Surviving TwinsFest

It has taken me a little longer than expected to put up a post here about my trip up to Minneapolis for TwinsFest. That’s because it took me a little longer than anticipated just to get home from TwinsFest.

The plan was simple:

  • Drive up to Minneapolis Saturday morning
  • Go to TwinsFest Saturday afternoon
  • Go to Hubert’s Saturday night for the TwinsDaily-hosted social event
  • Sleep a few hours at my hotel
  • Go to brunch with my Knuckleballs “family” Sunday morning
  • Drive home Sunday afternoon

Easy.

Yes, I got a later start than I expected Saturday morning, due, to some degree, to staying at the local sports bar with my family alonger than I’d planned Friday night, but I made it to my Eagan hotel by 1:00-ish. It was about that time that I realized I hadn’t brought my camera with me, which is kind of a big deal for me (some of you may have noticed I enjoy taking pictures when I travel). I got to the hotel early enough that they didn’t have a room ready for me to check in to. They were more than happy to take my credit card information, of course, so all I would have to do would be pick up my door card when I got back from downtown that night.

TwinsFest2013

TwinsFest 2013, with a glimpse of Puckett’s Pond writer Paul Pleiss (in the Koskie jersey)

After taking the Light Rail from the Mall of America to the Metrodome, I wandered around the place for a bit. I ran in to several familiar faces, caught up with a few friends and listened in to some of the interviews taking place on the 1500ESPN stage.

Before long, I made my way to the “Down on the Farm” area and chatted a while with the folks at the CR Kernels’ booth, including General Manager Doug Nelson.

I didn’t do the autograph thing this year, but I did enjoy seeing some of my own boyhood heroes signing. Rollie Fingers, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Jim Perry and Fergie Jenkins were at one station on the main floor of the Dome and seeing them all together made me smile.

As TwinsFest was getting set to close down for the evening, just before 6:00 pm, I wandered across the street to Hubert’s for the little social event planned there by the good people at Twins Daily. I wasn’t sure how many people to expect to see, but the guys were promising free beer, so I really didn’t need much additional incentive to show up. My plan was to stick around long enough to talk with a few people I don’t get to see often, then part at an hour appropriate for someone of my advanced years. It was a reasonable plan.

I’m not sure how many people the Twins Daily guys were expecting, but it seemed like a great turnout to me. People came and went, but I’m almost positive at least 100 different people showed up. It’s a considerable understatement to say I had a great time. I got to spend time talking to a few people I have met before at other blogger gatherings and a lot of people I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting before. We talked Twins, we talked Kernels, we talked about writing. We watched the Timberwolves blow a lead and lose.

Time really just flew by and the next thing I knew, it was after 11:00 and I was finally getting around to eating… at a totally different place, where a number of us had moved to as things wound down at Hubert’s.

Fast-forward a couple of hours and I finally made it back to my hotel where, it turns out, they lock the doors to the lobby at 11:00 pm. Of course, you can let yourself in with your room key… and they assume all guests would actually HAVE a room key. It took a little longer than expected, but I did eventually get checked in to a room for what was left of the night.

By 10:00 am Sunday, I was sitting down for brunch at Chammp’s in St. Paul with fellow Knuckleballers KL and Babs (and her hubby, Andrew).  I can’t say I was 100% on my game, at that point, but I’ve been much worse.

It was just starting to spit a little something when we left the restaurant, though I wasn’t sure whether it was rain, sleet or snow. Before I got out of the Twin Cities area, heading south, things were a much worse. By the time I reached Albert Lea, I’d pretty much seen it all: Freezing rain. Some ice. A bit of snow. Cars and trucks in ditches. Cars and trucks actually leaving the road and driving in to ditches. In short, I saw enough to know I didn’t want to join them, so I pulled in to my old home town and found a hotel room.

Not only did I find a hotel room, but the hotel had a nice little sports bar/restaurant attached to it! The waitress/bartender was kind enough to find the Iowa-Purdue basketball game on one of their TVs for me while I enjoyed an excellent quesadilla and a beer or two before heading back to my room for the night.

