Any time the Twins have a stretch of futility, a few names are bound to be forgotten. Due in part to the utter hopelessness of the late 90's Twins and in part to the quality players that came after him, Matt Lawton sadly is one of those players.
Drafted by the Twins in the 13th round of the 1991 MLB Draft, Lawton made his debut with the big club in 1995 and stuck as a regular in 1997. The Mississippi native made two career All-Star teams, including one with the Twins in 2000.
Lawton was a very good to great offensive player, boasting a .379 on-base percentage over seven seasons with the Twins. For his career, Lawton walked 681 times and struck out just 613. He had a strong arm in right field and used it to throw out 12 runners in 1998.
The 1999 season saw the arrival of Kirby Puckett's heir apparent in center field, Torii Hunter. Hunter had his ups and downs over his first couple of seasons before establishing himself as an All Star in his own right in 2001. The second half of that '99 season also saw the emergence of Jacque Jones, who would end up playing 976 career games with the Twins.
The trio roamed the Metrodome outfield for the equivalent of two seasons beginning in the second half of 1999 through the team's trade of Lawton at the deadline in 2001. They made up Major League Baseball's only all black outfield.
Somewhere along the line the outfield of Jones-Hunter-Lawton became known as the Soul Patrol. How did they get that nickname? (Pitchman voice) The answer... may surprise you.
Gladden was all over me one spring training to call them the Soul Patrol. I was nervous about backlash. I even ran it by Hunter, who grimaced and said, ``Man, I don't know.....''
After Lawton was traded to the Mets for Rick Reed the left field spot was manned by a platoon of Brian Buchanan, Dustan Mohr and Bobby Kielty. It was Kielty who was dealt to Toronto at the 2003 trade deadline for left fielder Shannon Stewart, moving Jones to right field and restoring the Soul Patrol outfield for another season (until Jones left after the 2005 season).
There were many highlights for the Soul Patrol in each iteration. Who could forget Jacque Jones opening the 2002 season at Kansas City with a two home run game, setting the tone for one of the most fun seasons in team history? Torii Hunter running over White Sox catcher Jamie Burke in the heat of the 2004 Pennant Race... Shannon Stewart's catch at the wall in the 2003 playoffs... Lawton's 'Jumpman' pose when catching a fly ball in right at Yankee stadium.
The Soul Patrol made Twins baseball cool again with highlight-reel defense and some pop on offense.