TWINS TALK

IMGP6874Winter Ball in Minnesota!

Story and Photos by Gordy Jones

Major league ballplayers don’t really have an off-season anymore. Immediately after the season is over, most players rest their bodies for a spell, after playing for nearly nine grinding months. They use this down time to catch up with their families as well — but by the holidays, most are conditioning and working out daily. But keeping their bodies fit is only one part of their winter season. There are many charity events, school visits, banquets – and, of course, the Twins have their Caravan, and Twins Fest, too.    

Joe Mauer spent most of his off-time with his twin baby girls and his wife, Maddie. But in November, just as he has for the last six years, Joe helped his best pal, Tony Leisman, put on a very special day of bowling. This bowling event raises funds for the Highland Friendship Club, which holds events and activities for young people with disabilities, and it helps them to make friends and learn new skills. The Club was founded by Tony’s family, who felt the need of such an organization themselves. Tony’s brother was born with some disabilities.

Tony was Joe’s teammate at Cretin. While Joe was starting his rise through the Twins’ farm system, Tony played some pretty good ball at the U. Soon they became roommates — until this marriage thing got in their way. But their wives are great friends, and Tony and Joe continue to be best buds as well. bowling friendship 12 014

Joe is a natural with kids. He is happy to pose, bowl, answer kids’ questions, and even give hugs to the little ones. Joe is a star at the event, even to the kids who know nothing about baseball.

St. Paul native and Cincinnati Red Jack Hannahan is always on hand, along with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. There are usually some Gopher players of various sports, local media, and few other local celebs.  But it is Joe Mauer who makes this event successful — along with many volunteers, sponsors, and the kids who rely on the Highland Friendship Club.

The Twins’ Caravan hosts a series of events in the Cities. Twin Citians come out for the local events because they love baseball, and because it is a reminder that warmer days are on the way. But it’s the small towns where the Caravan is a special treat. It goes to the most remote areas of Twins Territory — some places where fans would have to drive 10 hours round trip to enjoy a game. For them to have members of the team visiting their Legion clubs and schools is really a thrill. The Twins do an excellent job planning the Caravan, and dispatching the players, coaches, and announcers throughout Twins Territory.   

One of the Caravan stops in the Twin Cities is the Hot Stove Banquet in Oakdale. I love this event because the typical fan can afford it. This year, for only $32 fans had a nice steak dinner, and they heard from Joe Mauer, Tom Kelly, Pedro Florimon, Ricky Nolasco, John Anderson, Terry Ryan, Jim Rantz, Dave St. Peter, and Kris Atteberry.  It is preceded by a social hour called “batting practice” where you can belly up with every baseball enthusiast in town, because they are all there. IMGP7614IMGP7594

The following night, there was a fundraiser for Concordia St. Paul’s baseball program at Mancini’s Char House. Coach Lunch McKenzie and his assistant Jim Weisner were both clubhouse guys for the Twins at one time, and they have the talent, connections, and clout to make the event successful. Tom Kelly and Kent Hrbek are the two big supporters of this event and are always the special guests. As always, this year’s event was well done!

On Thursday during the final Caravan week, the Diamond Awards gala was held at Target Field. It is probably the classiest dinner associated with baseball in these parts.

The proceeds from this event go for research at the University of Minnesota, specifically for brain, nerve, and muscle disorders. Ataxia research is a big part of this. The late Twin star of the 60’s, Bob Allison, died from this disease, and his family is always on hand, along with many former and current Twin players there to receive their awards. Joe Mauer won the Most Valuable Twin Award, and Tony Oliva received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Steve Winfield, brother of Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, received Friend of the Game Award for his work with youth on the field and in the community.  There were 14 awards in all, but hearing from a father and son who are both victims of a dreadful muscular disease reminded you that your health is the greatest reward of all.IMGP7669

My expectations for Twins Fest were low. I had anticipated a sardine-packed Target Field, with fewer activities than before. Man, was I wrong! The space was well utilized, with activities on four levels, including the bowels down below — typically sealed off except for media, staff, and players. It is not fancy like the suite level or Legends Club. It’s just a bare cement tunnel, but it was a perfect venue for card and memorabilia dealers to set up and sell. It was almost intimate. Fans would be purchasing a card of a player, and he might be walking past on his way to his next activity. The guys rotated, but while I was there it was baseball-bat bowling with Joe Mauer, phone a friend with Brian Dozier, and bean bag toss with a Mohawked Jason Bartlett. Darin Mastroianni was sporting a beard, long hair, and a ponytail as he signed autographs, and it was great seeing my old buddy Jason Kubel back on board. IMGP7731

I had the chance to visit with him, and I asked a foolish question of my Southern California friend. I asked him how he liked the weather…and it was a morning where the thermometer had dipped to 20 below. He shook his head, grimaced, and asked, “What is there to like?”  

Next Stop: Fort Myers!    

 

Aaron Hicks and Ray Olmeda

Two Different Roads to Baseball

TwinsTalk_Logo_2013_300x300(2)Photos and Story by Gordy Jones

Thirty years ago, spring training was a time when players would begin getting into shape and preparing for the season. Now the players come to camp in tip-top shape, and they use this time to fine-tune their skills, conduct drills for certain game situations, and — for many — try to make the team. With more than 50 bodies from all over the world at the beginning of camp, the early days are filled with the coaches and teammates learning names, and nervous newbies trying to show what they can do. As you get deeper into camp, some guys are shipped off to minors; others even get the heartbreak of being sent home, learning that their dream might never become reality. As the team gets closer to their limit of 25 members, you can sometimes see personalities emerging, a chemistry forming, and a special bond beginning to gel.

