Nicholas Paul Punto 7
Born: 11/8/77 in San Diego, CA
Bats: Both Throws: Right 5’9″ 190 lbs.
On August 25th, Nick “Shredder” Punto slid headfirst into Los Angeles. The Dodgers acquired the almost 35-year old switch-hitting utility player in the mega deal with Boston which also brought the Dodgers Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford in exchange for James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Jerry Sands, Ivan DeJesus Jr., and Allen Webster. Punto’s jersey shredding celebratory ritual became an interesting and entertaining part of the late season walk-off wins for the Dodgers in 2012. The Dodgers are responsible for the last remaining year on Punto’s contract through 2013 ($1.5 million).
The .247 career hitter was a 1996 graduate of Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo, CA. Like his teammate Adrian Gonzalez, both hail from Southern California. Punto was originally drafted in 1997 by the Minnesota Twins in the 33rd round, but he did not sign. Nick was then drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 21st round of the 1998 MLB Draft, and he made his MLB debut on September 9, 2001 for the Phils. In his three years with Philadelphia, Punto only batted .223 with just one homerun in 77 games.
In December of 2003, Punto was traded to the Minnesota Twins (the team which had originally drafted him back in ’07) along with Carlos Silva and Bobby Korecky in exchange for Eric Milton. In 2004, Punto was disabled most of the season and he only played in 38 games. In 2005 he was the Twins starting second baseman, and the following year he played mostly third base. In 2005, he notched a career high 4 homeruns while batting .239 in 112 games. The following season, Punto had his best season in Minnesota and batted .290 with 45 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in 135 games played. But in 2007, his batting average nosedived to a paltry .210, and he only collected 25 RBIs in 150 games which was the most games he played in during a single season of his career. During that fateful season, Punto set a record for the lowest slugging percentage of any Major Leaguer with at least 200 at bats in a single season (.271). In 2008, Punto was on the DL for most of the first half until he was activated in June. Thereafter he played mostly shortstop for the Twins, and he posted a .284 batting average in 99 games.
Despite his offensive failures, the Twins really valued his defensive skills. They signed him to a new $8.5 million two-year contract during the winter of 2008. In 2009, Brendan Harris began to take Punto’s spot in the lineup, and after another DL stint Punto returned to play second base instead of shortstop. In his 125 games played in ’09, Punto batted .228 with 38 RBIs. In his final year in Minnesota in 2010, Punto began the season as their starting third baseman before landing on the DL yet again with a groin injury. He filled in at third, short, and second base as injuries plagued the Twins that season. He finished with a .238 batting average in 88 games played. Punto’s time in Minnesota came to an end after seven years when the Twins declined his $5 million team option for 2011 in October of 2010 which made him a free agent.
In January of 2011, Punto signed a one-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals for $700,000. He was used as a utility player, and in his 63 games as a Red Bird he hit .278. In the 2011 World Series, Punto had
three hits in his 14 at bats and collected a championship ring.In December of 2011, Punto signed a two-year deal with the Boston Red Sox for $3 million. He played 65 games with Boston, but he only hit .200 during his short time there. He played at shortstop, second base, third base, and he even played five games at first base.
After he was traded to the Dodgers, Punto hit .286 in his 22 games with L.A.
Nick and his wife Natalie Punto have two children, Nicole and Nash.
Punto’s head-first slide is something he has been doing since playing baseball as a young child.
“I probably started it, my mom said, when I was four or five years old,” Punto said.
Past coaches from all the way back in high school and at the college level when he played at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo tried to get him to stop sliding head first. Yet he says that something triggers him to do it, and this impulse cannot be broken. His manager and general manager in Minnesota even fined him every time he flew in head-first toward first base.
Davey Lopes, his new first base coach on the Dodgers says:
“It’s fine. Some people are just comfortable doing it. I wouldn’t teach it.”
Sliding head-first and shredding jerseys may be some odd habits of Nick Punto, and Dodger fans will have a whole season to watch these antics. Punto
will be used as a utility player off the bench or a late-inning substitute. Jerry Hairston Jr., who had been in that role before his season ended due to hip surgery might get more time in the outfield.
The more shredded jerseys the better in 2013.