Twins Caption Contest!

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photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins

THAT’S How Ya Do It!

After attending the debacle Friday night and then reading that Francisco Liriano had been scratched from his Saturday start in favor of Anthony Swarzak, who would be facing off with Jared Weaver, I can’t say I was optimistic about the possibility of witnessing a Twins win Saturday night.

Silly me.

OF COURSE this would be the circumstance under which the wins would put things together to pull out a W!

There was a great crowd on hand, reminding me a bit of the enthusiasm I felt during so many games last season. I think we all knew that the Twins were likely to have trouble scoring much off of Weaver, who’s had a pretty strong year, thus far. But Swarzak was every bit Weaver’s equal as the two pitchers matched one another almost pitch for pitch from one inning to the next.

Toward the 7th inning, Swarzak gave up a couple of pretty deep, well hit balls that found the gloves of Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young. In fact, the defense tonight was very solid all night long. It hasn’t been often that we’ve been able to say that this year.

With one out in the 8th inning Peter Bourjos laced a line drive down the left field line for a double to ruin Swarzak’s no-hitter bid and the crowd immediately rose to give the young pitcher a huge standing ovation. As we sat down, the three 20-something women sitting to my left asked me why everyone had been cheering… they had no idea Swarzak had a no-hitter going. I’m not sure they even knew what a no-hitter was, to be honest. Ah well.

The guy to my right almost flipped out when Matt Capps entered the game to start the 9th inning on the mound for the Twins… but he stood and gave Capps an ovation with the rest of us after his hitless inning. Alex Burnett followed with a clean inning of relief, himself. (Where have THESE versions of those two pitchers been lately… and can we keep them a while?)

And then it was the bottom of the 10th. Lefty reliever Hisanori Takahashi took over for Weaver and struck Jason Kubel out looking before giving up a solid line drive single to Justin Morneau. Jason Repko ran for Morneau and righty Kevin Jepson took the mound for the Angels. Michael Cuddyer grounded a single past the SS in to left field and Delmon Young lined a single to center field. Unfortunately, Repko couldn’t get a jump on that single because there was a real chance it could have been snagged by the shortstop (I thought he was going to catch it from where I sat).

A lot of people around me were upset that Repko didn’t score, but to be honest, he HAD to make sure that ball got through. The LAST thing you want is to have him get doubled off 2B to end that inning. He still got to 3B and the bases were loaded with just one out and Danny Valencia at the plate.

The Angels used five infielders, all playing in on the grass, and just two outfielders, but it didn’t matter. Valencia lifted a fly ball to RF and right off the bat, everyone knew it was deep enough to score Repko from 3B. Torii Hunter jogged back a bit but he knew it didn’t matter whether he got to it or not and it landed well beyond Hunter. Game over.

The Twins celebrated on the field and you could just tell this was a win that made everyone feel good… players and fans alike.

I didn’t take as many pictures this trip as I usually do at games and many I did take are far from high quality, but I thought I would post a few anyway… hope you enjoy!

– JC

Pregame fraternization between Torii, Denard and Cuddy, as well as Justin and Russell Branyan

TC Bear fires tshirts in to the crowd

Anthony Swarzak was very, very good

Jared Weaver was also very, very good

Torii Hunter went hitless... but looked good doing it

An appreciative crowd gives Swarzak a standing ovation after he gives up the first Angels hit in the 8th inning

The Angels play a 5 man infield when the Twins loaded the bases in the 10th

Danny Valencia strokes a deep fly ball to right field...

... and the Twins celebrate a much-needed win!

Harmon Killebrew Day

photo courtesy of Jim Mone/ASSOCIATED PRESS

There are a great many Twins fans heading into downtown to join with others to commemorate the life of Harmon Killebrew. Here’s all the details if you want to join Knuckleballs’ own JimCrikket and the rest. My advice is to get there as early as possible.

What: Public memorial

When: 7:10 p.m. today (broadcast coverage on FSN will begin at 6:00 pm)

Where: Target Field (gates open at 6)

Scheduled speakers: MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, Rod Carew, Paul Molitor, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau

What fans should know: Event is free and open to everyone. General admission seating. Concession stands will be open. All attendees will receive a commemorative program.