IMGP5919One player I kept my eye on this year was Aaron Hicks, who was the favorite to win the center field starting position. Hicks was the Twin’s first-round draft choice in 2008. He is fast as lightning, can hit for power, and is just a young (23) natural athlete.

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In talking to Aaron, you can tell he has a good head on his shoulders. He has a true passion for golf, and played it regularly from ages 4 to 14. That is when his love for baseball took over. He is probably tied with Darin Mastroianni as the fastest Twin. I asked if he had ever run track. He looked at me proudly and said, “No. But my dad was a track star, so some of those genes must have carried over to me.” At that moment Mastroianni ran by and Hicks commented, “Darin’s really fast. You can tell by the way he runs as he racks up the stolen bases.” Aaron appears to be in such fine shape, I asked him if he had a special diet, and he said, “Yes, I always try to eat right. Sometimes it’s hard when you’re on the road. But I definitely try to keep a good diet; I feel better, I’m ready to go! That’s what you have to do to be able to play this game.” He works out near his home in Huntington Beach, California, all winter, and he said he’s always trying to get stronger and faster. “I try to incorporate my weightlifting with baseball.” I asked if playing outfield on a major league team has always been his dream. He said, “Of course it’s been a dream of mine, and as we get closer to opening day, it’s even more exciting. But then again, until I get the word that I’m starting center fielder, I’m going to keep grinding.” Then he thought for a second and said, “Whether I get it or not, I’m going to keep it up. This game is all about competing, not only for starting center on opening day, but for starting throughout the season, and to help your team to get some wins. I love this organization; it’s a class act! But they’re not going to give you an opportunity if you’re not ready. You’ve got to go out there and prove it. That’s what I love about it. “

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Having a life consumed with baseball, does Aaron have time for any outside interests? With no hesitation and a passion in his eyes he said: “Golf! For me, it’s a way of relaxation.” Then he laughed and said,”Many people think of it as quite the opposite, especially if they’re not that good. But for me it’s definitely a stress-reliever.”

IMGP5916Another guy I kept my eye on was infielder Ray Olmeda — not for his ability on the field, because he was usually on the bench, but it was for his big heart, his huge smile, and the support he shows to his teammates. Oh, yes…his entertaining personality, as well. He can be seen dancing often; one day he was acting like he was throwing the guys out of the dugout as they ran onto the field. Kicking and throwing his finger toward the field, he shouted, “Go on, get outta here, all of ya!” Then he laughed at his own joke and took the bench.

Ray will be 33 years old, and has been with more than a dozen teams in the majors and the minors in as many years. Ray has been in 218 major league games, but has nearly 5,000 minor league at-bats.

Ray told me how baseball is his life. “I started playing when I was 4 years old. I’ve always appreciated my mom, because she always took care of me. She took me to the baseball field, and also she would throw BP (batting practice) when we were young. I played a lot of sports, but I focused mostly on baseball because that is the most pronounced sport in Venezuela. I see so many players like Omar, Davey Concepcion, all those guys, they are my heroes. I want to make the team. We try. I think I am doing a pretty good job in spring training now, but it’s not anything I can control. We’ll see what happens. Whatever happens, I’m going to feel really excited because I feel like I do a good job.”

You can tell he loves life, especially around baseball. I told him I love his smile and positive demeanor, and he said, “That’s my personality, I will always be happy. I like to joke with everybody, and have energy, and relax for the game. That’s the most important thing. I’ve been on many different teams, but it’s all just baseball.”

I asked Ray if he had a special diet, and he said: “No. I eat everything. At home (Venezuela) I eat arepas (corn cakes). Many American guys, when they go there to play, they love to eat them, too. But here I love pizza. Sometimes when I’m really hungry, the first thing on my mind, what I really want…is PIZZA!”Dukes_WebAd_2013

I hope I’m wrong, but Ray probably won’t see much major league action this year. But do you know what? Baseball could use more Ray Olmedos. Actually, the world could, as well.

Joe Mauer

As Mauer Returned to Camp, He Made Time for All!

TwinsTalk_Logo_2013_300x300(2)

Photos and Story by Gordy Jones

I asked Joe Mauer if he might have a moment to chat for “Twins Talk.” He smiled and said, “Sure, Gordy. Immediately after batting practice.” IMGP5116

As soon as he finished, as he walked toward me, he was intercepted by another reporter. He glanced at me, signaling he’d be there soon, and talked to the other guy. After accommodating the other reporter, he invited me to sit with him in the dugout. As we entered the dugout, a dozen or more pre-game young fans shouted his name and held out balls and photos to be signed. He glanced up, and gave a smile, an acknowledgment that he knew they were there. We shook hands, and then sat down as I put my thoughts together.    IMGP5375

Joe Mauer played well at the World Baseball Classic (WBC) and arrived back at camp with a full head of steam: going two for three, throwing out a runner attempting to steal, and catching a wide throw at the plate and diving back to the plate to tag a runner before he could score. I asked Joe what the WBC experience was like. “It’s a great event,” he said. “It’s a chance to represent your country, and to represent it in baseball. It was a wonderful event. It was a little weird playing against Justin Morneau — it was fun — but I’m glad we won that game or I’d never hear the end of it. It was fun to get out there and have ‘Perk’ (Glen Perkins) on the mound and Justin at the plate.” I asked Joe if it was difficult coming together as a national unit when there is so little time to prepare. “Yes, it’s different. You have two exhibition games before it starts, and the fact you’re trying to get ready for the season. It’s a little tough, but it is something I’d definitely do again if I had the chance.”