When I looked out the window of my hotel room early Monday morning, I couldn’t see my car. In fact, I couldn’t see anyone’s car. Fog had pretty much engulfed us. Not being all that interested in getting on a slick interstate with no visibility, I had breakfast and spent a couple hours working in my room before checking out.

By then, you could see maybe 200 yards in front of you on the interstate, so it wasn’t too bad. I had to make two more stops of an hour or two each to deal with work-related phone calls, but finally rolled in to my garage around 4:00 pm… almost exactly 24 hours after I SHOULD have been home.

While things didn’t exactly go as planned, it was definitely worth the trip just to have a chance to see so many friends Saturday and Sunday.

We don’t all agree on everything Twins-related. In fact, some of us rarely agree on anything Twins-related. But we all have a mutual interest in the Twins. In fact, for most of us, it’s probably more accurately called a mutual passion for the Twins.

I don’t know how the upcoming Twins season will turn out, but it’s great to know we’ll all share the experience together.

I’ll wrap up with a handful of additional photos I did manage to take with my phone-camera.

- JC

Rollie Fingers, Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry and Fergie Jenkins

Rollie Fingers, Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry and Fergie Jenkins

Twins prospects Aaron Hicks and Kyle Gibson at the autograph station, with Twins Clubhouse manager Wayne "Big Fella" Hattaway peeking in from behind the curtain

Twins prospects Aaron Hicks and Kyle Gibson at the autograph station, with Twins Clubhouse manager Wayne “Big Fella” Hattaway peeking in from behind the curtain

Twins prospects BJ Hermsen, Pedro Hernandez and Trevor May at the autograph table

Twins prospects BJ Hermsen, Pedro Hernandez and Trevor May at the autograph table

Radio broadcaster Cory Provus interviews Twins execs Terry Ryan, Jim Pohlad and Dave St. Peter

Radio broadcaster Cory Provus interviews Twins execs Terry Ryan, Jim Pohlad and Dave St. Peter

The gathering at Hubert's, hosted by Twins Daily

The gathering at Hubert’s, hosted by Twins Daily

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 22

Episode 22 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Paul "Autograph Hound" Pleiss

Paul “Autograph Hound” Pleiss

Paul spent the weekend up in Minnesota attending TwinsFest, drinking beer and talking baseball. As a result, he sounds both hungover and lifeless on the podcast, but there’s still lots of great content. Apologies to the listener for the audio quality at points during the recording as Paul was using his AWESOME (sarcasm) travel laptop for recording, thus you can literally hear the computer fan whirring in the background trying to keep the computer from exploding. We are joined towards the end of the episode by Jose Bosch (@HJBosch21) from Motor City Bengals (Detroit Tigers blog) to take a look at the Detroit Tigers off-season. We also discuss Twins Hall of Famer Tony Oliva, prospect Matt Summers and a comprehensive review of TwinsFest and the cat video guy.

 

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help us become more like a slimmer Ron Mahay.)

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

- ERolfPleiss

Sunday Morning Comic Relief (in person – advance warning/invitation)

offseason baseball

Since it’s currently Winter – that means we are all starved for good baseball/baseball conversation. That is where TwinsFest comes in handy.. We here at Knuckleballs would love to get together with all of you but not all of us can go to the Huberts/Twins Daily event…

So we are proposing a bit of The Hair of the Dog for those of you who enjoy your Saturday evening – perhaps too much. Enjoy a little personal comedy as a break to the cold northern winter!

KL, CB & JC will drown our sorrows at the absence of ERolf in a bloody mary or two and you are welcome to join us! Here’s the plan:

Champps – 10:00 am

2401 W. 7th St.
St. Paul, MN 55116

(click the address for a map)

please RSVP – either here or on twitter – so that we know how many people to save places for (if you must drop in and surprise us, we’ll take it but you have to sit on someone’s lap!)

