It’s All About the Pitching

A lot of the media folks that cover the Twins and a lot of the bloggers, as well, have been writing about the team’s pitching, lately. Everyone has an opinion about who should be in the rotation and who should be kept around to fill out the bullpen. I’ll probably get around to trying to sort out my own opinions on those issues eventually, too… but it won’t be at 1:30 in the morning after getting back to my Ft. Myers hotel from the Twins/Orioles game in Sarasota.

Let me just say this… for tonight anyway, the Twins pitching was really good.

Francisco Liriano was looking good against the O's

If tonight’s performance was any indication of things to come, we no longer have to be concerned with Francisco Liriano. Tonight, he demonstrated why you just don’t put a lot of stock in the first couple of Spring Training appearances. That said, in fairness, this one excellent performance doesn’t guarantee Liriano will look just as good when the regular season rolls around, either.

But Liriano did look really good. He struck out 7 Orioles in his five innings on the mound and gave up just one earned run on three hits (two by Vlad Guerrero).

And he wasn’t the only pitcher who looked good. In fact all five Twins who took the mound to face the Orioles had pretty good nights.

Joe Nathan is all smiles as he continues his successful return

Of the four relief pitchers who each threw one inning (Jose Mijares, Joe Nathan, Alex Burnett, and Glen Perkins), only Nathan gave up a run and that was unearned. In fact, Nathan’s the only one of the foursome who gave up a hit and he only gave up one.

Matt Tolbert had a big night against the Orioles

The offensive side of the ledger wasn’t quite as impressive, but the Twins did collect nine hits. Matt Tolbert may have decided not to just roll over and let Luke Hughes have his roster spot without a fight, as Tolbert was the only Twin with more than one hit… he collected three, including a line drive home run over the LCF wall in the third inning.

My seat for the game was in the first row, down the left field line, so I had a nice close-up view of our guys as they loosened up before the game. I have to admit, between seeing several Twins play up close and personal on the minor league complex Thursday and then having this vantage point on Friday, I’m getting a bit spoiled. Here are a few more pictures from Sarasota.

Sarasota gave Ed Smith Stadium a major facelift. They did it right!

Ben Revere shares a smile during warm ups before the Orioles game

 

Jose Mijares signed autographs for fans for several minutes before the game

Vlad Guerrero accounted for half of the O's four hits

Former Twin JJ Hardy went hitless in 3 at-bats against his old team mates Friday night

Saturday afternoon, the Rays visit Ft. Myers to play the Twins. We’re expecting Joe Mauer to catch a few innings for the first time in a Twins spring training game and Justin Morneau is supposed to DH, making it the first time he’s played in back-to-back games. The Twins don’t have another home game until Wednesday, so I suspect we’ll see the A-list lineup against the Rays.

This blogging thing is becoming exhausting… I need sleep!

– JC

Revisiting Not-so-old Friends

I’m about to hit the road for Sarasota for tonight’s Twins game against the Orioles, but I wanted to try to drop a quick post this afternoon because it will likely be late tonight or early tomorrow morning (at the earliest) before I get around to posting anything about that game.

I spent a little time today back at the minor league complex and had the opportunity to watch a few players that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing during recent seasons with the Beloit Snappers, when they’ve visited Cedar Rapids to face the Kernels. I didn’t have time to watch the whole game, but I was there long enough to see former Snappers James Beresford and Angel Morales get hits in the bottom of the first inning and eventually come around to score. In addition to Beresford and Morales, I recognized at least one other former Snapper on the field, Deibinson Romero. Romero was playing first base, though I seem to recall him being a third baseman when he was with Beloit a couple of years ago.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Knuckleballs Spring Training report without a few pictures.

James Beresford gets a lead off of second base

Angel Morales coils at the plate

Deibinson Romero ready at first base

Morales at first base following a base hit

Coach Jake Mauer and Beresford share a smile at 3B in the first inning

With that, I’m headed up to Sarasota for the evening!

– JC

 

A “Minor” Change of Plans

When I set up my plans for this year’s trip to Ft. Myers, I knew the Twins would only have two home games during the six full days I would be here. That’s really not a big deal to me because I kind of enjoy seeing some of the other spring training sites around the state of Florida.

I planned to make the trip up to Lakeland today for my first look at the Tigers’ spring training home, not to mention seeing a bit of action from the only other member of the AL Central Division that trains in Florida. In fact, I was so certain I would be making the 2+ hour drive north that I did something I don’t normally do down here… I bought a ticket in advance.

That ticket is still waiting for me at the Will Call window, I suppose.

When the Twins announced yesterday that the batteries of Carl Pavano/Drew Butera and Matt Capps/Joe Mauer would be getting some work in during a pair of minor league games, I decided to skip the Tiger game and hang around the Lee County Complex today. I’m really glad I did.

