LaTroy Hawkins

West Side graduate LaTroy Hawkins, middle, started the 2015 season with the Rockies and was traded to the Blue Jays before retiring after the season. He joined the Twins, the team who drafted him in 1991, last November as a special assistant to baseball operations.

David Zalubowski, File, Associated Press

Quick, name a Minnesota Twin.

Joe Mauer? OK, you got one. Unless you play fantasy baseball, I bet you can't come up with another.

Heard of Brian Dozier, Ervin Santana, Miguel Sano? That's what I thought.

A poster boy for small-market success, Minnesota has made it to the American League playoffs on a tight budget with its manager, Paul Molitor, arguably its most recognizable name.

"They have guys at that level. They just don't get the media attention as guys do in New York, Chicago, L.A.," LaTroy Hawkins said. "They have a lot of good, home-grown talent."

Back in the day, the West Side graduate was just that for the Twins. Hawkins was drafted in the seventh round by Minnesota in 1991 and began a career that spanned 21 seasons with 11 teams in the Twin Cities. 'Hawk' spent nine years there and was a part of AL Central Division champion clubs in 2002 and 2003.

"It's the team I did my first everything with," Hawkins said. "They hold a spot near and dear to my heart."

When the big right-hander hung up the spikes in November 2015, he had appeared in 1,042 games, ranking 10th all-time. Hawkins is one of just 13 relievers to earn a save against all 30 teams. The personal ties to his professional roots remain and Hawkins rejoined the organization as a special assistant to baseball operations a year after retiring.

"My first two years out of the game, I have to figure out what I want to do," he said. "I've got great bosses who gave me a chance to do that. I want to be involved in some level, whether it's coaching, front office or behind the mike."

Hawkins' duties include helping build organizational pitching philosophies used in the selection and development of players. He also works with minor league teams and scouts for the draft and free agency. Hawkins is currently assisting with interviews for minor league coordinators and served as an analyst for four series of games with Fox Sports North.

"It's fun, something new," said Hawkins, who's also seen air time on MLB Network. "I got to pick which ones I wanted to do. It was a good time."

The Twins' remarkable turnaround, becoming the first team to ever make the playoffs after losing 100 games the previous season, has made it all the more enjoyable for Hawkins.

"I knew they weren't a 103-loss team," he said. "They got in a bad rut and couldn't get out of it. The young guys took a step backwards. Molitor's a hall of fame player. He pays attention to details and last year, they didn't take to it as much as they should. They all got back to playing Paul Molitor baseball, working counts, taking walks, the little things, one through nine in the lineup, and it's paid off."

Even so, there wasn't necessarily all that much faith in the Twins' staying power. Heck, they even traded off closer Brandon Kintzler to Washington before the deadline, not exactly a vote of confidence. A patchwork bullpen of young players and unheralded veterans like Matt Belisle filled the void.

"They looked at it as a challenge," Hawkins said. "Some of those guys out there came around sooner than they thought they would."

Star center fielder in waiting Byron Buxton has begun to develop, while Minnesota has gotten good production out of Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler, while being without Sano, an all-star, most of the second half. The Twins bridged some pitching gaps behind Santana with 44-year old Bartolo Colon, piecing outings together with Greenfield, Indiana product Kyle Gibson.

"They've played very consistent baseball," Hawkins said. "All the young guys took a step forward. They've all had the best six, eight weeks of their career and it helped push them to a playoff spot."

Living in Prosper, Texas, with his wife, Anita, and 16-year-old daughter Troi, Hawkins will make the trip to Minny if the Twins win the AL Wild Card game with the Yankees.

"All the things that went wrong last year have gone right," he said. "It's pretty awesome to see."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jamkes.peters@nwi.com.

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Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.