Due to the solemnity of the day, Governor Dayton has declared today to be Harmon Killebrew Day here in Minnesota. I thought I would share his declaration here in it’s entirety.

Whereas:

Minnesota Twins legend and Hall of Famer, Harmon Clayton Killebrew, passed away on May 17, 2011, at the age of 74 after a courageous battle with esophageal cancer; and

Whereas:

Mr. Killebrew’s Hall-of-Fame career began when he was signed out of the ball fields of Payette, Idaho by the Washington Senators, who moved to Minnesota in 1961 and became the Minnesota Twins; and

Whereas:

Thanks to quick hands and extraordinary upper-body strength, Mr. Killebrew developed into one of the most feared power hitters of all time, amassing a staggering 573 home runs throughout his career; and

Whereas:

Mr. Killebrew dominated the game, racking up 11 all-star game appearances, named American League Most Valuable Player in 1969, and, in 1965 led the Minnesota Twins to their first World Series appearance; and

Whereas:

After retiring, Mr. Killebrew’s illustrious career was recognized by Major League Baseball, when he was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1984; and

Whereas:

Much of Mr. Killebrew’s retirement was devoted to his foundation, the Harmon Killebrew Foundation, where he worked with the Minnesota Twin Community Fund and the Miracle League to bring the joy of baseball to children; and

Whereas:

Mr. Killebrew’s life should serve as an inspiration to everyone, and his work on the baseball diamond and through his foundation will never be forgotten; and

Whereas:

Today the citizens of Minnesota join with Mr. Killebrew’s surviving family members, his many friends, and his passionate legion of fans in celebrating the man an all he accomplished throughout his life, on an off the diamond.

Now, Therefore, I, Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota, do hereby proclaim May 26, 2011 to be:

Harmon Killebrew Day

 

That was a truly amazing and moving service. If you were unable to watch it or attend, FSN has it divided into clips for you watch. I encourage you to take the opportunity.

Harmon Killebrew Memorial

Hi all, JC here… I agree with Babs, if you weren’t able to watch the Memorial, I highly recommend it. I was there and just thought I’d post a handful of pictures below.

Team mates, current players and other MLB & Twins execs along the 3rd base line, and members of the Killebrew family down the 1st base line

 

Rod Carew and wife Rhonda with (L to R) Michael Cuddyer, Jim Kaat, Henry Aaron

Harmon Killebrew's Autograph on the RCF wall

Jim "Mudcat" Grant sing's "What A Wonderful World", accompanied by Ric Oliva

The newly painted Killebrew watertower in behind Minnie and Paul

Killebrew team mate Jim Kaat speaks, with co-emcee Dick Bremer looking on

The Twins Tower with Killebrew's image

Killebrew's Legacy, kids who've benefitted from Miracle Field program circled the bases for Killer's 574th HR

Jim Thome shows us where Killebrew's "longest HR at Met Stadium" would have landed at Target Field.

Rest In Peace #3

 

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Snappers Extra-Inning Win in Photos

Like their parent club, the Beloit Snappers played extra innings Monday. Unlike the Twins, however, the Snappers actually managed to get some hits with runners in scoring position and thus avoided getting swept out of Cedar Rapids with a 5-4 win over the Kernels. Thunderstorms during the morning threatened to delay the Snappers “getaway”, but the two teams got started on time and completed their 10-inning game in just under three hours.

The 20+ mph wind that blew in from right-center field most of the game made for some interesting (and entertaining) defensive plays, but rather than just write about this game, I thought I might try to tell the story with pictures and even a short video.

Snappers shortstop Daniel Santana got things going for Beloit by lining the second pitch of the game over the left-centerfield wall for a leadoff home run.

Daniel Santana homers to lead off the first inning

Leftfielder Nate Roberts collected three hits, scored a run and stole two bases on the day, then added a sacrifice bunt to move Andrew Leer in to scoring position in the top of the 10th inning.

Nate Roberts leads off in front of Kernels SS Jean Almanzar

Also contributing three hits to the Snappers attack was centerfielder Wang-Wei Lin, who put the Snappers ahead 3-0 in the 5th inning with an RBI single to right field.