All Is Well

AllIsWellIt has been pointed out to me more than once that I’m a bit bipolar when it comes to my feelings with regard to the Minnesota Twins and they way they’re operated. That’s probably a fair observation. I can sometimes seemingly blow off steam about a decision by the Twins one moment and then turn around and be really excited about the team and chastise someone else for going too far in their negativity toward the organization. I never claimed to be the most consistent person in the world.

Like most fans (and, it seems, almost all bloggers), I’m quick to point out what I think the decision-makers are doing wrong and what I believe they should do to fix things. This is particularly true at specific times of the year: during spring training when the final roster spots are being filled; at or near trade deadlines in July and August; and during the first couple of months after the season when, presumably, the front office is making and executing their plans to revise their roster for the following season.

When I go on a rant about how Terry Ryan isn’t doing this right or should do that instead, it may even seem like I’m angry. I may, indeed, be frustrated, but I don’t think it often reaches the point of anger. In fact, I’m actually having fun. Putting myself in the General Manager’s role is just one part of what’s fun about being a Twins fan, for me. If you think I come down hard on Terry Ryan at times, you should have been around me during Calvin Griffith’s days of (mis)running the team. Yet Griffith, like Ryan, managed to assemble some of the most talented teams in the franchise’s history.

You may have noticed that I haven’t ranted much lately. Sure, I’d like to see Ryan throw a few bucks at Joe Saunders and add him to the rotation for the next couple of years and, like almost everyone else, I’m less than enthusiastic about Kevin Correia being the Twins’ “big free agent” signing for their rotation (at least measuring by contract size).

But, for all intents, I’ve turned the page. This time of year, I move in to, “I can’t wait for baseball season to start!” mode. I don’t care if it’s Little League or Major League, I want to see somebody playing some baseball and I want to see it NOW!

I’ve been writing about the coming season for a few weeks now. I contributed a piece about the addition of Cedar Rapids to the Twins family for Seth Stohs’ 2013 Twins Prospect Handbook and that certainly put me in the mood to look forward to this season. I researched and wrote a few posts about Twins prospects we could see playing in Cedar Rapids for the Kernels and that genuinely got me excited for baseball to start. I attended the Twins Caravan/Kernels Hot Stove Banquet event last week and seeing over 500 people celebrating the new relationship and hearing the Twins representatives on stage talk about how they looked forward to 2013 just added fuel to my baseball fire.

This weekend, it’s TwinsFest at the Metrodome. I’m only going to make it for a bit on Saturday (and hopefully across the street to Hubert’s to sit on the periphery of the gathering of Twins bloggers taking place there Saturday night), but I’m pretty sure that’s all I’ll need to bring my fandom to a boil. I don’t really get heavily in to autographs or pictures with players, but I enjoy watching the people who do. It’s a celebration of baseball… and of being a Twins fan.

So I hope everyone will understand if I don’t keep piling on Terry Ryan at this point. I think there’s been enough of that, at least for now.

There seems to be a prevailing opinion out there that the signing of Correia and, perhaps more importantly, the lack of signings of any of the more statistically successful free agent pitching options, indicates that Ryan and the front office are now in full-blown “rebuild” mode. This, despite early offseason assurances from Ryan and others that the Twins were intent on making significant improvements to the rotation and the general competitive level of the Twins in 2013. I have to admit that, for a while, I was bordering on being convinced that was the case.

But I really don’t think so.

From various recent media accounts and interviews with the Twins’ GM, I think it’s pretty clear that it has been, is, and continues to be his intent to put a far better product on the field in 2013 than we’ve seen the past two seasons. He believes Correia will be a significantly better pitcher than almost all of the guys the Twins trotted out to start games last year. He believes Vance Worley will be, as well. Likewise Mike Pelfrey.

