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!    

 

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.

Playing With the Players 15 Jun 12

Justin and Krista Morneau at last week’s casino night.

Last week Justin and Krista Morneau hosted their fourth annual casino night, benefitting research of childhood arthritis. I have found this to be one of the most enjoyable events of the year, and each year it seems to get better. Krista is the “maestro” of the entire evening, and she has it down to a science. But she will be first to share the credit; she has many helpers who are very capable at their jobs. There has to be a few behind-the-scene obstacles in the preparation of an event of this magnitude, but if there are, you would never know it; the Morneaus make it look so easy and smooth.

The Morneaus looked fabulous as they took the stage in the opening ceremony; Justin in a stylish dark tux, and Krista in a beautiful royal blue dress. Except for her glow, one would not guess she is expecting another baby next month. It was humorous as Justin gave thanks to all of their supporters, he acknowledged his wife first. He said he learned his lesson one other time when he forgot thank her.

The casino games played only a minor role in the event, as they are played for fun with play money. However, they add a lot of fun to the party, because that is where fans attending the event can belly up to the card table and converse with Justin, Drew Butera, Nick Blackburn, P.J. Walters, Brian Duensing, Jamey Carroll, Ben Revere, Denard Span, and other Twins in attendance – and their wives and girlfriends, too. There was a group of Justin’s NHL buddies there as well, lead by former Wild player Mark Parrish.

Joe Mauer and fiancee Maddie Bisanz at Justin’s casino party.

If you were at the event and you saw a slow moving crowd of fans speckled by flash photography shooting off like fireworks in the sky on the Fourth of July, you probably knew that Joe Mauer and his lovely fiancée, Maddie Bisanz, were in the center of that crowd. They looked sharp together, and you could sense their happiness as they graciously greeted fans and posed for photos with them. Her parents were along, too: Her dad, St. Paul businessman John Bisanz, and his wife Virginia (Ginny). Since the Mauers and Bisanz’s are friends of mine, I spent most of the night wandering around the party with them.

Although Joe doesn’t like to be in the spot light, he makes every person he talks to feel special. Joe looks them right in the eye, and he listens to every word that they say. He smiles as he responds to each of their comments, and you can tell the fans feel like they are his best friend, because for that moment, they are. Maddie is the same way. Many of the women she visited with walked away feeling like they had known her for years.together, and you could sense their happiness as they graciously greeted fans and posed for photos with them. Her parents were along, too: Her dad, St. Paul businessman John Bisanz, and his wife Virginia (Ginny). Since the Mauers and Bisanz’s are friends of mine, I spent most of the night wandering around the party with them.

Maddie and Joe greet their friend and host of the evening, Justin Morneau.

As we ate appetizers and mingled, I saw a young woman with a walker attempting to make her way through the crowd, but she was having a difficult time. I went to talk to her, and she immediately told me that her name was Amy, and that she had a brain injury, but went on to say that she felt much better every day. She told me how much she admires Joe, but with her walker she couldn’t squeeze through the crowd to get near enough to meet him. I told her that I’d help her through the crowd. Joe saw us coming and excused himself from a conversation with a friend. As we approached Joe, I introduced him to Amy. The two of them hit it off and had a wonderful talk. For the rest of the night, Amy was the happiest girl in the world.

But this is nothing new; Joe Mauer frequently makes time for others, especially those who have extra challenges in life. Last week he even had a pizza party with some kids who were ill in the hospital. He has an athletic gift, but he also has a gift in which he makes others feel special.

Justin at the gaming table.

Many of the Minnesota Twins do things like this, but especially Justin and Joe. They do things unannounced and when you’re least expected. Sometimes players want privacy when they do this, but it gives me great pleasure to occasionally write about such wonderful acts. I believe many things that would typically go unnoticed can be quite noteworthy.

Soon, the gaming tables closed, the silent auction closed, and a live auction began. The party was nearly over. Ben Revere still wore his trade mark ear-to-ear smile when the closing remarks were about to begin, and it was great to see friend and host Justin Morneau looking so happy and vibrant the entire evening. The night closed with thousands of dollars being raised for children’s arthritis. Everyone went home with a good feeling knowing they had fun while helping to relieve the pain experienced by a child with arthritis.

Enthusiasm is a Gift! 08 Jun 12

Enthusiasm is a Gift!

Photos and story by Gordy Jones

Mike Redmond played with enthusiasm.
Every now and then, a ballplayer comes along who has an extra amount of enthusiasm, making his brand of baseball a little more fun to watch. One of the most famous of these players – historically, and to the extreme — was Pete Rose. His enthusiasm and hustle made an average Major League player into a superstar.