Wang-Wei Lin moves away from Kernels 1B Brandon Decker

Starting pitcher Adrian Salcedo didn’t give up a hit until Kernel 1B Brandon Decker reached on an infield single in the 4th inning (on a backhand play that Snapper 2B Derek McCallum would likely admit he should have made). Salcedo was regularly hitting 93 mph on the stadium radar gun and was dominating the Kernels through 6 innings.

Adrian Salcedo was all but untouchable for 6 innings

The wheels fell off for Salcedo in the 7th inning, however (or more accurately, they fell off for the Snapper defense behind him), as the Kernels batted around, scoring four runs (only two earned) to tie the score at 4-4. Clinton Dempster relieved Salcedo with bases loaded and two out and gave up an RBI single and a sac fly before getting the final out of the inning.

Dempster was more effective over his remaining two innings of work, facing the minimum six hitters.

Clinton Dempster collected a blown save AND the win

That’s where the score remained until the top of the 10th inning when Leer let off with a single to left field, was moved to 2B by Roberts’ sacrifice bunt and on to 3B by Michael Gonzales’ second single of the day. Daniel Ortiz’s groundout to second base was deep enough to easily score Leer.

All that remained was for relief pitcher Matt Hauser to nail down the save. He made it a bit interesting, giving up a walk and a single (almost makes it seem like the Twins actually teach their closers to do that, doesn’t it?), before getting the final Kernels out to finish off the Snappers’ 5-4 victory.

Matt Hauser talks things over with catcher Matt Parker

The Snappers make their next (and final) trip to Cedar Rapids for a three-game series July 30-Aug 1, but both teams are off to good starts in the first half of the season and have real shots at the Midwest League post-season.

– JC

Road Trip To Camden Yards

I’ve got a few new work responsibilities these days, so I haven’t been able to follow the Twins as much as I’d like, much less blog about them. On the other hand, those new responsibilities also have me in Baltimore this week and I’ve taken advantage of that by staying at a hotel just a few blocks from Camden Yards, home of the Orioles. Sure, it would have been nice if this trip had corresponded with the Twins’ series in Baltimore a week ago, but my luck doesn’t run that good (besides, the weather this week was much better for baseball in Baltimore).

I didn’t pack the camera on this trip, but I took a few pictures with my phone and thought I’d share.

On Tuesday, I joined a few coworkers at the first game of the O’s/Red Sox series (the company has some pretty nice seats just up from the visiting dugout). It was a bit warm… close to 80 degrees… and a bit on the humid side, but it sure beat the 40 degree weather back home.

A fixture out on Eutaw Street beyond RF at the ballpark is “Boog’s Bar-b-q”. Wednesday night, Boog Powell was on hand to sign autographs, pose for pictures with fans and just generally shoot the bull with anyone who cared to do so. Seemed like a really good guy. (If you don’t know who Boog Powell is, I’ll try not to hold your relative youth against you… but he and Harmon Killebrew were having their own little “home run derby” contests during Twins/Orioles games throughout most of my youth.)

I moved around a bit on Wednesday. I spent some time early in the game in the upper deck, under the overhang, avoiding raindrops and hoping the lightning I was seeing to the west of the stadium didn’t get much closer.

Fortunately, the storm moved just to the north of Camden Yards. Again, it was in the mid 70s and humid… with a few raindrops here and there… but nothing to complain about, especially compared to the snow that the Twins and Rays were playing in back at Target Field!

Later, I moved back down to the RF line… grabbing a beer and a bit of Boog’s BBQ and watching an inning or so from the standing room area above the large out-of-town scoreboard that serves as the RF wall.

Then I grabbed a seat near the RF foul pole.

Speaking of the foul pole… I didn’t realize those poles were actually carry-overs from old Memorial Stadium. Gotta like that they brought a bit of the “old ballpark” to their new one (hard to believe this place is already 20 years old, though!).

Finally, on my way out, I just snapped a shot of Eutaw Street between the signature warehouse and the OF seating area and the Oriole Hall of Fame plaques behind the large scoreboard in CF.