It’s fair, of course, to question the basis on which Ryan and his organization came to some of those conclusions.  As 1500ESPN’s Phil Mackey pointed out this week, Ryan is clearly sticking his neck out with Correia and saying he and his scouts believe the former Pirates pitcher will be better than his numbers indicate he has been in the past. In retrospect, while it’s reasonable to question how wise relying so entirely on “old school” scouting is in this case, I’m not sure why any of us should be surprised by that.

But right now, I just don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, Correia, Worley, Pelfrey and the other new arrivals are now Minnesota Twins and that makes them our guys. I say we welcome them aboard and wish them all the best.

I want to SEE whether the right decisions were made or not. I want to see the new pitchers pitch and I want to see if Trevor Plouffe can hold down third base and, hopefully, hit like he did for a couple of months in the middle of last year. I want to see if Chris Parmelee can establish himself as a legitimate Major League hitter and I want to see young outfielders, who probably thought their paths to the Big Leagues might be blocked by not one but two centerfielders in front of them, compete to break camp in the starting outfield of a Major League baseball team. And I want to see familiar faces like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau hit baseballs.

And I want to see a bunch of kids put on Cedar Rapids Kernels uniforms and show us whether they’re as good as we all seem to think they will be. Some day, some of those guys will wear Twins uniforms and someone will ask me whether I remember them when they played for the Kernels. And I will remember. I’m just so anxious to get started burning those memories in to my mind right now.

My opinions about what woulda-coulda-shoulda been done this offseason haven’t changed. But I’m ready to move on.

I spend nine or ten hours a day working so I can spend a few hours with family and friends at a ballpark or in a bar watching baseball or even just talking about it. I do that because I just wasn’t good enough at anything that would allow me to make my living at a ballpark, but there are still very few things I’d rather do than watch baseball.

In a few weeks, we’ll all get to start doing that again. As long as that’s the case, I’m going to try to remain calm… all is well.

- JC

TWINSFEST 2013!

300_twinsfestThat crazy time for fans who are starved for a little baseball action in the cold north is finally here! (starting tomorrow)

I know a couple Knuckleballers have been talking about attending so keep your eyes peeled for unfamiliar faces… oh, wait..

Yeah, there are going to be a LOT of unfamiliar faces in the old HHH Metrodome because it’s always packed.

Here’s a round-up of the general festivities:

  • Day 1, Fri, Jan 25: 4:00PM – 9:30PM
  • Day 2, Sat, Jan 26: 9:00AM – 6:00PM
  • Day 3, Sun, Jan 27: 9:00AM – 4:00PM

TwinsFest 2013 will feature:

Tickets are on sale now!

Ticket Prices:
Adults:$9 in advance
($15 at the door)
Children (14 and younger): $5 in advance
($8 at the door)
Advance pricing ends at 5 p.m. CT on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2012.

 

CLICK HERE TO BUY TICKETS

 

Metrodome
900 South 5th Street
Minneapolis, MN
Get Directions »

For more information, see twinsbaseball.com

 

Baseball’s Saddest Day

One of the people I follow on Twitter (I don’t recall who) called it “Baseball’s saddest day.” That’s probably an overstatement, but not by much. To put it bluntly, for baseball fans of my generation, Saturday sucked rocks.

In one calendar day, we lost two giants of the game. First came the news that we lost the man I always felt was the greatest manager of his time, Earl Weaver. Incredibly, a few hours later, came word that Stan Musial had also passed. Weaver was 82 when he passed away of a heart attack during an Orioles’ “Fantasy Cruise,” and Musial passed away at his home at the age of 92.

I’ve read a few of the articles written in the past 24 hours about Musial and Weaver, but for my money, as always, the best came from Joe Posnanski. If you read nothing else about these two legends, read Posnanski’s articles by clicking here (for Musial) and here (for Weaver). As per usual, I’ll be stealing a bit from Poz in this article.

I’m not sure I could come up with two more different men to represent the game we love together as they approach St. Peter’s heavenly gates. Stan “the Man” will arrive playing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” on his harmonica and be ushered straight through with a smile. Weaver, baseball’s self-described “sorest loser” will probably need to argue his way in. And that’s how it should be.