Sure, I would have enjoyed seeing Luke Hughes hit home run number five this spring and it sounds like Dusty Hughes, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla provided some highlights. But I didn’t really need to see Brad Penny drill Casilla and Delmon Young with pitches and I certainly didn’t need to see Pat Neshek give up two home runs.

Instead, I got out to the Twins complex around 9:00 this morning and spent some time watching the minor leaguers working out before heading in to Hammond Stadium where some of the Twins who didn’t make the trip to Lakeland were taking batting practice.

The last grouping included Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer (nattily attired in his WIN!/Don’t Be Denied! t-shirt) and sure enough, there next to the batting cage were none other than Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew. Oliva has been a fixture at the complex, but Killebrew just arrived Wednesday night.

Killebrew met with the media earlier in the morning and is expected to be on hand for three days. Usually, by the time I get down to Ft. Myers, Killebrew has been here and gone, but this year, his trip was delayed a bit due to his health issues. I hate that Harmon is going through the challenges related to fighting esophageal cancer, but for a child of the 60s like me, it was terrific just to get to see him on a ballfield again.

After the Twins’ BP finished up, I slipped back over to the minor league side of the facility again and struck up a nice conversation with a couple from the Quad Cities while we waited to find out which fields Pavano, Butera, Capps and Mauer would be playing at.

I’ve got to be honest… I’m not a huge Carl Pavano fan. Sure I want him to do well and since Bill Smith couldn’t/wouldn’t come up with a true top-of-the-rotation pitcher in the off-season, I was fine with bringing Pavano back as long as it wasn’t on a bank-breaking deal. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret… when media types write about what a great, fan-friendly group of guys the Twins players are, they aren’t referring to Carl Pavano. He may be a lovely human being among his friends and family and he may even love kittens, but… well… yeah I’d bet he hates kittens… almost as much as he seems to dislike baseball fans.

And in case you think this is just a JC thing… I’ll just mention that it’s an opinion I found to be shared rather widely among other fans I talked to today.

I even have to admit I found it just a little amusing when Pavano got knocked around a bit by a bunch of kids wearing Red Sox minor league uniforms. Some people just seem like they could use an occasional humility lesson. I suspect Pavano is one of those people (then again, some would say I am, too). I also could almost see him do a slow burn when one of those Red Sox punks laid down a bunt that died along the third base line for a hit.

Not to fear, however, the ‘Stache’s trusty sidekick, sweet Drew Butera, gunned down the little twerp when he tried to steal second base.

I was actually more interested in the game on an adjoining field where Matt Capps was pitching the first two innings and Joe Mauer was doing the catching.

Capps looked pretty good to me and I think the young hitters he was facing would probably agree. He didn’t give up any earned runs (a bit of miscommunication between his left and center fielders resulted in an unearned run) and it was good to see he can go more than one inning, when necessary.

Joe Mauer batted in both the first and second innings and while he was 0 for 2, he hit a couple of balls very, very hard. He hit a deep fly ball to CF and almost ended his day by hitting in to a triple play. He hit a shot at the third baseman who immediately doubled off a runner at second base. The second baseman didn’t make a throw to 1B to try to turn the triple play and probably wouldn’t have got that runner if he had made the throw… but it might have been close.

After Capps and Mauer finished up their two innings, I watched Pavano and Butera a bit more. Drew had a nice double to the gap and Pavano settled down after that nasty second inning. I watched Pavano throw five innings before heading out to a Sports Bar to watch some NCAA Tournament basketball. I don’t know if he threw another inning or not, but then again, I really didn’t care all that much.

If you’re wondering what it’s like to have Major League stars play in minor league spring training games, imagine having them show up at your local beer-league softball complex. It makes getting your picture album filled up pretty easy, that’s for sure. Here are just a few examples from the 150 or so I took today.

JIm Thome gets some BP, surrounded by Mauer, Morneau, Killebrew, and Cuddyer (Tony Oliva was behind the cage)

Michael Cuddyer's shirt says it all

From inside Hammond Stadium, looking out over the practice fields

Denard Span doing the autograph thing

Joe Mauer gets loose before his game on the minor league complex

The 'Stache delivers during his game on the minor league fields

Matt Capps was looking good against the RedSox kids

Of course, these were MINOR LEAGUE games, so we really should give a couple of those guys some love. A couple of the Twins top prospects were also playing in these games. Miguel Sano was a team mate of Joe Mauer for the day and Aaron Hicks provided some offense behind Carl Pavano.

Aaron Hicks

Miguel Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it for today. Friday night, I’ll be making the trip up the highway to Sarasota to watch Francisco Liriano face off with the Orioles (again). Rumor has it that Justin Morneau may make the trip and Joe Mauer may get a few more swings in during another minor league game in the afternoon.