Oh… and I apparently brought a bit of good luck to the O’s as they beat the Red Sox both games I attended… 4-1 on Tuesday, when I got to see young Zach Britton pretty much shut down the Red Sox, taking a no-hitter through roughly the first half of the game, and 5-4 on Wednesday, when balls were flying out of the park a bit. Luke Scott and Adam Jones went back-to-back to stake Jeremy Guthrie to a 3-0 lead over Josh Beckett, but a Kevin Youkalis 3-run HR tied the game at 4 in the 8th inning. Vlad Guerrero’s RBI single in the 8th provided the margin of victory for the Orioles.

I made my first trip to Camden Yards just a year or two after it was built and it’s still one of my favorite ballparks. I’m looking forward to making more trips out here during the summer months over the next few years.

– JC

Spring Training Photos

I’ve already posted several photos taken during my trip to Ft. Myers, but I thought the weekend would be a good time to put up a couple of slideshows.

So here they are… old friends like Tom Kelly, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Paul Molitor, and Tom Brunansky… future Twins like Aaron Hicks, Joe Benson, Max Kepler and James Beresford… along with all of the current Twins we’re going to be watching at Target Field all summer long. Most you will recognize instantly… others you’ll have to learn to get to know.

What I Learned On Vacation

Make no mistake, the worst part of spending a week hanging around the Twins Spring Training site in Ft. Myers is the first day back at work when you get home. But as bad as that is, it’s well worth it to have made the trip.

Channeling the inner child in me, today I thought I would reflect and write a bit about what I learned on my vacation, much the way my 2nd grade teacher asked the class to do upon the start of a new school year.

I attended five “official” spring training games, as well as parts of a few minor league games, several of which included appearances by various members of the Twins MLB club. I arrived at just about the right time to start getting looks at Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, who hadn’t taken part in games before I got down there. On the other hand, I only got to see Michael Cuddyer face minor league pitching and take batting practice (which, let’s face it, is pretty much the same thing for a hitter of Cuddyer’s abilities). So, what have I learned?

Tsuyoshi Nishioka looks like the real deal. He’s riding a ten game hitting streak and he’s been very impressive at second base. He and Alexi Casilla are looking very smooth turning double plays, as well.

Luke Hughes and Matt Tolbert

There actually is a very real and very close competition for the utility infielder spot on the roster. Most of us just assumed Matt Tolbert would be handed the job, but Luke Hughes has hit five home runs and three doubles in 19 games. He’s also leading the team with 15 strikeouts, but the prospect of having a right handed hitter with some pop on the bench has to be pretty attractive for Ron Gardenhire. That said, over the past few days, it has been Tolbert that’s looking better at the plate and he’s certainly more accomplished and versatile with the glove. This race is still too close to call, though if I were the one getting to make the decision, I think having that strong righthanded bat available off the bench would nudge me in the direction of giving the job to Hughes.

Gardenhire has announced that Kevin Slowey is the odd man out of the rotation to start the season, assuming everyone stays healthy over the last week of Spring Training. That makes sense to me and Slowey is handling it like the classy professional he is. His shift to the bullpen means the competition is coming down to the wire for the three remaining spots in the pen.

Depending on which media outlet you read and on which day, any one of seven candidates are “likely” to claim one of those three roster spots. Here’s a rundown on the guys still competing for those spots, including the three that I believe should… and will… open the season in the Twins bullpen.

Scott Diamond, who is the Rule V draftee that the Twins took from the Braves, is a lefthanded pitcher that the Twins reportedly have long “liked”. I didn’t see enough of Diamond to really judge his abilities, but I don’t see much chance that he opens the season with the Twins. Ideally, they can send Atlanta a minor leaguer in exchange for the right to keep Diamond and send him to Rochester, but from what I’ve seen and read, if the Twins have to send him back to the Braves, it wouldn’t be a catastrophe.

I’ve seen articles indicating the Twins like Kyle Waldrop enough to keep him on the roster to open the season. Maybe. But if that’s the case, they sure have a funny way of showing it. He’s only pitched five innings in Spring Training (about half of what most of the other bullpen candidates have thrown) and while his numbers are impressive (no earned runs, 7 Ks, no walks), if they were serious about keeping him to open the season, I think they’d be giving him more opportunities to pitch. Let’s see how much work he gets in the next few games. UPDATE: mlb.com’s Rhett Bollinger reported Wednesday afternoon that the Twins announced Waldrop would be among a group of players who would make the trip to Atlanta for the final exhibition games and then be reassigned to a minor league team.