Musial is someone that Twins fans should be able to relate to. He’s the Cardinals’ version of our own Harmon Killebrew. I don’t think you could find a person who ever met either man who would have anything bad to say about him. He was a gentleman, a professional. You treated him with respect because of what he accomplished on the field and he treated you with respect because that’s just how he treated everyone.

Stan Musial (Photo: Getty Images)

Stan Musial (Photo: Getty Images)

How do Cardinal fans feel about him? They don’t just have a statue of Musial outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis… they have two of them.

They called him Stan “The Man” Musial. The nickname supposedly was given by a sportswriter after a game during one of Musial’s many amazing hitting streaks. The story goes that as Musial went to the plate, the fans started chanting, “here comes the Man.” Well, we all know how home town fans can do that kind of thing for their heroes, right? But here’s the thing… the Cardinals were playing in Brooklyn at the time.

But why shouldn’t he have been appreciated outside of St. Louis? After all, he treated fans on the road to 1,815 hits in his career… exactly the same number that he hit before his home fans in St. Louis.

His statistical accomplishments are simply amazing. They say he held so many batting records that they wouldn’t all fit on his Hall of Fame plaque. Seven batting titles. And, since batting average has fallen out of favor these days as a measurement of offensive productivity, he also led the National League in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS at least six times each during his career.

And you could probably safely assume he would have done so one more year had he not missed the entire 1945 season while serving in the military during World War II. (Imagine, for a moment, if Joe Mauer had missed a season or two in his prime while doing tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. There’s a reason they call it “the Greatest Generation.”)

I was not a National League fan as a kid, so I wasn’t as familiar with the NL stars as I was those in the Americal League. After all, I got to actually see Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline, Frank Howard and Brooks & Frank Robinson face off with Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva at the Met. I never saw Willie Mays or Hank Aaron play in person. Nor did I have the honor of seeing Musial play baseball in person.

But when you look at his numbers and you listen to people who did see him play… and those who were blessed to actually spend time with him… you know he was special. He was, after all, the Man.

I don’t think anyone would even pretend that Earl Weaver was as universally beloved as Stan Musial. Not anywhere outside of Baltimore, anyway.

But Musial’s greatness as a player was, to me, matched by Weaver’s greatness as a manager. It’s a cliché to say someone was, “ahead of his time,” but Weaver certainly was.

It’s disappointing to me that most of today’s fans probably just think of Earl Weaver as some kind of maniacal cartoon character of a manager, throwing tantrums and arguing with umpires. Then again, that’s an image Weaver certainly created for himself. But he was so much more than that.

WeaverOriolesHe saw things in players that others didn’t. The best example is probably Cal Ripken. Ripken primarily played third base coming up through the minor leagues. He was, after all, 6’4” tall and infielders that size played at the corners. But Weaver moved the rookie to shortstop where he successfully stayed for a very, very long time.

As Posnanski points out brilliantly, Weaver could have managed for Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s (at least for a little while). Weaver loved walks and believed outs were precious and therefore hated bunts. He figured out what a player did best and then utilized him in ways that took advantage of those strengths. Just as importantly, he avoided using a player in situations he was unlikely to succeed in. He was among the first to embrace the use of a radar gun for pitchers, but he was less concerned about the MPH of their fastball than he was about making sure their change ups were at least 10 MPH slower.

He didn’t over-manage. He said more than once that he believed it was the manager’s job to argue with umpires because he was the person the team could most easily do without during a game. Once the line up was set, he left it to his players to play the game and decide the outcome.

And his teams won a LOT of baseball games. His Orioles teams finished first or second 13 times in the 15 years he managed the Orioles between 1968 and 1982 and went to the World Series four times in that stretch. (Weaver did return for a short time to manage the Orioles in the mid 1980s, but I, along with most Orioles fans I know, choose to conveniently disregard that time.)

