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!

Do You Know Your Baseball Mustaches?

I’m still constantly amazed at how much attention Carl Pavano’s mustache gets. I mean, the guy is tied for the lead in wins in the American League after notching his 15th on Friday night but if you ask 10 people what they know about him, 9 will mention the mustache before anything else. (OK, if any of the 10 people you ask are Yankee fans, they might not mention the mustache first… but I’d be too busy snickering at their answer to care).

You think I’m wrong? Then let me ask you this: We started posting on this blog in March. Which post do you suppose has been the most-read? Was it one of our early pictorial posts from our first visits to Target Field? No. Was it the rant about Why the Yankees $uck? No. (But that was quite popular.. I wonder why.) It was the post where we sought to assign “blame” for Pavano’s mustache. And it’s not even close. That post was published weeks ago and it still gets a number of new hits every week.

So just to make the point that it’s not completely unheard of for a Major League ballplayer to have some hair above his lip, we’ve come up with the following “mustache quiz”.

Below are pictures of 12 Major League ballplayers, all of whom anyone claiming to be a serious baseball fan should have at least some casual knowledge of. Some of these are tougher to identify than others but there are no obscure one-year wonders here. They all had more than just 15 minutes of fame. In fact, among the choices, there are Hall of Famers and some guys who either arguably should be Hall of Famers or likely will be some day. We’re also showing you more than just the mustache… in fact you’ve pretty much got the lower half of each player’s face to go on. Let’s see how many you can name.

(The answers will be posted in the Comments section, but no peeking until you’re finished with the quiz!)

1

2

3

4

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5

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7

8

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9

10

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12

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How well do you know your mustaches?

0-1 players identified = Just what part of the players’ bodies are you focused on all game anyway?

2-3 players identified = Amateur. Apparently, you’ve only been watching baseball since 2008

4-6 players identified = Minor Leaguer. Not great, but at least you know your Hall of Fame mustaches.

7-9 players identified = Major Leaguer. Not perfect, but you know a Major League mustache when you see it!

10 players identified = Show off! Nobody likes the smartest kid in the class, yanno.

A Snapper Weekend

As I mentioned in my little essay about minor league baseball on Saturday, the Twins’ Midwest League (low-A) affiliate, the Beloit Snappers, are in Cedar Rapids taking on the Kernels in a four game series that runs through Tuesday. I’ve been to the first two games of the series, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon and I’m hoping to get out to the Tuesday game, as well. Monday’s game is a noon start so that would could be a bit iffy. (The blogging gig hasn’t blossomed to the point where I can quit my day job… yet.)

Saturday night, I was at the game with family and friends and friends of family, so the social aspect was fine. It was a pleasant enough evening, just a bit on the humid side, but nothing compared to what it was a week or so ago (or what it would be on Sunday). But the game itself was among the more difficult professional games to watch I’ve been to in a while.

Snapper/Kernel games are always a bit of a challenge for me, anyway. I’m a Kernels fan, of course, since they’re my hometown team. But when the Snappers come to town, I also look forward to seeing the Twins’ young prospects do well. So I root for the Kernels to win and the Beloit players to do well individually.

Pitcher Pedro Guerra and Danny Rams (1B)

Saturday night, the Kernels won the game 10-4, and it wasn’t among the better efforts I’ve seen out of the Snappers.  Top prospect Aaron Hicks, had a nice double down the LF line in the first inning and I got to see Pedro Guerra get his first start since being called up to Beloit. The Snappers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead through two innings. Guerra had a respectable debut, though he didn’t throw the ball particularly hard. He gave up a couple of runs in the third inning and left after giving up a walk and a double to the first two hitters he faced in the 5th.

That’s when the wheels fell off.

The Kernels sent 8 players to the plate in the 5th inning while taking a 7-5 lead in what had to be one of the longest half innings I’ve witnessed all year, purely in terms of time elapsed. Deliberate pitching, hitters stepping out of the box over and over, an error or two and a pitching change made that half inning drag on forever.