I hope all of you in the great upper midwest are staying warm! Excuse me while I put something on this little sunburn before I head back to the Sports Bar for some more basketball.

– JC

Seeing Nishioka in Action!

Obviously there is a LOT of attention being given to the Twins newest infielder, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, but Twins fans really don’t have much to SEE yet.  (If you are a Facebook user, I encourage you to go to his Fan Page). The Twins have even put out a little video heads up from the clubhouse but if you can’t wait for the televised spring training outings, here is some videos put together interviewing him on his home turf and even on the field.

Mike Pomeranz from Kare11 actually got to go to Japan to meet Nishioka and brought the video back to share with us in Minnesota. At least this should give all of us a better idea of what to expect when the boys hit Ft. Meyers!

Kare11 Interview, Part I:

Kare11 Interview, Part II:

And even a little extra attention on his new wife:

Obviously, this is just not quite the same as seeing him actually play with the rest of our team but let’s call it whetting the appetite!

Off-season Photo Farewell

With all the off-season signings that took several of our Twins to other teams, we thought we would take a moment to bid a fond farewell with a little photo montage of some of our memories of their time with the Twins.  Obviously, for those that had been with us longer, I had a LOT more time to take pics of them.

Since we won’t get to see their adorable faces (or other features of choice) on the field this spring, here’s an opportunity for you to get one last look of Guerrier, Crain, Fuentes, Rauch, Hardy, Punto, Hudson and Harris in Twins uniforms.  We really do with you all the best with your new teams guys!

Spring Training is Just Around the Corner

Happy New Year from Knuckleballs!

We all recognize that the Twins have work to do yet this off-season as the front office continues to mold a roster together and various players complete their rehab work as they continue efforts to overcome injuries of various degrees. Yet, as we toss out the 2010 calendars and put up those new 2011 versions, we’re reminded that baseball is coming!

Yes, the temperatures where most of us call home remain bone-chilling and it’s far too early to store away the snow shovels. But pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training NEXT MONTH so regardless of how cold it may feel outside, it’s time to get in the mood for baseball!

I’ve made the journey to Ft. Myers FL for the past few years to take in anywhere from a couple of days to a full week at the Twins’ Spring Training complex and I can’t recommend it strongly enough. I can’t speak for anyone else, but by March, there’s nothing quite like getting a jump on the warmer weather with a trip to the Florida Gulf Coast and when you can combine the warmer weather with getting a sneak peek at the upcoming year’s Twins roster, it just makes for a terrific trip.

But rather than try to describe what it’s like, I thought I’d dig in to my photobucket scrapbook and share this Spring Training Tour to make you feel warm all over… I hope you enjoy. – JC

2010 Twins Legends game! Pics GALORE!

 

So I had no plans to actually be at the ballpark this weekend. 

But after watching those 50 All-time Greatest Twins come out on Saturday, I got so nostalgic that I really, really wanted to see that Legends game on Sunday.  So many of those guys have such a tender place in my heart that seeing them all out on the field together just made me tear up.  I put out a rhetorical plea to the baseball gods on twitter and my angel of mercy stepped up to say, “sure, let’s go to the game!”  Kirsten and I had a blast at our very first baseball game together.

I also REALLY wanted to get one of those cool Fedoras they were handing out at the game but because I stayed at home late enough to get the lineups up in the gamechat, we just didn’t get to the park until after all the hats were gone.  There were a LOT of people there VERY early so I was clearly not the only person who wanted to see that game (or get the hat).  So, no Fedora for me.  For the record – if you were there and got a hat and you aren’t so much a hat person?  Consider sending it my way.  I would wear that sucker a LOT!  I’m just a hat person through and through.  Let me know if you have an extra sitting around not being used.

OK, down to the REAL point of the day!  Seeing all the Old Timers!!  There were many unforgettable moments during the short period of time they were all out there.  For the record, the Minnies beat the Pauls 5-1 but I couldn’t even tell you who was on which team!  I was just enjoying all the interplay on the field and watching pitchers throw and batters hit and old guys try to catch!  It was just soooooooo much fun.  But, if you ask anyone who was there, there was one moment that really seemed to speak to the reality of all these guys doing this in a brand new park.  Kent Hrbek isn’t quite the man he used to be – more specifically, he’s about TWICE the man he used to be.  So when he dove to grab a foul off 1B and his full weight into the turf… well, the turf said, “ouch.”

Even funnier was the fact that he just sat there and stared at the hole in the ground for at least 5 minutes while they filled the divot back in and put the grass back.  You couldn’t even tell where the hole was by the time they were done but even Hrbek couln’t believe how much dirt he had managed to displace.  The fun wasn’t over yet either, he only finally got up when a couple buddies picked him up by each arm.  I just about died laughing as he totally milked the whole situation.  Of course, I can’t believe that more of these guys didn’t hurt themselves because you could tell they were having so much fun that they were pushing themselves to extraordinary limits. 