In fact, I blame Weaver and his 1969 and 1970 Orioles for keeping what I consider the best Minnesota Twins teams in the franchise’s history from reaching the World Series. Killebrew, Oliva, Carew and the rest fell in the AL Championship Series both years to Weaver’s teams. In fact, Weaver’s Orioles swept the Twins both years.

Yet I always liked Weaver. I think it probably has a lot to do with seeing a lot of Weaver in my father (and vice versa), who was a high school baseball coach during the 1960s. Whenever I watched Weaver manage a game, my mind’s eye saw my dad.

I get that many others never held Weaver with that kind of affection. His own players generally didn’t care for him. He pushed them hard. He rubbed them the wrong way. He treated umpires… and others… with a total lack of respect, at times. I know all that. I don’t care.

He once told a reporter, “On my tombstone, just write, ‘the sorest loser who ever lived.’” I suppose it would be appropriate to honor that request. But I hope they find room on that tombstone for one more word. “Winner.”

Yes, Saturday was a sad day for baseball fans in St. Louis and Baltimore, but just as sad for baseball fans everywhere. Musial and Weaver, each in their own starkly different ways, epitomized the game of baseball as it should be played and managed.

We like to say the game should be played “the right way.” These two men demonstrated as well as anyone that there is no single “right way” to play the game of baseball… and that’s what makes it great.

Thank you Stan and Earl. We’ll never forget you.

- JC

What is going on with the bullpen?

Coming off of back-to-back 90+ loss seasons, the Twins, predictably  have a lot of holes in their roster.  Most noticeably, the Twins went into this winter with as many as four holes in their starting rotation, then traded away two center fielders, creating another hole, and there is still no real answer in the middle infield.  With all those other needs to address, the bullpen has become something of an afterthought, but even with a breakout year from Jared Burton and another strong year from Glen Perkins, the Twins still ranked just 9th in the American League in bullpen ERA (3.77).  Of the five teams with worse bullpen ERAs than the Twins in 2012, only the Tigers earned a postseason birth.

So with a below average bullpen in 2012, what will be relieving corps look like in 2013?  Glen Perkins will remain the closer and Jared Burton will be the primary 8th inning set-up guy.  Beyond those two, Brian Duensing is really the only other player with a firm spot in the pen, serving as the team’s primary left-handed specialist.  The Twins commonly work with a seven man bullpen, so that leaves four spots left to fill.  Ryan Pressly was the Twins’ Rule 5 draft pick earlier this winter, so he’ll need to be on the 25-man roster, but I do not think he’s a realistic candidate to stick, so he’ll either need to be returned to the Red Sox or the Twins will need to work out a trade to keep him.  Casey Fien put together a nice season a year ago in 35 innings of relief, so he’s likely to have a leg up on the competition for one of the four remaining spots.  Tyler Robertson is a guy that I really like, and if he can become a little more consistent strike thrower, he could slot in as the Twins’ second left-handed specialist.  That’d give the Twins three left-handers in the bullpen, but with Perkins serving as the closer, I think the Twins would be willing to go that route.  Alex Burnett, while he does not have great peripherals (and outside of 2012 has been a 5+ERA type reliever), probably did enough last year to earn a spot in the bullpen to start the year, but if he struggles, expect him to be one of the first players to go.

Anthony Swarzak gave up 1 run on 6 hits with no walks and 6 Ks in six full innings of work for the Twins

“Big Game Tony Swarz”