He looked great — relaxed and in shape. I thought he’d be ready to go if the season began tomorrow, but he said, “I still have a little work to do. You know there’s still more than a week until we start the season. It will be nice to use those days to get back into a routine. The last couple of weeks, I felt like I’ve lived out of a suitcase. It’s nice to have a little more time to get ready for the year.”

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I told Joe I thought the Twins’ lineup looks great, but I asked him if he thought the pitching will ever come together. “I hope so,” he said. “I hope everything comes together. The guys are getting after it down here at camp. It’s exciting to see the team begin to form, and we still have more than a week to figure things out, so I think we should be fine.”

I congratulated Joe on the fact that he and his wife, Maddie, who is humble, sweet, and down to earth like Joe, are expecting twins. “Thanks, we couldn’t be happier. It will be a lot of fun!IMGP5138

Before he went back to his workout, I asked Joe who was going to win the NCAA basketball tournament this year. “I have no idea,” he said with a laugh, “You’re asking the wrong guy. I haven’t had time to follow basketball. All I know is the Big Ten looked pretty tough this year, so I’d probably take one of those teams.”

As we finished our talk, a woman from ESPN asked Joe for a few minutes of his time, and although I know he was panicking in his mind about it being too close to game time, he accommodated her with a smile. A short time later, I looked into the dugout to see them finish up. A couple of Joe’s teammates ran up the tunnel, and he said that he’d be right behind them; he had to take care of something. He walked up to the top step of the dugout to see if the kids were still there. They were, and he signed autographs for every one of them, as he conversed like he knew them well, and looked them each in the eye and smiled as he returned their freshly autographed items. Joe loves children, and he’s going to be a great father.

Morneau Has Returned!

Morneau and the WBC TwinsTalk_Logo_2013_300x300(2)

Photos and Stories by Gordy Jones

It was great to see Justin Morneau back in camp this week after playing for Canada in the

Justin's Big Swing is Back!

Justin’s Big Swing is Back!

World Baseball Classic. I asked Justin about his experience and he said, “It (the WBC) is a good experience for anybody who has been through it, and I’ve been lucky enough to have done it three times now. Obviously we haven’t had the success that we’d like to have, but it was good. It’s a pretty tight-knit group of Canadian baseball guys; we all know each other pretty well, and we’ve played with each other various times over the years. We seem to come together pretty quick, because it can be tough in that short of a situation.” I asked him about playing against Joe Mauer. “Yeah, I faced Perk (Glen Perkins) with Joe behind the plate. That was a different experience.  I talked to Joe a couple times walking up to the plate, and I saw him before-hand, and that was definitely different, but it was good.” IMGP4022

Justin said that a lot of hard work and practice comes with playing in the WBC, but there is a little time for fun. “We have a little bit of fun and try to get together. Whenever you can spend time with your teammates it can make a difference; away from the field you get to learn a little more, you get to see the personalities because you’re not busy doing your work. We practice for a couple of days, play a couple exhibition games, and then get right into it. There is not a lot of free time or time to get to know each other, but you learn a lot about your teammates when you’re competing.” IMGP4429
 

Justin winters in Arizona, and that’s where he was competing. He laughed and said, “I got to sleep in my own bed, which was nice. I got to see the kids out there and they got to represent their Canadian sides. They’re half-and-half, so they got to wear their Canadian gear and cheer for Daddy! That was fun and good to see, and I had my parents out there, too. It’s a long way from Vancouver to Florida, so this was an easier trip for them. They got to see me a little more than usual out there. It’s always nice when you get to see your parents, and they get to see you play.”   

Speed in the Outfield!

Last year the Twins’ two fastest players were Ben Revere and Darin Mastroianni. With Ben gone it looks like this year’s speed will come from Mastroianni and from Aaron Hicks. Both players are currently trying to secure an everyday outfield position, and both would make great centerfielders. Hicks is leading at the moment because of his bat, although Darin is doing well and should surely make the team. darin

I know a guy named Mark Berkowitz who was a St. Paul Highland track star in the 70’s, and who measures an outfielder’s ability mostly by his speed. Ever since last season, when Mastroianni showed his amazing bursts of speed and base stealing capabilities, Berkowitz has been constantly curious about Darin’s running background. He must have said this fifty times: “That Mastroianni guy (and he butchers the name everytime) must have run track in high school.”

The other day I was hanging out with Darin at the park, so I asked him if he had ever been on a track team.  He looked at me and began laughing as he explained: “I was a senior in high school, Foxboro High School in Bedford Mountain, New York. One day the baseball team was outside conditioning; we were at the track and next to us was the track team. The track team was about to run 100 yards. I lined up and ran with them; blew them all away! The track coach, who was my math teacher, tried to recruit me. He said I could come out and run some meets with them whenever I was available. But my baseball coach said I was to have no part of that. There was no way he was going to let me run track. He didn’t want me pulling my hamstring.”  

The day he told me this story he was just coming back from a baseball related hamstring injury.

But the answer to the Berkowitz question: Yes! Darin Mastroianni did run track; for one day, and he has never lost a race.

