The Twins officially signed Nelson Cruz near the turn of the new year. Around that time, Cruz was at dinner at the JW Marriott Minneapolis Mall of America with his agent, cousin and Twins front office members when an important thought came to mind.
“Basically I said, ‘Do we have a nap room?’ ” Cruz said. “That was my question.”
“’No, but we can make one,” Cruz recalled the Twins telling him.
Across the hall from the Twins’ clubhouse and through the family waiting area, the Twins now have themselves a nap room. They have converted a former storage room for this purpose. In the small room, there is one queen-sized Tempur-Pedic memory foam cooling mattress along with a full-sized extra-long bunk bed with a twin extra-long on top and not much else.
If Cruz, the Twins’ designated hitter, isn’t in the clubhouse, batting cages or other common areas before a game, there’s a good chance he’s across the hall catching up on a few extra minutes of sleep.
While the nap room is especially useful to Cruz — and something he mentioned right away to chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine — it is also important to first-year manager Rocco Baldelli, who frequently mentions the principles of rest and recovery.
“I would say even before we signed Nellie, Rocco had been on record talking about rest, recovery and the importance of that, and he said having a place for guys to lay down and rest would be a benefit,” Falvey said. “So it was in the mix. It was being talked about even before we got Nelson, but I think that accelerated the conversation for sure.”
The room, of course, isn’t solely for Cruz; it’s just that the designated hitter has been most frequent occupant during the team’s first two homestands. At 38, Cruz’s determination to meticulously take care of his body to prolong his career has been well noted. And at an age in which many players’ productivity drops off, Cruz’s hasn’t.
Could power naps be the secret to his success?
“It keeps you more alert. Anything you can do to perform better, you do it,” Cruz said. “You’ll be able to react better, so definitely that’s a plus for a hitter.”
Falvey called Cruz “as routine oriented” as any player he has be around, and for Cruz, getting in that pregame nap is an integral part of that routine.
“I was just doing meditations, and I found that it helped me,” Cruz said. “Once I started noting that it actually helped you to perform better, definitely I implemented it in my routine.”
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who was teammates with Cruz in 2014 in Baltimore, remembers Cruz talking pregame naps back then. In Seattle, where Cruz played the past four years, the Mariners also introduced a nap room during Cruz’s tenure.
He was, unsurprisingly, the first player to use it. But as time wore on during the long seasons, more and more players started to follow his lead.
“He needs it before the game,” Schoop said. “It’s something that works for him, so he keeps doing it.”
Schoop said he’s not much of a pregame napper himself. Instead, he said he’s a “hyper guy” who prefers to walk around before games.
Though the room hasn’t gotten used much so far, aside from Cruz, the Twins do expect the naps to increase in the later months of the season when players might not feel as fresh as they do now.
Reliever Trevor May hasn’t used the new room yet, though he foresees days down the road — possibly when August rolls around — when he will have a need for it.
Back in 2016, May said there was a cot — like one that would be used for camping — a pillow and a cotton blanket that he would use to nap in a storage room before some day games.
Naps, he said, used to be something that were stigmatized. Players who went to take a nap might be labeled as “soft,” May remembered.
But not now. Not in the days when teams are trying to find every possible advantage they can get and have realized the benefits of napping to keep players more energized and rejuvenated.
“We’ve been doing it since we were kids. The science is there. That’s why we let the kids sleep,” May said. “Naps are good for development and good for recovering and growing. It’s the same thing for us. It just makes sense. Sometimes we’re sleeping at the field. We’re just human beings. We need sleep too.”
In addition to Cruz, starter Jose Berrios did hit the nap room during the Twins’ last homestand. Berrios didn’t quite fall asleep, instead just relaxing on a bed and watching video on his cell phone.
“It’s good because you don’t want to be sleeping in the clubhouse and all people can see you, so you go in there. If you need rest, you rest a half hour, 20 minutes, whatever you need, so I think that’s going to help us,” Berrios said.
Berrios, the father of three young children, remembers a lot of sleepless nights back in 2014, the year his oldest child, Valentina, was born. When touting the benefits of the room, Baldelli mentioned the potential usefulness of it to players who spend their mornings chasing after their young kids.
As the season wears on, he suspects players will become more familiar with the room and its benefits. In other words, Cruz should expect some company.
“I think it’s a great tool for all of our players to use as the long season goes on and players show up to the field. It gives them a place to get an extra hour of rest and sleep and let their bodies recover,” Baldelli said. “Guys have families, guys have obligations, they are up early after late nights, and it’s a great way to get themselves back into kind of peak performance or as close as we can get to it.”