That really just leaves the Twins with one additional opening, long relief.  Over the past couple of seasons that role has been filled by Anthony Swarzak.  He’s performed adequately in this position, eating up innings, mopping up blow-outs, and has the arm strength to give the Twins an occasional spot start.  Swarzak is 27 years-old and owns a career 5.03 ERA in more than 200 major league innings, so he is not likely to make any major improvements in 2013, and with the Twins building for the future, they may want to look elsewhere.  Josh Roenicke, Tim Wood, Michael Tonkin and Caleb Thielbar are all other options on the 40-man roster that the Twins may look at during Spring Training.  Roenicke started last year for the Rockies, but because the Rockies limited their starters to about 75 pitches per start, he pitched just over 88 innings last season, and could be a guy the Twins want to have on-hand as a long reliever who can be relied upon to make a spot start, especailly early in the season as Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey are both coming of Tommy John surgery and may not be with the MLB club to start the year. Tim Wood pitched in AAA last season, and had good numbers for the Pirates’ affiliate, so could have a shot here as well and Terry Ryan recently said on a Rochester radio program that Tim Wood will not pitch in Rochester, so he will either be with the Twins or, as he is out of options, waived.  Michael Tonkin hasn’t pitched above A-ball, and the Twins are not likely to jump him all he way to Minneapolis, so while he has a spot on the 40-man roster, Twins fans shouldn’t expect to see him any time soon.  Caleb Thielbar could be an interesting option here, especially if the Twins want to see what Thielbar can do with the Twins.  He split time last season between AA-New Britain and AAA-Rochester, so the Twins have a pretty good idea of what he can do against high-level talent.  I’d still give the edge to Swarzak or Roenicke in this long-relief roll, but if the Twins open the year with a 4-man pitching rotation and an extra bullpen arm, Thielbar could very well be the beneficiary of that extra spot.

Not a lot to be excited about in the bullpen, but there may be some addition by subtraction as the Twins jettisoned Jeff Gray, Matt Capps and Jeff Manship from the bullpen.  There should be a couple of fun battles left for Spring Training and I expect the bullpen to be better as a unit. But if the starters don’t give the bullpen a little more rest in 2013, the relievers will be over used, worn out, and ineffective before the All-Star game.

-ERolfPleiss

Kernels Hot Stove & Twins Caravan!

What a great night for baseball fans in Eastern Iowa!

In celebration of the new affiliation agreement between the Twins and the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the organizations combined to put on a terrific event Thursday night.

Every winter, the Kernels put on a Hot Stove banquet with proceeds going to their own charitable foundation. The event combines dinner, a silent auction and induction of the new Cedar Rapids Baseball Hall of Fame members. Tonight’s event, however, also included a local stop by the Twins Caravan.

The combination brought out a record crowed for the Hot Stove event. The banquet sold out and standing room only tickets were sold at a discount to give even more Twins fans an opportunity to attend the Caravan.

Media members (including this humble blogger) were invited to come in starting at 4:30 to interview some of the participants. I had a chance to visit a bit with Twins pitching prospect, BJ Hermsen. He will be heading to the Twin Cities next week where he’ll receive his Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year award and then attend TwinsFest. Not long after, he’ll be on the road to Fort Myers for his first Major League Spring Training.

I asked whether Hermsen has any sense of where he’ll start the 2013 season (he doesn’t) and talked a bit about the offseason training work he’s been doing. He was asked by another person if he was going to be speaking during the Caravan portion of the program and he indicated he didn’t think so (he was wrong… emcee Dick Bremer had a number of questions for Hermsen during the program).

Ron Gardenhire and Terry Steinbach also were made available for interviews with the media, as was new Kernels manager Jake Mauer. Naturally, the local media had questions for Gardy that alluded to the new Cedar Rapids affiliation and he was appropriately complimentary in his responses.

Gardenhire did bring up the fact that his managerial debut was with Kenosha in the Midwest League in 1988 and that his team had their “butts beaten” by Cedar Rapids in the playoffs to end that season.

The Hall of Fame induction was sandwiched between dinner and the formal part of the Caravan program. The CR Hall inducted former players Trevor Hoffman and Casey Kotchman, along with longtime Kernels groundskeeper Jim Curran and Pat Harmon, one of the people credited with bringing minor league ball back to Cedar Rapids in the 1940s. But the highlight, for me, of the ceremony was the induction of former Cedar Rapids manager Alex Monchak.