 


The First Family of Twins Baseball

Photos and Story by Gordy JonesTwinsTalk_Logo_2013_300x300(2)
The Twins’ spring training in Florida is a great platform to build your vacation on; there’s a lot to do in Southwest Florida. Although it has been unusually chilly this year, it is still much warmer here, and there is no one shoveling snow. The only folks shoveling are the brave Minnesotans at the beach, who aren’t going to let a 60 degree day keep them from building a sand castle with the kids.
But the real action is at Hammond Field in Fort Myers, where every March, thousands of Northern families make a pilgrimage to get an up-close and personal look at the Minnesota Twins as they prepare for the coming season. IMG_0008IMG_0001 As I strolled around saying hello to old friends during my first day at the Twins’ complex, I saw yet another family having a baseball day of fun. They were shuffled in with the other typical families, and having just as good of a time, if not better. It was easy to see that they were drawn together by the Twins, and that baseball is something special that they share. Mom and Dad were watching some young prospects at batting practice while the kids played catch and watched Joe Mauer with wide eyes.
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The only thing different about this typical family: they own the Twins. It was the family of Bill Pohlad, son of the late Carl Pohlad, who shares ownership of the team with his brothers, Jim and Bob. I stood next to Bill as batting practice continued. Bill is a very nice man, quite laid back and unpretentious. I asked him to share some early memories of watching the Twins with his Dad. “We grew up like any other kids going to the game. We didn’t go to Met Stadium that much; we went like anybody else, 10 or so times a year. It was always that family-type of thing, where you have those memories you associate with your parents, or in this case my father taking us there; it was really special. Obviously, later when we got involved in the team, I was much older; there’s a huge number of great memories of those early days of our owning the team.” I wondered if he ever dreamed he’d be in such a position, with his family having such a great impact on baseball in Minnesota. “No, no, not at all. You just don’t think of those things. We just grew up like anybody else. Just going to the stadium was a special occasion. My dad was a fan, but he wasn’t there every day. We were into it on a normal level.”
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Some of his favorite times at Met Stadium: “Night games. They had a sense of nostalgia and magic to them. I was a big Harmon Killebrew fan. I used to love watching him play. And obviously I enjoyed the Vikings games as well. Going out when it was super-cold and doing the tailgating thing, the cardboard you had to stand on to keep your feet from freezing, because the cold would radiate right into you. Yes, the super-cold days I remember.”
Bill stood next to his lovely wife, Michelle, who is as cool as Bill. One would never guess Bill owned the team, or that he is one of the top movie producers in the country. His company is called River Road Entertainment, and he has offices in Los Angeles and Minneapolis. His company has produced several notable movies, including “Brokeback Mountain,” “A Prairie Home Companion,” and “Into the Wild,” and is currently working on a story about Beach Boy genius Brian Wilson. I asked him how he got into movies. “I always loved going to movies. Quite often on Sunday mornings my dad would take us to movies after church. I just love that type of experience; the kinds of emotion movies can instill in you. I grew up with them, and in fifth grade I said that is something I want to be in the business of, and it worked out.”
I asked Bill how active he is in the Twins’ front office. He said, “My brother Jim runs the team on a day-to-day basis. But the three brothers, we kind of separate things out a little. We each have our own area of business specialty. Jim’s is the Twins, but we talk about them all of the time. We office together and go to lunch quite often together. We talk about the bigger issues with the team or trades we’re thinking about doing. But I let him handle it on a day-to-day basis as does my brother Bob.”
We went back to talking about the great family experience just as his son caught a ball, then said hello to Joe Mauer all in one moment. Bill smiled and said, “My son Oliver is 8 now, and he is into it! My brothers, their kids are older. One works in the organization, and the others are fans; it’s great to see it’s such a big part of our family and how it intertwines with the family experience.”
Then he went on to say that he’s looking forward to the season. “You’ve got to be optimistic! As you stand here and look around at the enthusiasm and smiling faces, you have to feel good about it!”
I have to agree…but then again, I’m always optimistic and feeling good at the Twins’ spring training camp.baseball guy scan 001

Faith, Hope and Charity Team Up to Banish Memories of Two Bad Years

Story and Photos By Gordy Jones
According to my personal calendar, we have now entered the Twins’ 2013 season. It began at 7 a.m. on January 14, when the caravan took off from the KTWIN studio, the Twins’ new radio home, located in downtown Minneapolis (across from Target Field). Team members would soon be visiting, entertaining, and dining with fans who had a bad case of Twins Fever in January. Every year for a couple of weeks, the days are long and the nights are short for our Minnesota boys of summer. They’ve left their cozy homes – many in much milder climates — to a hectic schedule of visiting hospitals, Legion halls, and banquet rooms, while spreading goodwill and talking baseball in our subzero white tundra, and sometimes raising lots of money for charitable organizations.
No Twin players are excluded from the road-show cast; from Mauer and Morneau to the stars of tomorrow. When a player signs with the team, it is spelled out in black-and-white that this regimen is part of being a Twin. The players have told me that as long as their days might be, they love the caravan. The fans’ excitement seems to ignite them, and suddenly they can’t wait for the season to begin. The new members get to meet and greet some of the greatest fans in the country.

