Slow News Days

For all the build up about Spring Training “reporting day”, once that day comes and goes, things kind of grind to a halt in terms of interesting stuff going on. In fact, just about the only things that pass for “news” coming out of Fort Myers is bad news… sore arms, shoulders, knees, etc. That’s what happens, I guess, when there are no games to report about.

That’s not meant to downplay the importance of the information being reported out of the Twins’ camp about Scott Baker’s elbow and Francisco Liriano’s shoudler. In fact, I think people now understand why having six experienced starting pitchers does not mean you have an “extra” starting pitcher. It may be a cliché that, “these tends to work themselves out,” but it’s a cliché because it’s true.

Francisco Liriano

Speaking of Liriano’s sore shoulder, I just have to say right now that this thing smells funny to me. A year ago, he was coming off a very successful winter ball season and everyone was wondering whether that meant we were going to finally see “the Franchise” again. Liriano didn’t play winter ball this year (a bit of rest was certainly in order), so he essentially disappeared somewhere in to Latin America and none of us (including the Twins, apparently) knows what he’s been doing.

Now he shows up to Spring Training with a sore shoulder and gets an MRI done by some doctor in Miami that nobody in the organization knows which supposedly is “clean”. What’s with that?

The Twins caught a lot of grief around Twinsville for not locking Liriano up for 3-4 years this off-season, but is it possible they had reason to be a bit suspicious about his health? Maybe, maybe not. But from what we read of GM Bill Smith’s comments that clearly indicated the Twins were not interested in doing anything but going year-to-year with Frankie, there’s obviously some reason they don’t trust their young pitching star.

I remember when Johan Santana was a Twin, there were several articles in the media written every season about Santana’s work ethic… his Spring Training routine… his offday workout routine during the season… from all reports, this was a guy who took care of his body and worked very hard to be the best pitcher he could be.

I have never read anything from any reporter that gives even a hint that anyone thinks Liriano is a hard worker. If he does anything beyond just the required bullpen sessions, I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning it.

I hope Liriano has another fantastic year, but his spring has not gotten off to a start that makes me feel optimistic.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka Arrives

Of course, there is one non-injury item that’s generating “news” this spring and that’s the arrival of Tsuyoshi Nishioka. I’m not sure what the Twins or anyone else expected to see when Nishioka arrived at camp, but if they expected him to show up, don the same Twins workout gear that everyone else wears and join his team mates on the field for their informal pre-reporting workouts, then the Twins folks have to be disappointed.

In a post immediately after the Twins signed Nishioka, I wrote, “I’m not sure any of us really are prepared for what comes next.” I think we’re starting to see a bit of what I was referring to.

The Twins agreed to provide am interpreter, but Nishioka showed up with what can only be called a posse. Media reports have him being followed around the field not only by his interpreter, but his personal trainer and a third person who’s role is somewhat of a mystery (some have suggested perhaps it’s his massage therapist). While he’s spent a bit of time taking some ground balls with team mates, most of his workouts have been alone, off on a distant field and in the bowels of the minor league batting cage area.

Once you find out where he’s working out, he’s not hard to identify, however. In a black sleeveless Addidas shirt and pants that have been described as “capris” with neon piping, rather than the navy blue Twins gear, he obviously stands out. Oh… and no Twins cap (or any cap, for that matter), either.

As Lou Brown, the fictional manager of the Indians in the “Major League” movie said, “We wear caps and sleeves at this level, son.”

Let’s just say, Nishioka’s first priority obviously is not to just blend in with his new team.

A lot has been written about the “risk” the Twins are taking by jettisoning experienced middle infielders Orlando Hudson and JJ Hardy, in favor of Nishioka and Alexi Casilla. Generally, the risks referred to are related to what can reasonably be expected in terms of performance levels from the lesser known entities.

But what I’m going to pay closer attention to will be the effects of introducing an unproven potential prima donna with his own posse and a sizable media contingent whose questions will focus exclusively on that player, with little or no concern for the team’s results on the field.

A part of me thinks this organization could use a shot of personality… something to generate a bit of an edge in the clubhouse and on the field. But make no mistake, Nishioka and all that comes with him will be a distraction, the Twins have invited this distraction in to their midst, and in doing so, they’re taking a sizable risk that goes well beyond the risk of turning over their middle infield to a couple of younger ballplayers.

Other News from Florida

Finally, the lack of anything terribly compelling in terms of news about baseball has resulted in me watching a lot of racing from Daytona this weekend. Now, I’m NOT a racing fan… at all. But I was with family at a sports bar Friday night and sat with my brother-in-law, who IS a big race fan and we watched most of the truck series race that kicked off Daytona weekend.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed it. It was different watching with someone who knew what the hell was going on. I also found myself watching the Nationwide Series race on Saturday, which ended with one car beating another car by about a foot. I admit I was kind of in to it.