There aren’t many bright spots among your pitching staff in a 10-4 loss, but Nelvin Fuentes entered the game in the bottom of the 7th and went on to strike out 3 in two scoreless, hitless, innings to finish the night. It was also a tough night for the Snappers in the field as they ended up being charged with 5 errors on the game. Second baseman Reggie Williams had a nice night at the plate, going 2 of 4 with a double (that I thought should have been ruled a triple).

After doubling, Aaron Hicks takes his lead in front of Kernel SS Jon Karcich

But the great thing about baseball is that there’s always another game tomorrow. In this case, the Snappers bounced back from Saturday’s 10-4 loss to win Sunday afternoon 10-9. Yes, they did still have some pitching issues and yes, they did rack up 4 more errors, so it may not SEEM like it was much of an improvement, but I’ll guarantee it was a happier clubhouse after the game than the night before.

Pitcher Martire Garcia and 3B Reggie Williams

Danny Rams leads off behind Jeremy Cruz and in front of Jean Segura after a walk. He added a 2B and a HR in the game.

For the second straight game, Beloit manager Nelson Prada sent a pitcher to the mound for his first start as a Snapper. Sunday, it was Martire Garcia making his MWL debut. Garcia got off to a bit of a rocky start the first two innings but settled down and hung a couple of zeros on the board for the Kernels in the 3rd and 4th innings before calling it a day.

Nelson Prada's not telling the umpire a fish story

Of course, Prada didn’t see much of Garcia’s performance as he was tossed early in the bottom of the first inning for arguing with the home plate umpire over whether a Kernel double down the RF line was fair or foul. That left the team in the capable hands of Twins fans’ old friend Tommy Watkins, who’s the Snapper hitting coach.

And his hitters were doing their jobs at the plate (if not so much in the field). 1B Danny Rams and CF Aaron Hicks brought the big lumber. Rams went 2-3 with a walk, double and a home run. He also scored 3 runs. Hicks was 3-4 with two doubles.

Tommy Watkins signals pitches to his catcher

Once again, the pitchers struggled a bit, but lefty reliever Matt Tone managed to shut the Kernels out in his two innings (the 7th and 8th) of relief. That allowed Beloit the cushion to withstand a 9th inning rally and hang on to their 10-9 win.

It was one long, hot day at the ballpark for these guys following a very long game the night before.  We’re approaching mid-August. It’s hot. They’ve been playing baseball virtually every day since they reported for Spring Training over five months ago. But that didn’t stop Aaron Hicks and Steven Liddle from diving for balls in the outfield (Liddle also showed off his arm on an impressive throw to the plate) or Reggie Williams from diving for hard ground balls down the line at 3B or James Beresford and Derek McCallum from hanging tough on double plays at 2B. And Josmil Pinto caught a day game in oppressive heat and humidity after catching the game the night before. The execution isn’t perfect, but there’s no doubting their effort and that bodes well for the future of our favorite Major League team.

Finally, just because we’re all Tommy Watkins fans, one last picture of Tommy positioning his outfielders from the bench Saturday night. – JC

Don’t let a loss get in the way of a great celebration

Let’s just pretend the final 2 innings of Saturday’s game with the Rays never happened, shall we? If you’ll join me in that fantasy, I’ll share a couple of pictures from the day, starting with the game ball being delivered by a group of Navy Seals that came in from above.

The Strib’s Joe Christensen tweeted that he thought it was “idiotic”, and that “People came to see baseball, not potential catastrophes.” I dunno… I guess I just think this kind of thing over Independence Day weekend is very appropriate and I applaud the guys.

I also really enjoyed the messages shown on the big scoreboard during play stoppages from Minnesotans currently serving in the Middle East. I can only imagine the pride and emotion felt by their family members.

By the way, I realize not every one of us is as much of a Vikings fan as we are Twins fans, but I read this article over brunch at Hell’s Kitchen and I have to admit that reading about the surprise coach Brad Childress got while on the NFL-USO tour struck a chord. (Yes, it was a bit odd reading the print version of the StarTribune.)