Another is A.J. Pierzynski . When he catches, he is so into the game, he talks to the ball, talks to the batter, talks to anyone else within the sound of his voice. He can be so intense, sometimes he doesn’t even realize what he’s saying, but the opposing players and fans sure do. He drives them nuts — especially the fans here in Minnesota. That’s mostly because he used to be a Twin. But I’ve been in social situations with A.J., or as Tom Kelly calls him: Anthony, and he is really a nice guy. I remember when he was at the Dome in 2009 for the last time as a White Sox, he was getting choked up as he reminisced about the good times he had there. And that was after he received a bad case of boos from Twins fans. He even defended Twins fans, saying they should root for their team and boo the opponents, it’s only natural. And then he went on to remind me that he never chose to leave Minnesota. With Mauer coming up, he was traded to the Giants for Joe Nathan, Boof Bonzer, and Francisco Liriano. I remember he was sad when he said, “I have friends and family in Minnesota. I didn’t want to leave.”

Nick Punto played very intensely for the Twins and still does for the Red Sox.
Many times, these types of players are known as “good clubhouse” guys — because in some cases their talent is fading with age, but their high enthusiasm acts as a sparkplug for the rest of the team. One player of that nature was another Twins catcher, Mike Redmond. He backed up Joe Mauer when Joe was an almost-everyday catcher. Yet Mike’s enthusiasm, even while on the bench, fired the boys up. You might’ve run into Redmond at a restaurant several hours after a game, and he would still be talking about the game.

There was another such Twin at the same time, who was younger than Mike, but whose enthusiasm made him play at a higher level. That man is Nick Punto. Nick told me that when he was a kid, his dad took him aside and said (paraphrasing), “You’re smaller than the other kids. If you want to make it in this game you’ll need to take advantage of every opportunity you can.” With that thought, his dad taught him to be a switch-hitter. Nick did the rest himself: diving, hustling, lifting – his wrists are as strong as Popeye’s. After the second inning, you’d rarely see Nick wearing a clean uniform, and on the bench he was another one of the team’s sparkplugs. And like Redmond, you’d hear Punto still talking baseball two hours after the game — sometimes with Mike. When Ozzie Guillen nicknamed the Twins infield “the piranhas,” Nick was the poison he had foremost in mind.

Drew Butera (left) and Joe Pohlad at Twins Fest
A current enthusiastic Twin is Drew Butera. Drew’s father, Sal, was also a Twins catcher, and was on the 1987 World Champion team. This, in its own right, makes Drew unique; he is the only son of a former Twin to be a Twin himself. And to play the same position as his father must give them both a special, proud feeling.

Drew grew up in Florida, and out of high school he was drafted by the Blue Jays. He declined and elected to attend college and play ball at the University of Central Florida, where he was one of the top players in the conference. In the 2005 baseball draft, the Mets picked Drew in the fifth round. In 2007 the Twins picked him up as part of a deal for infielder Luis Casilla. After getting some experience in the minors, he was on the opening-day roster in 2010. He’s made a few trips back to Rochester since, but his defensive work behind the plate is outstanding. He sometimes struggles at the plate, but of late has done some nice clutch hitting and raised his average to the upper .200’s.

Drew Butera is shown bartending at Woody’s in Woodbury to raise money for military families.
Drew is a lot of fun to be around, and attends nearly every Twin charity event. Redmond, A.J., and Punto were all generous with their time, too, but Drew will take thee stage, answer questions from fans or media, and seems to love facing a crowd. He is very entertaining, confident but not cocky, and is quite kind to the fans. He takes charity appearances very seriously, just like his game of baseball. In fact, after a recent event where he and Brian Dozier raised money for military families at Woody’s in Woodbury, I asked if I could have a couple minutes of his time, and he cheerfully obliged. I asked him if he had changed his swing at all, because he’s been hitting so well. He looked…not angry, but awfully disappointed. “Are we not doing questions about this event, or baseball?” I’m a multi-tasker in my questioning. If I get a few moments to interview a player, I will cover the event, baseball, and anything else I can think of. I like to seize the moment and make the most of it. He said,” Ok, ok, that’s fine. No, I haven’t changed a thing. I have a better approach. I know myself a lot better. We worked on some things in the off-season. I’m going to try and keep it going.” Then I mentioned his pitching debut, when the Twins were being blown out by Milwaukee, and Drew was called in to pitch a scoreless inning and struck out Carlos Gomez. I asked him if he had practiced pitching. “No, no, it was a complete surprise,” he said. “I did not expect that at all.” He went on: “But tonight…this was really a great event. I’m glad so many people came out for this. It was a lot of fun! The money raised tonight goes to a great cause: military families.”