Jeff Manship is another guy who a lot of people seem to think will be sticking with the Big Club. I don’t see it, unless the Twins do trade Slowey before Opening Day. I see Slowey and Manship as potentially filling the same role in the bullpen and as long as Slowey is there, Manship would be redundent. Manship’s spring pitching line (6.30 ERA in 10 innings, 11 hits, 5 Ks, 3 BBs) just hasn’t been all that impressive when compared to some of the guys he’s competing with.

Carlos Gutierrez is the young, up and coming bullpen arm that Gardy has been hinting he’d like to keep around. It’s not going to happen. As long as there are other options, the front office is going to want to hold off on bringing Gutierrez up until at least June to keep his MLB service clock from starting until then. If he were head and shoulders better than any other option, you wouldn’t let the service time issue keep him down on the farm, but he’s not… so it will. UPDATE: mlb.com’s Rhett Bollinger reported Wednesday afternoon that, like Waldrop, the Twins announced Gutierrez would be among a group of players who would make the trip to Atlanta for the final exhibition games and then be reassigned to a minor league team on March 30.

That leaves these three guys as those I believe should, and will, fill those final three spots in the pen:

Glen Perkins

Glen Perkins is a guy a lot of Twins fans seem to love to hate. He’s certainly given plenty of reasons for us to doubt him over the past few years, but this spring, when asked to compete for a bullpen job, he’s done so and pitched well. He’s thrown 9 innings and has accumulated a 2.00 ERA, giving up 8 hits, striking out 6 and walking 3 hitters. I suggest fans put the past behind us and look forward to Perkins being in the Twins bullpen. He’s out of options and there’s no way he would clear waivers so the Twins would lose him if they don’t give him one of the bullpen spots. They could conceivably still trade him before Opening Day, but he’s clearly been one of the three best relief pitchers among the contenders listed here, so I expect #15 to open the season with the Twins.

Dusty Hughes

The Twins are likely to open with three lefties in the pen because, in addition to Perkins and Jose Mijares, Dusty Hughes is going to make the team. The Twins snatched him off waivers from the Royals, largely because a number of Twins hitters confirmed to the staff that the guy is tough for them to hit. If the Twins’ own talented stable of lefthanded hitters think a pitcher is tough, he’s a guy worth taking a chance on. Hughes has proven worthy of their praise this spring, having yet to give up a run and allowing only six hits in 10 innings on the mound. He has walked five hitters, however, which matches the five he’s struck out.

That leaves one final spot and this is the spot I feel strongest about. The Twins need Jim Hoey in the bullpen.

Jim Hoey

Hoey, obtained from the Orioles as part of the JJ Hardy trade, got off to a bit of a slow start this spring in his first few appearances, but over the past week, he has demonstrated why the Twins wanted him. He brings one thing that none of the other Twins bullpen arms (or starting pitchers, for that matter) have… and that is overpowering velocity. While virtually every other pitcher on this list has a fastball that tops out in the low 90s, Hoey throws 95 mph… warming up. When he’s serious, he’ll fire in there somewhere in the 97-99 mph range. His issue, early in camp, was controlling that heat, but he’s been throwing his fastballs at the knees and if he can do that regularly, look for a lot of strikeouts, ground balls, and broken bats.

And here’s the thing… when you have a guy who’s 6′ 6″ and throws the ball almost 100 mph, you don’t really WANT him to have pinpoint control. The only chance 90% of Major League hitters have of hitting a ball traveling that fast on the sweet spot of the bat is if they can dig in and swing early. If the pitcher has a reputation for being jussssssst a little wild, not many hitters will be doing that “digging in” thing. We’re not talking Nuke LaLoosh wild here, either. TC Bear isn’t going to get beaned and John Gordon isn’t going to have to be ducking in the radio booth.

