacrifice bunt, he would do it without giving you that dirty look."

By June of 1992, Toronto took him with the 19th overall draft pick, 13

places after the Yankees took Derek Jeter.

Then this multi-mega-sport star who also snared some track-and-field

trophies had to say a polite no- thank-you to Bowden - as a "Spartan Patrol"

student hall monitor in his enormous school, he majored in polite - and head

for baseball, where his career somehow grew quiet, which might matter more than

we think. "He hasn't been a person that demands the limelight and, you know,

at times I think that's hurt him," Curry said. "With Toronto, he never got his

due. It seemed like they always promoted other guys like Jose Cruz Jr., who to

me is a .240 hitter. They always seemed to think somebody else was going to be

the next coming of Mickey Mantle, when they had a ballplayer right in front of

them, and it just seemed like they never gave him the credit."

Fighting through injuries of a maddening variety, he finally reached the

big leagues in 1995, but missed his first start while stuck in the wretched

Chicago traffic. He climbed by 1998 to fulltime status in the quiet country

north of the quiet border, and registered 3,450 at-bats for Toronto with a .303

batting average while known only to the baseball nuts, and sometimes not to

them.

One day, Reed witnessed Twins manager Ron Gardenhire telling Stewart, "I

knew you were good, but I didn't know you were this damn good."

As such, the trade wrought shrugging or worse, lampooned even in venerable

corners of the Twin Cities media. The other end of it, popular outfielder Bobby

Kielty, arrived in Toronto and homered and had two other hits the first night.

But bit by exemplary bit, Stewart began his quiet influence on the Twins, who

came to lead baseball's second half in total hotness.

You could spot the patience at the plate.

"When he got here," reliever LaTroy Hawkins said, "you'd start to see guys

taking better at-bats."

You could spot the preparation.

"I'll tell you, I know between every at-bat and, I know, at home, he's been

practicing his swings, or he's looking at videotapes of his last at-bat," Reed

said. "The guy studies the game, and he's the only guy I've seen actually do

that on a regular basis. This guy, if he hits a double, he wants to have a

triple. It's never enough. That's the way it's been since he's been here."

You could spot the Twins steadily erasing that 7�-game deficit at the break

to clinch the division last Tuesday night. "Shannon's been, you know,

instrumental in a lot of ways," Gardenhire said.

For emphasis on a leadoff hitter's general influence, Reed said, "Look at

Alfonso Soriano."

So it happens that, two years after the Twins served as potential

contraction victim, one year after they acquired the commissioner's galling

"aberration" label when they took their meager payroll to the 2002 Final Four,

they're fairly thrilled. Gardenhire's managerial career: two seasons, two

division titles. Unlike last year, which Gardenhire recalls as so stressful he

can't recall much about it, he's dwelling on the fun this time.

He sees the Yankee scouts in the stands - "They're the ones with the big

diamond rings. Those diamond rings have bothered some of our outfielders" - and

he remembers how then-Mets manager Joe Torre kept him around camp until the

end of 1981 spring training "'cause I'd get him coffee."

Now he likes looking over at Torre and Don Zimmer and wondering what

they're thinking over there. He remembers "those eyes" of Torre's, and: "Very

father-like, putting his arm around you and saying, 'Put that in your memory

bank, don't let that happen again, kid.' Very calming."

He can kid around about Opening Day at Yankee Stadium even while calling

the experience "pretty traumatic. We made Matsui a hero right away," he says of

Hideki's debut grand slam that dominated the news reports in Tokyo. "I walked

Bernie Williams to get to Matsui, a grand slam. So I kind of helped 'em out a

little bit."

He grins. He won't bring up Minnesota's 0-for-13 showing against the

Yankees the past two seasons because, he says, "Everyone else will. We don't

even have to talk about them. Hell, it's 13 games. That's the number. A 13-game

set-up for two years, now it's time to go after 'em."

All this, with a team that tottered into the All-Star break with six wins

in 28 games and had its manager reciting statistics of past teams that made

positive U-turns. Then came a quiet trade, along with Santana going 8-1, and

now the Twins aim to reveal their dissimilarities from what they were in April.

"Well, you know," Hawkins said, "we're definitely a different team.

Mentally. A little bit stronger. A little bit more focus. Everybody's talking

about what the Yankees did to us, but at the beginning of the season, everybody

was doing that to us."

"That's what makes baseball fun," Gardenhire said. "We're already hearing

that we have no chance. What's better than that?"

"I mean, it makes you feel good if your teammates tell you you're part of

this," Shannon Stewart says, three months after retrieving his messages.

Money Gap

Twins' Starting Lineup

Pos. Name 2003 Salary

C A.J. Pierzynski $365,000

1B Doug Mientkiewicz $1.75 million

2B Luis Rivas $340,000

3B Corey Koskie $3.4 million

SS Cristian Guzman $2.525 million

LF Shannon Stewart $6.2 million

CF Torii Hunter $4.75 million

RF Dustan Mohr $315,000

DH Jacque Jones $2.75 million

SP Johan Santana $335,000

SP Brad Radke $8.75 million

SP Kenny Rogers $2 million

SP Kyle Lohse $330,000

RP Eddie Guardado $2.7 million

Mgr. Ron Gardenhire $450,000

Yankees' Starting Lineup

Pos. Name 2003 Salary

C Jorge Posada $8 million

1B Jason Giambi $11.4 million

2B Alfonso Soriano $800,000

3B Aaron Boone $3.7 million

SS Derek Jeter $15.6 million

LF Hideki Matsui $6 million

CF Bernie Williams $12.4 million

RF Karim Garcia $900,000

DH Nick Johnson $364,000

SP Mike Mussina $12 million

SP Roger Clemens $7 million

SP Andy Pettitte $11.5 million

SP David Wells $3.25 million

RP Mariano Rivera $10.5 million

Mgr. Joe Torre $5 million

Twins' Opening Day payroll: $55,605,000

Yankees' Opening Day payroll: $149,710,995

SOURCE: AP, ESPN COMPILED BY JIM BAUMBACH

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