Today, the “real” Daytona 500 is about ready to start. I’m not sure how much of it I’ll be able to watch because I’ve got a family dinner to go to. But I find myself hoping I’ll get home in time to see a fair amount of the race.

I’m not yet sure what to make of this new-found interest, but I’m pretty sure I’ll find myself exceeding the speed limit at some point on my drive across town to dinner.

- JC

6 thoughts on “Slow News Days

  1. It’s interesting that I have so far read very little that’s positive about Nishioka (the KARE fluff piece notwithstanding). While there’s nothing really overtly negative being said, there’s that feeling that the local press and some of the Twins management aren’t all that impressed with what they’ve seen to far. A little personality is one thing, the combination of a prima donna attitude and limited English skills could lead to massive misunderstanding and a major fan backlash if things don’t go well on the field.

  2. I hope it doesn’t turn out that bad, E.

    It’s possible some of the players wouldn’t mind having someone around who takes a bit of the media focus away. It’s not like Mauer and Morneau come across as the type that gets jealous of the attention someone else gets.

    If Nishioka performs, I think people will put up with a lot. If not, then things are probably going to get ugly on many fronts.

  3. The bits and pieces I’ve read about Tsuyoshi in the US media lately, frankly, seem a bit confused and off. People need to keep more open minds about Nishioka–someone from a completely different culture and mindset.

    As it goes, the lady who owned the seats next to ours in the Metrodome had lived in Japan and speaks Japanese. She excitedly sent me Japanese media reports, all in Japanese, when Nishioka boarded the plane to Minneapolis for the first time. I quickly learned how many reporters were following him, and what characters to search for to find more reports I could plug into Google Translate. It’s not perfect, but by now, I can understand about 80% of what the reports are saying. I’ve easily read hundreds of these since December.

    All those Japanese media members are not just interested in Nishi–they are excited about the Twins. Now the Twins are their team. It might seem like Nishioka’s Japanese media entourage is just there to follow him, but that is not the case. They report on everything now–I translated reports about Bert getting into the HOF; the Twins retiring Bert’s number; the new deals with Pavano, Thome, etc.; the JJ Hardy trade; Morneau’s concussion; and even when they chopped down the trees in the outfield. They even reported about how the US media reported about how it was weird that Nishioka was practicing by himself, and maybe this was a reason he took batting practice with Thome and Kubel on Sunday.

    From these reports, I have never gotten the sense Nishioka or any of the Japanese media thing he Nishi is superior in any way shape or form to anyone on or affiliated with the Twins. They heap praise on proven Twins players–especially Mauer and Thome. They have been impressed with the Twins organization. The recent headlines have been about how happy Nishioka was after batting practice Sunday and about how Thome said Nishioka had a good swing, and Nishi said “Thome is just as nice as Igutchi said he was.”

    I dunno, this has turned into a bit of a ramble. But I think the US media so far has mis-characterized Nishi and the Japanese. I don’t think he will be as big of a distraction as you seem to worry. I think a lot of Nishi’s nervousness and uncertainty, along with single-handedly attracting millions of new Twins fans, is coming off right now as “prima donna.” In the end I think it will all work out for the best.

  4. Oh, now that I think about it, there is one player I do remember the Japanese specifically saying Nishioka could do better than–J.J. Hardy.

    The media members had been reading the blogs and things over here all complaining about the JJ Hardy trade. So, somewhat spurned by that, they declared that Nishioka will prove the bloggers wrong and make the Twins fans happy. Nishi has been aware of the things bloggers say about him here, and it seems like he is very concerned with gaining more American fans. He really wants to prove himself to Twins fans and make them happy.

  5. Maija, I certainly hope you’re right about things working out for the best. I think we all agree that how it “works out” is going to be determined, first and foremost, by the level of his play on the field.

    The thing about the media is, they write what they think will sell. Harmony is boring. Controversy sells. They are going to keep latching on to anything that Nishioka does that is “unconventional”, because the Twins are about as conservative an organization as there is in baseball. I think we’ve all been anxiously awaiting the first time Gardy has to deal with an issue he doesn’t like (and you KNOW it’s gonna happen) just for the pure entertainment value.

    As I’ve written before, I think this organization could use a little shot of personality… someone to light some kind of fire. But this experiment comes with some risk, and this is a very un-Twinslike risk to take. Two things have to happen for this to work out. First, both Nishioka and his team mates (and coaches) have to accommodate (and, if they’re smart, even embrace) the cultural differences. Second, Nishioka has to play baseball really well because he’s replacing a player, in JJ Hardy, who was more popular than his productivity really warranted.

    I’m really looking forward to getting down to Ft Myers (3 weeks from today!!) to see for myself how this all is working out.

  6. I have to say that I am uncomfortable with anyone throwing around words like “prima donna” & “diva” at this stage. Maybe, give the guy a tiny break. I’m sure he will do whatever he has to do to be part of the team. Fess up, this is all about the capri’s, isn’t it? Real men wear whatever they want. ;)