Finally, while not a lot has been written about it lately, a decision is going to have to be made with regard to whether Joe Nathan or Matt Capps starts the season as the Twins closer.

The sentimental favorite is Joe Nathan. He’s certainly earned the faith and loyalty of the Twins coaches, as well as the fans’ devotion. But, frankly, he just hasn’t pitched as well as Matt Capps this spring and unless something changes over the next week, I’d have to give the closing job to Capps while Nathan serves as the primary set up arm. Nathan has an 8.53 ERA and has given up seven hits and walked three, in just 6 and a third innings of work. Granted, a lot of the damage was inflicted in one very poor outing, but as much as I wanted to see the old Twitchy out there on the mound this past week, I don’t think he’s all the way back. Capps, on the other hand, has yet to give up a run in 7 and a third innings, allowing only four hits, not walking anyone, and striking out five hitters. Sentiment aside, Capps has earned the closer role, at this point.

In the end, here’s the main thing I learned on my vacation… looking at this lineup, and even at the quality of the players who will NOT make the Opening Day roster, I see a team with the potential to be very, very good.

Let’s get this party started!

– JC

When Major Leaguers Are Minor Leaguers

If you’ve been paying attention to reports coming out of Ft. Myers for the past week or so, you’ve no doubt read or heard about various Twins playing in minor league games and perhaps you’ve wondered just exactly what that means… and why these established stars would be playing in minor league games.

It seems like there has been even more of that kind of thing this spring than normal and that’s probably due to a couple of reasons. First, so many Twins missed the first several spring training games and they need to get a few extra cuts in order to get their timing down. Second, the quirks of this spring’s schedule resulted in the Twins playing most of their games over the past week or so on the road and the organization hasn’t been anxious to make stars with various aches and pains compound those issues by spending several hours on buses crisscrossing the state of Florida.

But what exactly does it mean when it’s reported that Justin Morneau or Jim Thome is “2 for 4 in a minor league game”?

As I’ve mentioned in another post, the best way I can think of to describe what happens is to envision these Major Leaguers showing up to play in your Sunday afternoon beer-league softball game. The scattering of fans who happen to be hanging out around the minor league complex to watch their games get that kind of close-up view of whatever Major League Twins might be participating in a given day.

Fans are litterally 6 feet away from Justin Morneau as he prepares to hit

Michael Cuddyer signs for fans before the minor league game

On Tuesday, before heading to the airport for my flight home, I stopped by the Twins minor league complex to watch a few innings of the games being played there. On this particular day, there were two games going on between the Low A and High A Twins and their counterparts from the Rays camp. Jim Thome DH’d in the Low A game, while Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau played RF and 1B, respectively, in the High A game.

They gave those fans in attendance plenty to watch.

You see, the Major Leaguers hit every inning. For example, in the High A game, Cuddyer and Morneau batted second and third… every inning for as long as they stayed around. That’s how these players get 4-5 plate appearances while only playing half the game.

If course, you have to curb your enthusiasm a bit when you hear that one of these guys launched a couple of home runs in one of these games (as Thome did in one such minor league game earlier this week), because they’re often facing 19-20 year old Class A pitchers who show up expecting to face guys destined for Beloit and find themselves trying to slip an inside fastball past MVPs and future Hall of Famers!

Doubtful the Rays Class A pitcher expected to face this guy every inning when he got on the bus

Of course, the games aren’t all you’ll see on the minor league complex. When I arrived, a familiar face was dragging the practice infield adjacent to the minor league clubhouse and an hour or so later, a Hall of Famer was hitting ground balls on that practice field to a couple of minor league first basemen.

Former Twins manager Tom Kelly drags the infield on a minor league practice field

Hall of Famer Paul Molitor works with a couple of minor league first basemen

All of this is just a long way of letting you know that, if you ever go down to Ft. Myers during Spring Training, only to find that the Twins are playing road games while you’re there, don’t let that dissuade you from checking out the action at the Lee County Sports Complex. Not only can you watch the Twins stars of tomorrow playing games there every afternoon, but you may get a closer look at some of the Twins’ stars than you’re ever likely to get anywhere else.

A few more pictures from the Tuesday minor league games… not much for zoom lenses needed for most of these pictures.