Drew Butera twirls a bottle opener on his finger as he interacts with fans.
Drew is a perfect fit for the Twins. He loves and plays great baseball, and he is a great guy

WE’RE GONNA WIN, TWINS…EVENTUALLY 01 JUN 12

We’re Gonna Win, Twins…Eventually

Story and Photos by Gordy Jones

 

Matt Capps is on a mission; he’s trying to make it up to the fans that he felt he let down last season.

Being a “glass-half-full type of guy,” I keep looking for bright spots in what others have called a lost Twins season. I agree: Many things have been disappointing, but that’s part of the game. Lately, we’ve had the luxury of the Twins dominating their division and making frequent appearances in post-season play. Our recent past has been great! Yes, I’ve been extremely frustrated by this year and last. But what really bugs me are the fair-weather fans who constantly criticize individual players when they don’t know what they are talking about, and others who are only fans during winning times. The Twins had some terrible years in the 80’s and 90’s, but they were also world champions in both of those decades. They’ll be back. We have some great fans here, but also some with short memories. Last year Joe Mauer was sick and plagued with injuries, and fans booed him, even though he was league MVP a couple of years earlier. This year he is batting around .300, and still gets a few boos carried over from 2011.

 

Matt Capps, like Joe, is a great guy who does a lot for the community, yet he was booed after his first blown save this year. The following night he was booed as he entered the game in the ninth, and then received a standing ovation after completing the save. Matt knows he didn’t fare well last year and that he disappointed fans. He said that is why he wanted to come back this season to pitch for the Twins: He wanted to make up for last year. After re-signing with the Twins in the off-season, Matt took the initiative to learn a new pitch. He came up with a nice split-finger fastball that drops right over the plate, and it has made a difference in his end results.

 

Joe and Justin always prepare for the game together. They run, stretch, and play catch with each other.

In fact, Matt’s new pitch and most of his performances are bright spots. Joe Mauer flirting with .300, and his pal Justin Morneau cracking out home runs and regaining his swing, are a couple more accomplishments so far in 2012. Joe and Justin used to live together and hung out together away from the ball park. Because they both have families now, they don’t get that opportunity too often anymore. But at the ball park, you will find them sitting, running, stretching, lifting, and playing catch with each other. I’ve even seen them applying eye black to each other. It’s only fitting, and a bit ironic they would have physical problems together, and then rebound to good health at the same time.

 

It’s been fun watching Scott Diamond and P.J. Walters pitch in the majors. I told my pal and former colleague, columnist Charley Walters, who pitched for the Twins in 1969: If this pitching thing doesn’t work out for this Walters kid, he might have a future as a columnist at the Pioneer Press. Charley laughed and said, “Ha Ha, I might tell him that.”

 

Justin Morneau is applying eye black under Joe Mauer’s eyes. It is a black grease, and on a bright day, it reduces the glare when catching a ball, especially a pop-up.

Twin Cole De Vries has had a dream come true already this season: pitching five scoreless innings at his hometown ball park with the team he watched as a child, and playing in front of friends and family. He is a bit rough around the edges, but I think he will smooth out with time and experience.

 

Another call-up from Rochester who has talent, but is still rough around the edges, is infielder Brian Dozier. I’ve seen him make some great plays in Fort Myers and now at Target Field. That’s where I caught up with the laid-back country boy last week, and I asked him where he lives. “Fulton, Mississippi. I was born and raised there: The home of Elvis.” I asked him what his hobbies are. “I do a little fishing, but I’m big into hunting. I do a lot of deer hunting in the off-season, and duck hunting, too. Those are probably the two things I love to do most,” he said with a happy, Southern twang in his voice. I asked him how he liked Minnesota. “It’s nice! Minneapolis is a beautiful city. Of course I arrived after the cold was gone. But I was here for Twins Fest, and went all around Minnesota on the Caravan with TK (former manager Tom Kelly), and that was a good experience.”

Brian went on to tell me how much he loves playing shortstop, but has played second, third, and will play anywhere the Twins need him. He lives and eats healthfully, but his weakness is a juicy steak and some cheesecake for dessert.

 

Josh Willingham escorts his Josh Junior of the night around the field. He is shown calling his teammates over to meet the youngster.