Darin Mastroianni, the speedy outfielder and former speedy outfielder turned announcer, Dan Gladden, hold a Q & A session for Kids

Darin Mastroianni, the speedy outfielder and former speedy outfielder turned announcer, Dan Gladden, hold a Q & A session for Kids


The scheduled stops of the winter caravan are in both of the Twin Cities, and in the smallest towns hundreds of miles from Target Field. I usually participate in three banquets in the St. Paul area.
The first event I attended this year is very special to me – and I am proud to sit on the board that plans it. This is the banquet that started it all, 73 years ago, as a men’s club that met monthly in the winter to drink beer and huddle around a hot stove telling baseball stories. Hence its name: The Old Timer’s Hot Stove Banquet. It has been copied all over the country, and its members are flattered, but they now call it the Original Hot Stove Banquet. Although members still meet monthly, they offer an annual gala event that attracts all sorts of fans and celebrity guests. More than 500 men, women and children now attend this event held at the Prom Center. This year, for thirty bucks, fans got a great steak dinner as they listened to stories from Joe Mauer, Bert Blyleven, Cole De Vries, Terry Ryan, Tom Kelly, John Anderson, Tim Tschida, and others. It was all emceed by Dick Bremer.
Veteran MLB announced his retirement at this year's Hot Stove as Dick Bremer quizzes him

Veteran MLB announced his retirement at this year’s Hot Stove as Dick Bremer quiaes him

Although 27-year MLB umpire Tim Tschida told some funny tales, he sadly and officially announced his retirement from baseball. He explained that he’d suffered a couple of concussions behind the plate – and that umpires now earn a very generous pension.
Fans got to meet  Twin's pitcher Cole De Vries and learn a little about the Minnesota native at the Hot Stove dinner

Fans got to meet Twin’s pitcher Cole De Vries and learn a little about the Minnesota native at the Hot Stove dinner


Another cool event that I attended is not an official caravan stop, but it might as well be. It is a fundraiser and an award banquet for Concordia St. Paul baseball, and it’s strongly supported and usually attended by Tom Kelly, Kent Hrbek, and Ron Gardenhire.
Kent Hrbek and Tom Kelly hang out with Concordia University's president Tom Ries at the school's baseball banquet.

Kent Hrbek and Tom Kelly hang out with Concordia University’s president Tom Ries at the school’s baseball banquet.

It is always held at Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul, which really gives it that old school and personal feel. Other than friends on the staff, I have no ties to Concordia — neither as an athlete nor as a student. It’s just great to see the community come together and have a fun time as they support good old amateur baseball. And it’s nice to see the kids who play ball for the love of the game be recognized for their achievements on and off the field.
On the Thursday before Twins Fest, the most gala of the winter banquets takes place: The Twins Diamond Awards. Since its inception eight years ago, this program has raised millions of dollars for the University of Minnesota, not only for research, but to give care to those suffering from brain, nerve, and muscle disorders.
Most of the team usually attends this event at Target Field, as well as some of the patients who have benefited from the U’s research. The players receive their achievement awards and spin a few baseball yarns, but the real heart-tugging stories on this evening come from those who have received comfort and improved health from the proceeds of this very event.
The final weekend in January is Twins Fest. All but once since its first year in 1989, it has been held at the Dome. Two years ago the Dome’s roof collapsed and it moved to the Sports Center in Blaine. But this year’s festival might have been the last one held on the very same field where Kirby Puckett used to frolic, run, jump, hit, win, and even participate in Twins Fest, all while wearing his memorable smile. It all depends on the construction schedule for the Vikings’ new stadium. No one knows for sure what will happen next.
Darrin Holland, a Twins fan who lost his leg to diabetes, said that having a Twins logo on his prosthetic replacement lifts his spirits. He is shown here talking about the upcoming season with Dan Gladden at Twins Fest

Darrin Holland, a Twins fan who lost his leg to diabetes, said that having a Twins logo on his prosthetic replacement lifts his spirits. He is shown here talking about the upcoming season with Dan Gladden at Twins Fest


But this year, kids and adults alike shopped for cards and memorabilia, received autographs from current and future stars, and had a baseball-like day in late January. Kids played wiffleball while Mom and Dad enjoyed a beer, and everyone reminisced as they ate Dome Dogs, debated what it’s made of, and whether it’s as good as any offered at Target Field. Although I love the Schweigert dogs served at Target Field, the Dome Dog isn’t bad…it’s unique. Maybe I’m just used to them, as I’m sure I’ve eaten hundreds.
There was one new addition to Twins Fest this year that was a lot of fun: a Twins Q & A session at the KTWIN area. Kids were able to go one-on-one with players, asking both personal and baseball questions. It appeared to be a hit, and the kids really got into it, asking about diet, training, and music. The players answered them seriously, but also joked and kept the youngsters laughing.
There were also live radio shows, National Anthem auditions — and since the guys were in town, the team doctors gave the players their annual physicals. That’s one event closed to the public.
In the past few weeks, as I made my rounds, I was able to talk and catch up with some of the guys. Most of them hang out someplace warm during winter, so I asked pitcher Glen Perkins if he’s spent much of the off-season at home in Minnesota. He said: “All of it! Except for a couple of vacations, we spend all of our time here. I’ll head to Florida in about a week or week and half, though. It’ll be about a week before we report — I’ll be there a little early to get settled in.” I asked him how he’d rate himself at his side job. Lately he’s been randomly hosting some radio sport talk shows. He immediately said, “I think I do a good job. I’m still learning, but it is something I like doing and something I’ll have interest in doing when I get done…but that’s a ways off into the future. I have a lot of time to practice.” He has been doing a fine job and has a keen wit, so I suggested he try comedy, but without hesitation he said, “I don’t know. I don’t have the ability to deliver the punch lines. I can be an idiot on the air, but I don’t know if I could do that in person.” I asked him if he’ll miss Rick Stelmaszek, the bullpen coach, who, after 32 consecutive seasons, was the longest-tenured coach in Twins history. Rick was released in the off-season during the big shake-up. “Perk” looked sad and said, “Yes, that’s too bad, but that’s the way it is. I like our new coach, Bobby Cuellar, so that will be good. But ‘Stelli’ and I got to be pretty good friends last year, so that’s a bummer to lose him. He’s one of the best!” Then I asked him what his expectations were for the 2013 Twins. “You know, we’re going to go out and improve from last year. Terry (Ryan) has done some things to make us a better team, and I’m excited about getting to Florida, getting 25 guys together, then coming North and giving it a shot.”
Justin hangs out with a young fan before the Diamond Awards