– JC

Bert, Brian and the Bucs

I think I saw something in Bradenton Monday that I haven’t seen at any of the other Spring Training games I’ve watched over the past week. There were, in fact, a few clouds in the sky. I had almost forgotten what they looked like, though I suspect I’m going to be reminded pretty dramatically in a few hours, when I get back to Iowa.

McKechnie Field, Spring Training home of the Pirates... and a few clouds

I also hadn’t seen Bert Blyleven yet down here until today, though I did see Dick Bremer behind the batting cage last week exchanging a man-hug with Hall of Famer (and Bremer’s former broadcast partner) Harmon Killebrew. Not only did Dick and Bert broadcast today’s game with the Pirates to the folks back home, but Bert also threw out the first pitch. I thought that was kind of cool, given that he did pitch for the Pirates and they took this opportunity to recognize Blyleven’s recent election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Bert Blyleven donned a Pirates jersey to throw out the first pitch, in honor of his election to the HOF

This was my second opportunity to see Brian Duensing start a game on the mound and he looked sharper today. I know there’s a lot of healthy debate around Twinsville about whether Duensing should start the season in the rotation or the bullpen, but I’ve felt strongly all along that he should be in the rotation and I’ve seen nothing this week to change my mind. It allows Ron Gardenhire to go Righty-Lefty-Righty-Lefty-Righty with the rotation and assures that teams see a variety of looks during a three-game series.

Brian Duensing looked good against the Pirates

Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Delmon Young were the only starting position players to make the 90 minute bus ride up to Bradenton for the game, but they gave the sizable contingent of Twins fans in the crowd plenty to cheer about. Span had a double in four ABs, while Mauer and Young each had two hits to lead the Twins 4-1 win over the Pirates.

The Bucs’ only run was unearned, which means that, once again, the whole parade of Twins pitchers shut down an opponent. Today, in addition to Duensing, that included Glen Perkins, Matt Capps, Carlos Gutierrez and Chuck James. The relief appearances were clean, though not dominating. Perkins had a couple of balls hit hard off of him, including a line drive to first base that became a double play ball. Gutierrez was getting ground balls, while James got all three outs on fly balls.

Carlos Gutierrez has been looking good all spring

While the Twins travel to face the Marlins tomorrow, I’ll be heading home to Cedar Rapids. I don’t leave until the afternoon, though, so I may hang out for a while in the morning at the Twins practice facility and maybe even watch some minor league games. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the Twins playing in those games, while few of the regulars make the long drive across the state to Jupiter FL where the Marlins train.

I’ve had a lot of opportunities to watch a lot of baseball this week and I’ve drawn a few conclusions concerning what I think Gardy and the Twins will be doing about those few remaining roster spots that are still up in the air… and about what I think they SHOULD do (I wish they were the same thing, but they’re not). In any event, I’ll think a bit more about that stuff and throw a post up in the next couple of days with my thoughts.

It’s been a fun trip… as always. The weather has been terrific and while I’d love to hang around here and watch more baseball, it will also feel good to get home again (at least right up until the time I have to show up for work Wednesday morning).

With that, I’ll leave you with a few more pictures from my day in Bradenton.

– JC

How close was my seat to the field? I had to move my knees to make room for this young man to get Matt Tolbert's autograph

I had a pretty good view of Denard Span taking the field, as well.

The Pirates mascots force two children to do the chicken dance... talk about child abuse!

Joe Mauer chats up Pirate 1B Lyle Overbay in order to avoid having to talk to 1B coach Jerry White

Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven get ready to go on the air before the game

Spring: A Time of Change

It’s never easy to say good bye to friends and make no mistake, Pat Neshek was our friend. Some of us got to “know” Pat via his blog while he was still working his way up through the Twins’ minor league system and when he and his funky sidearm delivery made their MLB debut, he already had a sizable fan base. That was the same year that he made the AAA All-Star team on the strength of a huge voting block of devoted electronic followers.

And “Sideshow” was good, too! He was a dominant set up man for the Twins in 2006 and 2007. Being a “local boy” in the Twin Cities certainly didn’t hurt his popularity, either.