Alex Monchak

Alex Monchak

I’m sure most of you have no idea who Monchak is, but this man epitomizes the career baseball man. He had a cup of coffee with the Phillies, but his career was interrupted by World War II. While he never returned to the Big Leagues as a player, that didn’t stop him from spending the rest of his life teaching others to play the game the right way.

He was inducted in to the CR HoF specifically for managing the 1958 Cedar Rapids Braves to the Three-I League championship, but after leaving our little town, he spent about a decade as a scout and almost 20 years as a coach on manager Chuck Tanner’s staffs with the White Sox, A’s, Pirates and Braves. In fact, he was a coach on the Pirates’ Championship team that also included pitcher Bert Blyleven.

Hoffman and Kotchman had other commitments that kept them from attending the event, but Monchak, who will be 96 years old in March, was in attendance to accept his award and address the crowd.

Dick Bremer did a professional job of emceeing the Caravan program. It’s no small task, I’m sure, to do that job in a way that comes across as fresh to every crowd, despite the fact that they’ve been essentially going through the process multiple times per day for about a week. Bremer did sports for the local CBS affiliate in Cedar Rapids before moving on to Minnesota, so he was able to blend in some anecdotes from his days here.

Everyone on the dais did a good job of fielding the questions Bremer has no-doubt asked them several times over the past week, as well as a number from the crowd. Obviously, Gardy got the lion’s share of the questions from fans and he handled them with his typical combination of optimism and humor.

Of course, there are causes for concern from Twins fans after the past two seasons, but this event was all about generating interest and enthusiasm among the fan bases of the Twins and Kernels, as well as celebrating the upcoming inaugural season of this relationship. Based on the attendance and enthusiastic support from the crowd, it was an overwhelming success at doing just that.

I’ll wrap up this post with a few pictures from the evening. – JC

The CR Marriott Ballroom set up and ready for a big crowd

The CR Marriott Ballroom set up and ready for a big crowd

Ron Gardenhire with what passes as the media hoard in Cedar Rapids (including a voice recorder held by a local blogger who shall remain nameless)

Ron Gardenhire with what passes as the media hoard in Cedar Rapids (including a voice recorder held by a local blogger who shall remain nameless)

New Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach

New Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach prepares for a TV interview

Kernels Manager Jake Mauer has a chat with Gardy before the event gets started

Kernels Manager Jake Mauer has a chat with Gardy before the event gets started

The Twins Caravan dias in Cedar Rapids was shared by (from L to R): Twins Director of Minor League Operations Brad Steil, Manager Ron Gardenhire, Infielder Brian Dozier, Broadcaster Dick Bremer, Bench Coach Terry Steinbach, Kernels Manager Jake Mauer, Minor League Pitcher of the Year B.J. Hermsen

The Twins Caravan dais in Cedar Rapids was shared by (from L to R): Manager Ron Gardenhire, Twins Director of Minor League Operations Brad Steil, Infielder Brian Dozier, Broadcaster Dick Bremer, Bench Coach Terry Steinbach, Kernels Manager Jake Mauer, Minor League Pitcher of the Year B.J. Hermsen

The autograph line: TC Bear, Jake Mauer, Ron Gardenhire, Brian Dozier, Terry Steinbach, N.J. Hermsen

The autograph line: TC Bear, Jake Mauer, Ron Gardenhire, Brian Dozier, Terry Steinbach, B.J. Hermsen

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 21

Episode 21 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

The OTHER (cooler?) Greg Gagne

Once again the Pleiss brothers get together to talk Twins baseball. Continuing their look around the AL Central division they are joined by Lewie Pollis (@LewsOnFirst) from Wahoos On First and Beyond The Box Score to talk about what’s been happening with the Cleveland Indians since the end of their season and what we can expect from the Tribe in 2013. Later in the podcast Seth Stohs (@SethTweets) joins the podcast to talk about the recent release of his Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2013. By the end of the podcast you will have learned something about the Heart of Darkness, Greg Gagne, Josmil Pinto and a whole slough of other Twins news and notes.

 

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help us become more like the Red Power Ranger.)

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

- ERolfPleiss