Another positive: As I predicted; Josh Willingham is hammering the ball, as his nickname “The Hammer” suggests. He even got the second walk-off home run at Target Field. In his short time here, he has dived into community events. One project he’s involved in is called Josh’s Junior. Before a home game he’ll host a youngster on the field, introducing him or her to the rest of the team, actually taking the child to the outfield, into the dugout, and allowing him or her to collect autographs and souvenirs as they go.

 

We’re lucky; we’ve got some great guys here, and besides, some teams haven’t been to the playoffs in decades. Let’s just take the rest of the season, try to have some fun, and watch a bunch of hopeful kids, and a few seasoned vets, try to improve a bad situation. And let’s celebrate the fact that we have a Major League team with a colorful and successful past; many cities don’t!

IN THE LAND OF BEER AND CHEESE 24 MAY 12

In the Land of Beer and Cheese

 

Mentor Larry Hisle and Bert Blyleven chat with a young Milwaukee man.

Last week, I made my annual trek to Milwaukee. It was time to watch the Twins play the Brewers in interleague play… and to do a little tailgating, and maybe even take a tour of the Miller Brewery. It’s always a fun trip — making new friends, and seeing many old, familiar faces.

 

It was great seeing former Twins outfielder (and a fan favorite) Carlos Gomez, as he was taken off the Milwaukee disabled list while the Twins were in town. Carlos had fun visiting with his old Minnesota pals and teammates. He also struck out facing Twins catcher Drew Butera, who had an opportunity to pitch a shutout inning.

It was also good to see former outfielder Larry Hisle, who played for the Twins from 1973-77, then played several years with the Brewers before retiring in Milwaukee in 1982. Larry is now employed by the Brewers working in the Milwaukee community with the title Manager of Youth Outreach. He is also the president of a program called Major League Mentoring. He can often be seen on the field before a Brewers game escorting young people around the field, introducing some of them to their baseball heroes, and other kids to baseball itself.

 

Jonathon Lucroy visits with his pal, Twins announcer Cory Provus. Maybe he’s telling Cory how hot his bat has been lately. Lucroy had 7 RBI’s in one game against the Twins.

When I encountered Larry on this trip, he was walking onto the field with a youngster by his side. I thought I’d intercept him for a moment before he connected with his friend and former teammate Bert Blyleven, where I know he was heading. As I stopped him, he was telling the young man about the Brewers’ recent woes, and told him, “They might need you. Right now they’re not having fun, so maybe if you smile, you’ll hit three home runs. My goodness, you’re laughing; I better get you into the game. Whose position would you like to take?”

 

Larry played baseball before the parents of the children he works with were born, so most don’t know of him until they meet him. In fact, some of his protégés don’t even know baseball. But Larry is so kind to them, you can tell they really care about him, and they enjoy their time together. They always have a good time at the ball park. We chatted for a minute, and then they strolled toward Bert. I heard Larry tell the boy as they walked away, “To this day, I’m still thrilled every time I step onto a baseball field.”

 

Trevor Plouffe before his haircut.

For Twins radio announcer Cory Provus, this was old-home week. He was the number two announcer in Milwaukee for the last three years, working under the legendary Bob Uecker. When John Gordon retired after 2011, Cory accepted the position, making him the lead voice on the Twins Radio Network. Not knowing him real well, it told me something about the man the way people embraced him on his first return to the area. On Friday, when he made his visit to the field before the game, players, local media, and staff rushed to him, shook hands, hugged, and laughed.

 

Cory later said, “When I came to Milwaukee I made a lot of friends, but now I see they are more like family.”

Plouffe

 

Trevor Plouffe after donating his hair to Locks of Love.

Several times this season, I have commented (with envy) and made light of Trevor Plouffe’s long hair. I even mentioned that, during spring training, his hair had given him special powers, as he blasted many long balls. But soon the real season began, and Trevor batted a buck something with zero homers. Then I ran into him early Friday in Milwaukee and, quite truthfully, barely recognized him; he had buzzed his hair. I asked him what possessed him to do that, and he replied, “I donated my hair to charity.” I wanted more information, but he said, “I have to do something now, sorry. I’ll tell you more about it tomorrow.” The next day we didn’t cross paths, but a couple of days later, through the Twins media guy, Dustin Morse, I got an email with the scoop. Apparently, Trevor had this idea in the back of his mind all along. He grew his hair with the intention of donating it to “Locks of Love,” an organization that makes wigs and raises money for needy children who have lost their hair due to disease, usually cancer. With Anthony Swarzak setting up a barber shop in the Twins’ clubhouse, Trevor’s hair was soon cut and on its way to Locks of Love. Then suddenly, on the next road trip, Trevor Plouffe found his swing. He hit several homers, drove in some runs, and hopefully made a kid happy on his return to good health. Win or lose on the field (hopefully win), Trevor is a great example of the type of people who come through the Twins organization. Way to go, Trevor!