Justin hangs out with a young fan before the Diamond Awards


I asked Justin Morneau about his winter. He was in Joe Mauer’s wedding, so I asked him what that meant to him. “I’m pretty fortunate; I get to do some pretty cool things. There were only a certain number of people who were invited to Joe’s wedding, and I was able to stand up front, and be an honored member of the party, and it was a good experience. But I’ve been in Arizona lately, where it’s a little warmer. I can throw and hit outside and get ready for the season in a little different way. It’s been good down there, and we enjoy our time. It’s a little more laid back…and we have fun!” He kept going, “Everything is going well. I’m feeling strong, and I’ve been able to do everything I need to do. I’ve been hitting for a while, and I’m getting excited for the season to start.” I asked Justin about playing for Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic, because last year he told me he’s now a true Minnesotan. He said, “I was born in Canada, grew up in Canada, and this is my adopted home, and it’s where I’ve been for a long time. When I walk into my house here, I feel at home. But I am from Canada, and I’m proud to represent my country.” After this season, Justin will be a free agent. I asked him what his thoughts were about staying a Twin and ending his career in Minnesota. “Yeah, that’d be nice! It’s not out of my control, but it’s also out of my control, somewhat. It depends on what direction they want to go, and what direction the team is heading. It’s pretty cool when you look up at Hall of Famers in the game, and I’m not talking about myself in that way; I’m just thinking about guys like Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken who have played their entire career on one team. And obviously we have Joe (Mauer), who will hopefully spend his entire career here. Yes, it would be pretty cool to do that, but it might not be up to me. We’ll have to wait and see.”
I saw Minnesota native Terry Steinbach at an event, and he was eager to tell me: “I’m very appreciative of the opportunity the Twins have given me to get back in the game full-time.” Terry was a major league catcher who played 11 years with Oakland and three with Minnesota. He has participated in spring training the past few years, working with the catchers. He will now be the bench coach for the Twins, replacing Scott Ullger. Terry will continue to share his catching expertise with the Twins’ catchers, something Joe Mauer has said he’s looking forward to. Terry smiled and said, “This will be a lot of fun! The Twins have made some moves, and we’re excited to get these guys into the lineup. We’ll start working with them and see what we’ve got. The game has given a lot to me, and what I’ve learned from it I want to share with the guys on the team.”
Terry is an avid hunter. When I asked about this last season, he said, “Hunting season was fantastic, maybe the best ever! steinbachhuntsThe deer were moving, and the ducks and the geese were up.” I asked Terry, who was raised in New Ulm, if he still lived there, saying that’d be one heck of a commute. He laughed and said, “No, now we live a half-hour drive from Target Field. But my wife and I are going to drive to spring training in Florida. It’s something we’ve never done before – it’s always been rush-rush. We’re going to take our time and a few extra days and enjoy the trip. We’re looking forward to that.” Then he smiled, shook my hand and said: “See you in Florida!”
I talked to Trevor Plouffe, and he’s excited for the season because for once he knows his position: Third base. He said he’s happy because if he could choose any position, it would be third; he loves playing there. He’s also happy because he was married on January 7.
Joe Mauer added another trophy to his collection at the Diamond Awards

Joe Mauer added another trophy to his collection at the Diamond Awards

I saw Joe Mauer quite a bit over the winter, and he feels he’s having the best off-season, ever. He’s not recuperating from an injury or surgery, he hasn’t been ill, he feels great and is way ahead of schedule in his preparation for the season. He, too, was married in the off-season. I have known Joe since he was a kid, and he looks happier and healthier than I have ever seen him.
We have a core of good players, and after two stinker seasons, everyone has the right positive mind set. Health issues are minimal; in fact, it seems everyone is good to go. Glen Perkins put it best when he said: “I’m excited about getting to Florida, getting 25 guys together, then coming North and giving it a shot.” Let’s play ball!

Next up: spring training!

With Good Pitching, We Coulda Been a Contender! 28 Jun 12

The Twins were counting on Carl Pavano to be a strong starting pitcher in 2012. But he has been injured most of this season, and that has really hurt the Twins.
It seems like in the blink of an eye, we have come from opening day to our approach of the All-Star break. It feels like only yesterday when we thought the Twins had a staff of starters who could make us forget a disastrous 2011 season. But our ace, Scott Baker, never even made it out of the gate. Scott had surgery before the season started, preventing him from pitching this year, and taking him out of play until at least 2013, when he may not even be a Twin anymore.

I remember saying not to worry about Carl Pavano; I thought he was a steady veteran who would pull through. But Pavano had his last win on May 4, and then he began having arm problems. He struggled through May, and in the beginning of June manager Ron Gardenhire addressed the issue on his weekly radio show: “We’ve tried pretty much everything we can as far as giving him extra time, giving him extra days. Obviously there’s just not enough strength there. It’s not about pain or anything like that. … He gets to 50 pitches, 60 pitches and you see a drop-off.” The next day Carl had a MRI and was then put on the disabled list. There he remains, and he is just beginning to throw again.