In typical Neshek style, Pat broke the news of his own waiver by the Twins via Twitter, along with the message that he had been picked up by the San Diego Padres, where he’ll be reunited with other former Twins like Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson.

While you couldn’t help but root for Neshek to find the magic he showed us before undergoing Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago, it was becoming clear that he was not in the Twins plans for 2011. He wasn’t missing many bats in his handful of appearances this spring and his velocity, while better than last year, still has been a few clicks below the low 90s he routinely hit at his best.

Neshek still had one minor league option year left, so the Twins could have sent him to Rochester to start the season, but going to San Diego represents a fresh start for Pat and I hope he makes the best of that opportunity.

A Day in Dunedin

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, Dunedin

I made the 2+ hour trip up the highway to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area this morning to watch the Twins take on the Blue Jays in Dunedin. The Florida Auto Exchange Stadium was one that I had not yet attended a game at, so I was anxious to see something new. I won’t say that I regret my decision, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by either the stadium or the Twins performance there.

The Thirst Inning Lounge, inside the stadium

The ballpark is easily the worst of the 8 or so spring training sites I’ve been to. I did have a terrific Italian Sausage before the game and I certainly appreciated the air conditioned Thirst Inning Lounge, where I spent an hour before the game watching basketball, but other than that, this was really just a bad ballpark. With all the communities in Florida and Arizona trying to lure teams in to their areas, I’m surprised the Jays can’t do better than this.

The game wasn’t without its highlights, even though the Twins managed to get shut out 3-0 by the Jays.

Scott Baker threw four good innings. The only run he gave up scored on an RBI single that glanced off the glove of a leaping Alexi Casilla in shallow centerfield. Baker struck out six, walked none, and gave up 3 hits in his four innings. The pitchers that followed all did OK, I guess… but they were nowhere near as solid as what we’ve seen the last few games. Matt Capps, Dusty Baker, Phil Dumatrait and Jeff Manship all gave up some hits. Manship managed the odd combination of giving up a two run home run AND striking out the side in his inning of work.

I also got to watch both of the Hughes boys, pitcher Dusty and infielder Luke. Like the fan-friendly guys our Twins are, they even posed together for a picture.

Luke Hughes (1B) and Dusty Hughes (P)

My own personal highlight of the game came in the eighth inning when Daniel Santana, a minor league infielder called up to finish the game at shortstop for Casilla, lined a foul ball in my direction. Actually, it wasn’t just in my direction, it curved directly at me. I’d like to say I caught the ball bare-handed, but I didn’t. I used two hands (my Little League coaches would be proud), but it smacked my hands and fell at my feet. I then picked up the only MLB foul ball I’ve ever had hit to me and handed it to the boy sitting next to me. I really don’t need another baseball at this point in my life and I’d like to think he’ll enjoy it much longer than I would. Besides, I’ll have these bruised fingers to remember the event by for some time to come, I’m sure.

Jon Rauch, Blue Jay

The ninth inning gave us the opportunity to see yet another former Twin, as Jon Rauch closed out the game on the mound for the Jays. Big Jon was only hitting 87-88 mph with his fastball but that was enough, combined with his towering gaze, I guess, to cower the various minor leaguers finishing the game for the Twins.

On Deck: Where’s Crikket?

Tomorrow will be the last game I’ll be attending on my trip down here this spring as the Twins travel to Bradenton to play the Pirates. Just a reminder that the game will be televised on FSN (and, one assumes, MLB.tv). CapitalBabs has found her way home and that means there SHOULD be a GameChat set up (I think).

As I mentioned during the GameChat last Monday, you all are invited to play “Where’s Crikket?” during the game. I have a ticket for the first row, down the left field line. (At least the ticket says “Row 1″… I suppose it’s possible there’s a row of “Premium” seating in front of it, but I don’t recall Bradenton having those the last time I was there.)

I’ll even give you a little help… the only clean sportshirt I have left is a white one, so there’s a pretty good chance that’s what I’ll be wearing. I’m also wearing the same cap you can see perched on my head in my picture here at Knuckleballs.

Let me leave you with a little air guitar, courtesy of these two fans competing in a contest between innings in Dunedin today!

– JC