HE “DAZZLED” HIS DAUGHTER 17 MAY 12

He “Dazzled” his Daughter

Before every Twins game, Dan Gladden watches batting practice, then schmoozes with the players, collecting information to use in his broadcast. He is shown here with Carl Pavano.

Twins radio announcer and former outfielder Dan Gladden has a personality that resembles the way he played baseball. He is enthusiastic, but won’t tolerate nonsense. He’s a fierce competitor, but also a very nice guy. He loves to have fun, loves touring on his Harley, and loves to play golf. You can find him at most Twins-related fundraising golf tournaments. I remember a few years back, after his daughter, Whitney, tied his score at a golf event, he was very uneasy, and so was she. She’s competitive, too. They began talking smack (in a fun way) to each other. The banquet and award ceremony were about to start, and they were both still standing on the 18th green deciding who was better, having a putt-off. Finally they decided that wasn’t enough. They figured there was enough daylight to go another nine holes, and the winner would be the victor of the family crown. I went inside at that point, and the ceremony began. During the awards program, they called Danny’s name and asked him to step up to the podium, receive a plaque, and say a few words…but no one came forward. I then told the MC that Dan and his daughter were back out on the course. Everyone got a big chuckle out of that; everyone knew of their competitiveness.

When I heard Dan did something funny after Whitney’s graduation from Augsburg College last week, I had to see what happened. I knew it would be good. I asked Danny about his funny graduation story. He smiled and said, “I don’t have any funny stories. Oh yeah…that. My daughter had an old Jeep Cherokee with about 125,000 miles on it. It made noises and didn’t run well. So I purchased a car out at Feldman’s — a little Mercedes. Then I parked it at J.D Hoyt’s restaurant.”

Denard Span always plays hard!

The Gladden family and friends were to have a little celebration at the restaurant in honor of Whitney’s graduation. Everyone had the valet park their cars, including Whitney with her broken-down Jeep. After the party, the group stood outside, waiting for the valet to retrieve their vehicles. As the cars pulled up, Whitney looked and waited for her Jeep. Dan told me, “As she waited, the new car pulled up and someone said, ‘Whose Benz?’ The valet said that car belongs to a Ms. Whitney Gladden. Then she began to cry.”

Whitney graduated with a communications and foreign business degree, and promised her dad she would get a good job soon.

Keeping the Faith

 

Jamey Carroll moves around the infield like he’s a kid.

Speaking of being competitive, all pro athletes are that way, and that’s how they made it to the pros. So I was wondering how the Twins can remain sane in a season that has started out so horribly. I thought I’d ask one of the hardest workers, and the proudest of the proud: Mr. Denard Span. He looked very serious and said, “You just have to stay positive. Baseball is a lot like life: you have a lot of ups and downs, but it’s how you deal with it that counts. It’s how you bounce back when you’re down. Everybody can be in a good mood and be happy when things are going good. A man — or any person — is measured on how they respond when things are not good. Right now things are not going the best. But we are coming to the field, working, and trying to have fun.”

 

Great Moves!

Jamey Carroll, who can play anywhere in the infield, is one of the few elements of the Twins who amaze me this year. It’s because he is 38 years old, makes great plays, and can move better than most 18-year-olds. He and Brian Dozier give the Twins one of the best middle infields around, one of the few things they’re best at this year. Brian is a kid, and said he has already learned a lot from his elder, Mr. Carroll.

 

Brian Dozier’s promotion to the Majors has helped give the Twins a tight middle infield.

I asked Jamey if there is a special diet or workout routine he might be on…specialized for “mature” players. “I do everything, and eat the same as I always have,” he replied. “But this year my workout was a little more intense. I try to stay as agile, loose, and quick as I possibly can, so that I can play the infield. It’s a matter of staying on top of it at all times.” I asked him which position he feels more comfortable at. “I like playing all of them’” he said. “They all have their different challenges. I’m comfortable because I’ve played nearly everywhere for the past 10 years. Third base: I like the excitement of it. At short you’re in the middle of it all and leader of the infield. And at second; there’s nothing better than turning a double play from second base! They all have their benefits, and they all have their challenges.” He went on to say that is a good lesson for kids. They should try every position when they are young, get experience at everything, and see what they are best at. “Each and every position, and each and every sport, teaches you something different about your body. When you’re playing everything, you’ll grow into something.”