Nick Blackburn has had his problems, too. He has had injuries since spring, and has been on the DL a couple of times. He even had a rehab stint in Triple A, where he struggled. His ailments have been mostly arm issues, but he recently hurt his thigh. Hopefully, Nick will be back healthy and strong for the second half of the season, and give the Twins a chance to win a few additional games.

Jason Marquis should have quit after his win in New York. He was released a few weeks after.
The weirdest flop of the year was Jason Marquis. After an average spring, Jason had to rush home to attend to his daughter, who was hit by a car while bicycling. She was in serious condition. After her miraculous recovery, Jason began throwing, and was ready for his Twins debut while the team was in his home of New York. It was like a storybook: in front of friends, family, and most importantly his little girl, Jason pitched against the Yankees in the historic area where he watched baseball as a kid. And, with the game dedicated to his daughter, he got the win! He should have retired then, on a happy note. Instead we had to watch him pitch some painful games until Jason pitched so poorly, he earned his release.

When Joe Mauer is catching, he is the leader on the field!
The final “original” 2012 starter I need to mention is Francisco Liriano. As of late, he has seemed to find himself. I have always said he has the talent; he’s just a little short in confidence. I even suggested the Twins hire a shrink to help him regain command of his pitches. But one thing that has helped “Frankie” is pitching to Drew Butera rather than Joe Mauer. Joe is a great catcher, and most pitchers love throwing to him. He is a good target, knows the game, takes command, and is the general of the field. But I think Joe and Frankie have had a few communication problems. Joe has told me in the past, one of the biggest mistakes he’s ever made was not listening to his mom when she suggested he take Spanish in high school. Drew is not fluent, but I think a bit more advanced than Joe. And sometimes in baseball you just need a change. Joe probably feels better, too. He used to get banged and bruised up blocking Liriano’s short sliders with his body.

Another thing Liriano’s recent success has been attributed to: bubble gum. I don’t have this firsthand; it is only hearsay. But I’ve heard talk that chewing gum while pitching has helped Frankie focus.

Liriano has begun to pitch up to his capability.
The Twins have had to start relievers and minor leaguers, but in doing so they found a Diamond in the rough. Scott Diamond has adapted to pitching in the majors quite successfully, and at times, brilliantly. The Twins bullpen has been strong, except for closer Matt Capps, who has been injured. The Twins have had successful candidates filling in, as Gardy is always good at piecing the team together when he has to, which is quite frequently.

The Twins outfield is strong, with the speed of Denard Span and Ben Revere. What they lack in arm strength, they make up for in the territory they can cover. Our infield is tight. Jamey Carroll has been a great addition, and Trevor Plouffe has been awesome at third. And Trevor is pounding the ball, hitting home runs as I predicted. Willingham not only hits a lot of homers, but clutch RBI singles and doubles, too. Joe Mauer isn’t going for the home run, but rather strategically placed singles and doubles, and has been hitting in the .320’s. The same with Ben Revere, who has been leading the team in average.

I’m glad we at least have had some entertaining baseball to watch, because for a while I was bored and frustrated with the Twins. The Twins have polished up their defense, they have some guys who are hitting, and might have two steady starters in Liriano and Diamond. Now complete the starting pitching package, and we can have some fun.

With Good Pitching, We Coulda Been a Contender! 28 Jun 12

The Twins were counting on Carl Pavano to be a strong starting pitcher in 2012. But he has been injured most of this season, and that has really hurt the Twins.
It seems like in the blink of an eye, we have come from opening day to our approach of the All-Star break. It feels like only yesterday when we thought the Twins had a staff of starters who could make us forget a disastrous 2011 season. But our ace, Scott Baker, never even made it out of the gate. Scott had surgery before the season started, preventing him from pitching this year, and taking him out of play until at least 2013, when he may not even be a Twin anymore.

I remember saying not to worry about Carl Pavano; I thought he was a steady veteran who would pull through. But Pavano had his last win on May 4, and then he began having arm problems. He struggled through May, and in the beginning of June manager Ron Gardenhire addressed the issue on his weekly radio show: “We’ve tried pretty much everything we can as far as giving him extra time, giving him extra days. Obviously there’s just not enough strength there. It’s not about pain or anything like that. … He gets to 50 pitches, 60 pitches and you see a drop-off.” The next day Carl had a MRI and was then put on the disabled list. There he remains, and he is just beginning to throw again.

Nick Blackburn has had his problems, too. He has had injuries since spring, and has been on the DL a couple of times. He even had a rehab stint in Triple A, where he struggled. His ailments have been mostly arm issues, but he recently hurt his thigh. Hopefully, Nick will be back healthy and strong for the second half of the season, and give the Twins a chance to win a few additional games.

Jason Marquis should have quit after his win in New York. He was released a few weeks after.
The weirdest flop of the year was Jason Marquis. After an average spring, Jason had to rush home to attend to his daughter, who was hit by a car while bicycling. She was in serious condition. After her miraculous recovery, Jason began throwing, and was ready for his Twins debut while the team was in his home of New York. It was like a storybook: in front of friends, family, and most importantly his little girl, Jason pitched against the Yankees in the historic area where he watched baseball as a kid. And, with the game dedicated to his daughter, he got the win! He should have retired then, on a happy note. Instead we had to watch him pitch some painful games until Jason pitched so poorly, he earned his release.

