FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It wasn't that long ago that Glen Perkins found himself fighting for a job in Spring Training with no guarantees he'd be part of the Twins' bullpen.

It was just two years ago, and Perkins was coming off a forgettable year in 2010, when he had a 5.82 ERA in the Majors and a 5.81 ERA at Triple-A Rochester.

But Perkins pitched well enough that spring to make the club out of camp, and ended up re-writing his history with the Twins the last two seasons.

Perkins went from being labeled as somewhat of a malcontent -- he filed a grievance with the club over service time in '09 -- to becoming one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball and one of the team's leaders in the clubhouse.

So Perkins, who is entering this season as Minnesota's closer after posting a combined 2.52 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 132 innings over the last two seasons, is happier living in the moment than looking back at what he went through to get to this point.

"I don't like to think about those times because it wasn't very fun," said Perkins, who saved 16 games last season. "Two years ago in Spring Training wasn't very fun. It was stressful and all those things and you have a family to take care of."

Perkins said he'd get questions from his wife, Alicia, about signing a long-term contract to stay with his hometown Twins -- he grew up in nearby Stillwater -- but he had to explain to her that he wasn't exactly deserving of one with a career 4.81 ERA entering the 2011 season.

"You saw [Scott] Baker and [Nick] Blackburn sign these deals and she's saying, 'Why don't you sign one?' and I had to tell her I wasn't very good," Perkins said with a laugh. "You gotta be good before you sign one."

But now Perkins has the security of a long-term contract -- worth a guaranteed $10.3 million through the '15 season with an option for '16 -- he signed before last season. The deal also has incentives based on games finished that can make the deal even more valuable for him now that he's established himself as closer.

"Now I can just focus on my job and make sure I do right by the Twins," Perkins said. "They trusted me with a lot of money and an important role on the team. It's more important for me to live up to their expectations for me than to worry about where I was two years ago. Things happen fast and your focus changes and so far it's been for the better."

Twins catcher Joe Mauer couldn't be happier for Perkins, whom he has known since high school because they grew up only about 20 minutes apart.

"He's found his niche," Mauer said. "It's really nice to see. He's got the right mentality for a closer. He's a guy who has great stuff, for one. But he also has the ability where, if he gives up a couple runs, the next day he'll quickly forget that. That's what good closers do."

Perkins and Mauer have both made good as two local boys playing for their hometown team and now will have the chance to represent their country together for the first time, as they're set to leave Sunday for Arizona to join Team USA for the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

Perkins said he's excited for the opportunity and has been developing his slider earlier than usual to get ready to pitch in the playoff-type atmosphere in big league ballparks for Team USA. And he also noted how special it is for him and Mauer to be native Minnesotans playing for their country.

"I can't imagine that's going to happen again," Perkins said. "We've know each other forever because we were the same class and the same age. It's not too often guys even from north of the Mason-Dixon line that play in something like that. So it's pretty neat."

Perkins also could get a chance to face his teammate Justin Morneau, as Morneau is slated to play for Team Canada for the third time. But Perkins and Mauer are being secretive about what they'll throw Morneau if they have a chance to face him in Pool D play at Arizona's Chase Field on March 10.

Morneau, though, joked that he's fine not knowing what will be coming from Perkins if he comes up to face him.

"I just said if he's in the game, that means we're either up or it's close," Morneau said. "He'll be in to face all nine left-handed hitters we run up there."

So while Perkins could be gone from Twins camp for a few weeks depending on how Team USA fares, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire isn't concerned about his closer, who has been one of a few bright spots for club despite Minnesota's struggles the last two seasons.

"He's another guy I'm not really too worried about," Gardenhire said. "I believe he's going to take the ball and let 'er fly. He's found his niche and he's happy with it and I think he's content in the way he goes about it. He's pretty confident. I think he's a guy who just works himself right into it. He's fun to watch and it's fun to give him the ball."