 

I asked Jamey how he likes living in Minnesota. “It’s a beautiful place. I’ve come in here as a visitor before. I actually got to enjoy it more as a visitor when we stayed downtown. But we’re in a great community just south of the city. Our neighbors and the city are great. I’m looking forward to the warm summer.”

HELP! 11 MAY 12

HELP!

Liriano has the talent, but he can’t keep his composure.

I never dreamed that the Twins would have such a dismal start to the 2012 season. I really believed that the squad which headed north after training camp had the capability to play above-.500 ball. I knew that Francisco Liriano was a head case, and many times I have written that he needs a sports psychologist. He has the raw talent to get tough batters out, but as soon as he gives up a hit or a fielder makes an error, he beats up on himself until he can’t throw a strike. He loses confidence in his good pitches, and then throws either wild or a meatball right down the middle of the plate — offering even a slumping batter a chance for a long ball. That’s if he doesn’t get beaned. His slider might bounce 20 feet in front of the plate. He seems to sail through an inning or two, and then he freaks out. Rick Anderson is a great coach, but not a psychologist. They spend enough dough on doctors — why not a team shrink?

 

Many people want Rick’s head, but I don’t know anyone who could’ve made our situation any better. No matter who would have been coaching, Scott Baker would still be out for Tommy John surgery, and “Frankie” would still be retiring about the first six batters he faces, then have his meltdown. Rick’s close friend and boss, Ron Gardenhire, would quit if “Andy” were to be fired. Some fans want Gardy’s job, too. That would not solve any problems. What the Twins need is for Blackburn and Pavano to get back on course, they need some livelier bats, and they need a healthy Morneau. They could also use another pitcher or two. There is a rumor circulating, generated from radio talk shows, that Denard Span could be trade bait for pitching once the market opens up. Struggling big leaguers should fear being demoted, too. It happened to Danny Valencia when he couldn’t get a hit, he was sent to Rochester, and for a second time Liriano was sent to the pen. There will be more wake-up calls soon.

You would never guess that Jamey Carroll is a 38-years-old by the way he moves on the field.

On the bright side: Joe Mauer has been healthy and continues to play hard after being plagued by illness and injuries in the 2011 season. Defense has been sharp this year, too. Jamey Carroll has been a welcome addition to the middle infield. Early at training camp, I remember hearing young players talking amongst themselves, questioning why the Twins would sign such an “old guy”. Now they know. Ryan Doumit adds depth to the Twins’ catching, outfield, first base, and strength to the offense. Willingham started strong, cooled off, but will be a steady contributor to the team. And now we get to see some future hopeful stars as they are called up from the minors, such as Brian Dozier and Scott Diamond. I watched them both at training camp, and they both seem very capable at their jobs. I saw Dozier make some dandy plays in the infield and Diamond have some good innings pitching. I also saw Diamond throw a few rough innings, but he is young, that will happen, and it can’t be much worse than what we’ve seen.

 

Jason Marquis

Another bright spot: Jason Marquis’s daughter is making a good comeback from being in serious condition after being struck by a car on her bicycle. Something like that is bigger than baseball. I asked Jason how his daughter was doing, and he said, “She is good! The recovery process has been better than expected.” He anticipated she’d be back in school by the time you read this. Her recovery led to a special night for him. Jason grew up in New York as a Yankee fan, and he got to open his season there, getting a victory with his recovering little girl in the stands, watching. “That was huge,” he said.”My family and friends were there. It’s always nice going home and pitching in front of those who have supported you. I had fifty or sixty people there, they had my back; they’ve had my back for years. It wasn’t really about beating the Yankees; it was about pitching in that stadium, where I went as a kid for so long.”

 

Helping!

Nita Killebrew is third from the right.

The late Harmon Killebrew’s wife, Nita Killebrew, was in town recently to present a check for $350,000 to the Masonic Cancer Center at the U of M before a Twins game. The money was raised through events put on by the Killebrew Foundation, especially the Killebrew-Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament. She wanted me to remind everyone that this year’s events will be a dinner on June 27, and golf on June 28. She then looked at me with a bittersweet smile and said, “We’re having the golf outing the day before Harmon’s birthday.”