Went to my first official baseball game for Spring Training and picked the matchup vs the Rays. I realized how far away I was from where I usually watch my Twins baseball. Of course, I was greeted by familiar faces from the outset so yeah, it was Twins baseball right away. I was amazed at how packed it was even an hour before game time. That’s my usual time to show up because I like to do what I need to and be in my seats before the anthem. I’m just that way. But you know who else is that way? Senior Citizens in Ft Myers, Florida. WOW. Lee County officials had named Thursday Senior Day and they came out in force.
The difference between this day and the B game wasn’t the players since we had had a bunch of the big names on the field the day before. It was the stands being packed with fans. And yes, a lot of Rays fans came down from whereever to see the game too. Hammond’s not really all that big folks, it gets packed easily. I would have to research the actual capacity but I would say it’s somewhat similar to how many we put into Midway for a Saints game. With the games for the entire weekend all sold out before this game even started, I can understand why they are discussing expansion plans – that’s a lot of revenue from fans that could be there that don’t know to hit the brokers outside the parking lot.
The game itself was very interesting despite the results of the score (and for the most part lack of score). It was as close to an opening day lineup option as you’re likely to see in the next few weeks. Still some names that will be new and still some that aren’t likely to make the team but for the most part, it was all familiar places in the places we are used to seeing them. Mauer was catching, Morneau was at 1B, Valencia was at 3B and Span was in CF. Things to get used to you was Plouffe in LF & Willingham in RF. The way they performed out there, I think that is likely to be the arrangement most of the time.
The position of SS was oddly familiar even though it’s manned by a new player to the team. I couldn’t have picked Jamey Carroll out of a lineup even though he’s a veteran in the league. However, he chose a familiar number. I find it even more amusing that he seems to have about the same height as the previous wearer of the #8. Li’l Nicky was built a little thicker & Jamey didn’t do any gymnastics but it was eery nonetheless. The other departure from the norm was Ray Chang playing 2B. He was solid & quick in play and got a GREAT out catch from Mauer on a Strike-out/Throw-out. He may not make the team but he was ok.
Liriano started the game off VERY well. He was confident and throwing well. Had some great K’s, nasty movement on his fast ball that confounded several of the Rays hitters and threw 3 innings in a very, very, very efficient 34 pitches. In other good news, Span definitely showed up to play. You can tell he is feeling himself and putting himself through the paces he expects to use. He’s back to his old speed in the field AND on the bases, stealing 2nd and robbing OF hits. He’s the one guy who was dependably on base during yesterday’s game. The bad news? No one seemed to be able to get him home and he was as frustrated by it as the fans. In fact, the game remained scoreless until the 9th. Other bad news? In the course of the standard spring training game, the position holders changed frequently to give the alternates a chance to get on the field. That worked out better for some than others. I continue to be disappointed by Nishioka who, after a full season and off season to rehab and learn the American style of the game, still played slow and indecisive at SS which is a real problem for me. But at least he got on base!
Not all the young guys are quite up to big league play level either. But then again, they’re not really supposed to be. One I hear mentioned well frequently is Aaron Bates. He needs a bit better work with this glove – a couple of very costly bobbles kept him from making a great impression this particular day. He did try to make up for it with a great diving grab late in the game so he’s willing to do the work – just needs more time to become consistent.
I was fairly impressed with Mastroianni who is apparently already on the 40 man roster even though I can’t recall ever having heard his name. He’s a pretty compact little guy but has a very big presence. I can’t quite describe what I mean but you can feel the energy he brings to the game and a lot of spark to running the bases. It was enough to make me want to keep my eyes on him as he comes up the ranks.
One of the other guys that I HAVE heard a lot about is J.R. Towles. He came out to do a stint behind the plate. I hope I get more chances to see him because he didn’t really do much with this opportunity. From what I saw, he’s not ready to be up yet. He was rough in catching and couldn’t put anything together hitting-wise. But it was a VERY limited opportunity so he will have more chances.
Pitching-wise, we got to see a bunch of guys come out and do their thing after Liriano finished up. Liam Hendriks came out and looked great, Jeff Manship did a good job and it proceeded to be a “pitchers duel” kind of game from mostly familiar names. One looked familiar to me and I can only assume it’s from LAST spring training because I don’t recall him ever being up. But Daryl Thompson had a great web gem moment grabbing a line drive rebound before fans & players alike could barely blink and know what happened. Considering it was the out that ended the inning if I recall, there were a lot of smiles and high fives. Overall, it was a good day for pitching.
A couple other minor observations from the game: for all my comments yesterday about how thin Justin Morneau is, I noticed something else. He’s SMILING! A LOT. I frequently commented in past years about how tense he could be during a game and how often it worked against him at the plate. To see him relaxed and happy during random moments on and off the field really boosted my confidence about his overall condition. One of the funniest moments of the game to me was after one of the changeovers in position holders. One young guy out in RF wasn’t quite paying attention to the dugout in order to get his instructions on where to position. This left poor Jerry White doing a lot of hand-waving (kind of looked like an airplane guidance guy) trying to get ANYONE’s attention so he could give the instruction to the RF guy to come in. Finally, after practically dancing a jig, he was able to get the attention of the necessary player and get things arranged properly. The Rays 3B coach couldn’t quite hide the snigger & grin as Jerry walked back to the dugout shaking his head. Ahh… Spring Training. Bring on the Cardinals.
I grabbed this last picture just for Jamar!