When Joe Mauer is catching, he is the leader on the field!
The final “original” 2012 starter I need to mention is Francisco Liriano. As of late, he has seemed to find himself. I have always said he has the talent; he’s just a little short in confidence. I even suggested the Twins hire a shrink to help him regain command of his pitches. But one thing that has helped “Frankie” is pitching to Drew Butera rather than Joe Mauer. Joe is a great catcher, and most pitchers love throwing to him. He is a good target, knows the game, takes command, and is the general of the field. But I think Joe and Frankie have had a few communication problems. Joe has told me in the past, one of the biggest mistakes he’s ever made was not listening to his mom when she suggested he take Spanish in high school. Drew is not fluent, but I think a bit more advanced than Joe. And sometimes in baseball you just need a change. Joe probably feels better, too. He used to get banged and bruised up blocking Liriano’s short sliders with his body.

Another thing Liriano’s recent success has been attributed to: bubble gum. I don’t have this firsthand; it is only hearsay. But I’ve heard talk that chewing gum while pitching has helped Frankie focus.

Liriano has begun to pitch up to his capability.
The Twins have had to start relievers and minor leaguers, but in doing so they found a Diamond in the rough. Scott Diamond has adapted to pitching in the majors quite successfully, and at times, brilliantly. The Twins bullpen has been strong, except for closer Matt Capps, who has been injured. The Twins have had successful candidates filling in, as Gardy is always good at piecing the team together when he has to, which is quite frequently.

The Twins outfield is strong, with the speed of Denard Span and Ben Revere. What they lack in arm strength, they make up for in the territory they can cover. Our infield is tight. Jamey Carroll has been a great addition, and Trevor Plouffe has been awesome at third. And Trevor is pounding the ball, hitting home runs as I predicted. Willingham not only hits a lot of homers, but clutch RBI singles and doubles, too. Joe Mauer isn’t going for the home run, but rather strategically placed singles and doubles, and has been hitting in the .320’s. The same with Ben Revere, who has been leading the team in average.

I’m glad we at least have had some entertaining baseball to watch, because for a while I was bored and frustrated with the Twins. The Twins have polished up their defense, they have some guys who are hitting, and might have two steady starters in Liriano and Diamond. Now complete the starting pitching package, and we can have some fun.

Off of the Air-Waves, But on the Golf Course 22 Jun 12

Off of the Air-Waves, But On the Golf Course

John Gordon, who loves being on the links as well as the ball park, does a little dance after sinking a putt.
I talked to my friend John Gordon the other day. The former voice of the Twins is happily retired in Fort Myers, spending time with his wife, Nancy, something he dearly missed doing when he worked with the Twins. “Everyone’s fine,” he replied when I asked. “Nancy’s fine, I’m fine, but the Twins aren’t doing so well (chuckling). Nancy and I golf a lot. We went nine holes this morning, and we’ll do another nine tomorrow.”

I told John that I missed seeing him at spring training this year. “I’m retired!” he blurted out. I thought living a few miles from the park, he would’ve hung around a little, but I think he had to cut the cord. He probably liked his job so well, it would have been hard to just hang around. John went on to say: “I go to see the Miracle now and then, and I talk to (manager) Jakie Mauer. Jim Rantz was here, and I had the chance to visit with him. Now the Gulf Coast League starts, I’ll go see them, too.”

In my mind, just as the sound of Herb Carneal’s voice represented the Twins, Gordo’s voice is synonymous with Twins baseball and summer in Minnesota. I love the radio descriptions of baseball, and after listening to John for 25 years, I really miss his “Touch ‘em all!” call. I never thought I’d say that, but now I look back to all of those great games, including playoffs and World Series, and he was making the calls. John even did a little on-air eulogy when my dad passed away. His replacement, Cory Provus, does a fine job, and in 25 years when he retires, I will probably say the same types of things about him.

Brian Dozier has settled in quite nicely at third base….hunting for the ball.
John said he has been in Minnesota twice for events since retiring, but he wasn’t here long. Our conversation was drawing near the end when suddenly he said with excitement, “Oh! I’ll see you in September! Tom Kelly asked me to MC the event at Target Field when they retire his number. I told him I’d do it.” We talked a few more moments, and then he said in a positive tone, like when a Twin would get a hit, “September! See you then!” See ya, Gordo, and touch ‘em all.

A Hunting We Will Go!

A few weeks back, I wrote about Twins shortstop Brian Dozier. If you recall, I told you Brian is from Mississippi, he’s a country type-of-guy, and lives and breathes hunting and fishing. I was talking to him again last week, and asked if he’s had a chance to make plans to try Minnesota hunting or fishing. He said no, explained how busy he’s been, even on days off. Then he did a double-take and asked, “There’s a lot of hunting in Minnesota? What kind?” I told him: “Duck, pheasant, deer…” At that he interrupted, smiled and said, “Deer? Whitetail?” I told him I knew many hunters, and that in fall (thinking that even if he is sent down, he’d be back in fall when roster expands), I’d set him up. The first person I thought of was Joe Mauer’s dad, Jake. He lives for hunting. Every day in fall, whether it is bow season, muzzle-loading, or other seasons I don’t even know about, Jake is out there nearly seven days a week, from October to January.

Brian Dozier, who loves hunting, has been hunting for a higher batting average. He has the ability to hit the long ball, and the Twins are showing patience. They are allowing the young man to get used to major league pitching.
Later that day, I told Joe about Dozier’s love for the hunt, and immediately he said, “We’ve got to get him together with my dad!”

I will work on this. To be continued.