The home for Ben Rortvedt for now is Fort Myers, Florida, where long bus rides, muggy days wearing catcher’s gear and a $25 a day food allowance are his life.
Welcome to Rortvedt’s experience playing for the Fort Myers Miracle, the Minnesota Twins’ Class-A Advanced minor league affiliate in the Florida State League.
“Everything I heard about the minor leagues, and how tough and not glorious it is has lived up to what I was told,” Rortvedt said.
Rortvedt, 21, a Verona Area High School alumnus, was a 2016 second-round pick of the Twins. He was a non-roster invitee to spring training with the Twins this season and played in eight games. He is in his third season of Class A ball and is still chasing his dream of reaching the major leagues.
According to Baseball America, Rortvedt is ranked No. 19 as a prospect. Mike Ruth, the Twins’ Midwest scouting supervisor who scouted and helped sign Rortvedt, noticed his catcher instincts and his tendencies to dissect pitchers and hitters.
“He was born to be a catcher,” Ruth said. “I’m a big believer that catching is in your DNA. You can maybe learn to play third base or right field. You are born to be a catcher.”
Rortvedt has become a participant and advocate of using yoga to develop his mobility. He has adjusted his swing to make more contact. Despite being a University of Arkansas recruit, Rortvedt has no plans of attending college yet.
“I’m going to play baseball as long as they let me,” he said. “Baseball is Plan A.”
Instincts and discipline
Ruth noticed how Rortvedt had the instincts early on.
“He’s tough, has a great motor and loves to play the game every day,” Ruth said. “He has a great arm, and he has the strength to hit.”
It’s the same instincts he showcased at Verona in becoming a Division I recruit.
Verona baseball coach Brad D’Orazio said Rortvedt is the best player he has seen and coached at the high school level.
“Ben’s biggest strengths were not his physical abilities, but his amazing work ethic,” D’Orazio said. “I’ve never seen anyone work harder at anything than Ben worked at baseball.”
Rortvedt has taken up yoga since being drafted. Ruth said one of Rortvedt’s greatest assets is his flexibility he has built through yoga.
“In the new era of catching you are required to use different stances to catch and he has that flexibility,” Ruth said.
D’Orazio said after Rortvedt’s junior season at Verona, Major League scouts started calling.
Rortvedt credits D’Orazio for helping develop him into the player he has become. He recalls D’Orazio giving him the opportunity to call pitches in his junior and senior seasons at Verona.
One valuable lesson he learned from D’Orazio still stays with him with the Twins.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself because it’s just a game. It’s a job for me now, but it’s still a game.”
Ticket to spring training
Rortvedt was considered a long shot to make the Twins’ 25-man roster, but he joined the team in spring training, playing eight games.
He hit .250 (2-for-8) with a double. But for him, it was about much more than his game performance.
“All I wanted to do was take in that experience, soak it up and learn from the older guys,” he said. “Everything is a lot more glorified. There are a lot of big names and faces you are seeing and playing against.”
Every practice, pre-game batting cage session and meal are structured, he said.
He worked on developing his catching fundamentals, including framing pitches and learning the strengths of different pitchers.
“I took away how each player went about their business,” Rortvedt said.
Rortvedt was cut from the spring training roster and reassigned to the Miracle.
His path to the Major League is not assured, but Ruth likes the way Rortvedt has displayed his willingness to be a student of the game.
Ruth said Rortvedt wants to be involved in the action and working before games with pitchers on the game-plan for attacking hitters.
“If he was playing right field and only getting two balls hit to him a game, he would be bored,” Ruth said.
Bus rides and meal tickets
Playing minor league baseball has its perks, but it’s not as glamorous as a high school teenager might think.
As a member on the Fort Myers Miracle, Rortvedt plays in the Florida State League. The team attends away games on a bus.
Rortvedt said the longest bus ride is 4 1/2 hours to Daytona Beach.
“You just deal with it,” Rortvedt said. “You get used to it.”
Finding time to get enough rest can be a challenge. He tries to maintain the same game-day ritual.
“I try to make the game the center of my day,” he said.
Rortvedt usually gets to bed at 3 or 4 a.m. after a game and a post-game meal. He will get up about noon and then eat a meal with the team’s $25 a day allowance. Rortvedt will then head to the field for batting practice, fielding practice and a pre-game meeting with the pitchers.
While many players add weight during the season, Rortvedt has a bigger challenge. With the summer heat, the Florida State League can take a toll on a catcher.
“I tend to lose a lot of weight during the season,” he said of catching in warm weather. “I try to eat everything I can to keep the weight on.”
Rortvedt said he and most players in the minors make about $1,600 a month. Players receive a $25 allowance for one meal per day. The Fort Myers Miracle serve a pre-game meal and a meal after every game.
Focused on Twins
In the offseason during the winter, Rortvedt said some players work other jobs or take college courses.
Rortvedt has not attended college courses the past three years, as many of his peers have. He said he’s keeping college as a backup plan.
With the Miracle, Rortvedt has thrown out 70 percent (7 of 10) of the runners trying to steal on him in the first 17 games. He is hitting .246 with two home runs and nine RBIs.
Rortvedt said since being drafted by the Twins, he has made his biggest improvements in game calling and his hitting approach.
“I know each pitcher’s strength and how it matches up with the hitter,” he said.
It’s a similar trait he displayed at Verona.
“Pitchers felt very confident with Ben behind the plate with his ability to call pitches and block any pitches that were in the dirt,” D’Orazio said.
He has adjusted his swing with an effort to make more contact. Going up to the plate with a hitting approach is something he learned from D’Orazio.
“I came into the fall trying to add consistency to my swing,” Rortvedt said. “I tried to make my swing more repeatable. At the end of the day, it’s your job to not miss your pitch.”
He’s hoping to reach Class-AA by the end of the season.
Ruth likes the work ethic Rortvedt has displayed and likes his chances of earning a shot in the Major League with the Twins down the road.
“I think he controls his own destiny,” Ruth said. “He needs to stay focused on what he is doing and keep improving and he will have a chance to play in the major league.”