Ron Washington (Rangers manager), actually put on a Twins uni, sat in the Twins dugout with all the guys as one of our 50 Greatest Twins.  And he REALLY played too – to the point where he tweaked a hamstring and had to hobble off the field.  We’ve certainly heard that a lot lately but you really don’t expect it from the opposing team’s manager.  He got himself all ready for the game with his own boys after that but I couldn’t believe how much these guys of all ages really put themselves out there.  Some of them really look like they could still play today – or like they just left.  I just got super happy with the camera and took lots and lots of pics.  I hope y’all really enjoy them!  I would love to hear if you have a favorite!

JC’s Twins/Angels Slideshow

Making the 4 and a half hour drive home after the game Saturday made for a late night, but I really have only myself to blame for feeling sluggish on Sunday. After all, nobody MADE me stay up to watch the final couple innings of the Bitch Sox and Royals game. Even then, that game finished a bit after 1:00 am so I could have gone to bed then instead of watching a movie and sorting the weekend’s photos for the next two hours.

Now that I’m watching the Sox and Royals play yet another close ballgame (and occasionally chuckling at Hawk and Frank Thomas constantly whining about Joe West and his umpiring crew), I figure I might as well post a slideshow of the pictures I took Friday and Saturday. If photos aren’t really your thing, then feel free not to spend the time necessary to glance over the 70+ pictures in the slideshow. We’ll have a GameChat posted in a couple of hours anyway.

About the photos… I discovered that night games viewed from the upper deck are not real conducive to getting good pictures (at least for someone with hands no steadier than mine), so there aren’t a lot of pictures from Friday and those I did include aren’t the highest quality. Ah well. Saturday’s vantage point was from Section L in the Legends Club so those came out much better, I thought. I hope you enjoy. – JC

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Minnesota Baseball Icon – TC BEAR!!

Ok, not everyone has the same kind of feelings about TC that I do but as KL can tell you, I’ve taken every opportunity I could over the years going WAAAAAY back to collect fun shots of TC and followed his career.  But I know there are a few of you like me out there – yes, you, Jamar, and you, Betsy, and I’m sure there are others.  So, this post is for you!

Most Knuckleballers figure out in about 5 minutes that I kind of have a thing for kids.  I also take my responsibilities for passing on the love of baseball to the next generations seriously!  That includes the love of TC BEAR!  So when he informed me, via Twitter (@TC_00 if you’re interested), that he would be a library near my house doing a reading for kids, I knew what to do!

Oh yeah, I took a few kids along too!  My youngest brother, Ben, my nephew Camden, and his mommy and Aunt Lexi and her friend ALL went to the library to see TC Bear.  It was a really wonderful event.  They read a great baseball story while TC and a couple volunteers acted it out.  I’ve always been amazed by the hitting and catching that TC accomplishes given his limitations but he goes ALL OUT when he’s acting out a story.  He really knows how to commit to an action and not only that, the kids loved every minute of it!  So did the adults quite frankly.  Thanks TC!  And of course, I had to take lots of pictures!

I have no idea what kind of schedule TC has to keep in addition to his game schedule but a) it’s heavy and b) he is a wonderful reflection on baseball and the Minnesota Twins.  I don’t care what your job is, when you do it THAT well?  You are an honorable person.. err.. Bear.  :D

Target Field fieldtrip!

So I got to see the game from a new vantage point on Sunday thanks to my friend Deb!  Honestly, I’ll take any excuse and suffer pretty much any indignity to get to a game when circumstances and/or finances allow.  That includes getting rear-ended by a knucklehead while parking at a meter (long story, no damage, no biggie).  That being said, it was a GREAT game!!

Of course, I had the same problem I always have.  I took too many pictures!  It took me forever to get them narrowed down and as it is, there are still too many to post individual pics.  Mostly I was trying to get as many shots of the new guys as I could for our media library purposes (at least that is the excuse I use).  But I hope you guys enjoy the record of the game in snapshots!

Here’s my favorite shot of the game though – Repko making that amazing catch in LF:

And for the record since I was at the game and it seems to be the thing everyone is talking about, Gardy absolutely did the right thing not sending Kev back out there in the 8th.  It’s not about pitch count – it’s about the fact that there was no way he was going to FINISH that game anyway.  He’d been erratic (fairly effectively so) but we all know that inning-ending double play for the 7th was a thing of beauty because Kevin NEEDED it there.  He was done.  I don’t know what game you were watching if you couldn’t see that but I’ll argue with you if you want – doesn’t make you right.  *GRIN*  I don’t ever want Kevin to WANT to come out of a game but the fans who were standing and cheering when he left the field at the end of 7 knew he wasn’t coming back.

I hope you all enjoy the slideshow and I can’t wait to get back! You just can’t get too much baseball at Target Field!