Jim Thome crosses home plate and in to 10th place on the career HR list

As for the game, it was exciting to see JJ Hardy return, of course. Francisco Liriano threw a terrific game as he sat down one Ray hitter after another. But Jim Thome most certainly stole the show today.

Thome lined a home run just inside the LF foul pole (and barely above the wall) in his first at bat, to tie Harmon Killebrew’s mark of 573 home runs… and give the Twins a 1-0 lead in the second inning. But that was just a teaser. In his next plate appearance, Thome launched one in to the Rays’ bullpen for #574 and pass “Killer” in to sole possession of 10th place in the all-time Major League HR list.

Harmon could not be in attendance, but he recorded a message to Thome that was played on the big screen immediately after Thome circled the bases.

Harmon Killebrew delivers a congratulatory message to Thome

In his game story at the Strib, Christensen quoted Killebrew from a telephone conversation after Thome hit #574.

“Good for [Thome]; he’s a good guy,” Killebrew, who hit 559 homers in 21 years with the Twins franchise, said by telephone from Arizona. “I talked to Jim quite a bit when I was in spring training. I told him, ‘Don’t feel bad if you pass me up, because I passed up a lot of guys in my career.’ “

Is that class or what?

Thome and his team mates watch the message from Killebrew

The 23 foot wall in right center field is all that kept Thome from making it a 3-HR day as he doubled in the 9th inning with the ball hitting just below the top of the wall.

So, those of us at the game got to see history, Navy Seal skydivers, another top notch pitching performance by Liriano, the successful return of JJ Hardy (who barely missed a HR of his own when he doubled off the LCF wall in his first AB), another home run by Justin Morneau and a pretty darn good day at the plate by Joe Mauer.

Now, if only they had won the game! – JC

Target Field Fireworks… and a win over the Rays!

Looks like we didn’t get a GameChat posted and we express our apologies to anyone who showed up hoping to chat. According to my family, my seat at tonight’s game was directly in line behind 1B when they used the camera at the LF foul pole so apparently I was on camera every time someone reached first base. Fortunately, they tell me I wasn’t doing anything embarrassing when the camera caught me.

In any event, I hope a few pictures from the postgame celebration will make up for any disappointment (as if a cool 2-1 win shouldn’t be enough, in itself!). – JC

The Twins and their families came out and sat on the grass to watch the fireworks after the game.

The Countdown before the Fireworks

First Oudoor Fireworks at a Twins Home game since... a long time ago.

Delmon is doing a number on his old team mates.

UPDATE: Thanks, Jamar… for reminding us we need a Boyfriend of the Day. We’ve decided Delmon SHOULD have gotten a BOD last night and he certainly was worthy again tonight. Way to stick it to your old team, DY! Scotty Baker and Danny Valencia  are more than worthy of piles of baked goods, as well!

Robby asks DY to comment about his BOD award.

Snappers & Hermsen get the sweep… and then some

They say, “You can’t go home again.” Boy are ‘they’ wrong.

The pride of West Delaware (IA) HS, BJ Hermsen

BJ Hermsen returned home (or as close to home as he can get and be playing professional baseball) to Cedar Rapids and took the mound for the Beloit Snappers tonight in front of a near-sellout crowd. If you were inclined to rob a small town bank, picking one in Delaware County Iowa tonight would have been a good idea. Nobody was home. They were filling Memorial Stadium to watch Hermsen face the local Kernels on Perfect Game Field.

Snappers 3B Anderson Hidalgo

Some guys tend to press a bit in those situations (how long did it take before Morneau had a good game in Toronto?), but not Hermsen. All he did was shut down the Kernels completely through 7 and 2/3 innings of no-hit ball and finish with a complete game 1-hitter. The Kernels’ Justin Bass lined a solid single to right field with two out and nobody on base in the 8th inning, but that’s the only hit Hermsen gave up as he led the Snappers to a 3 game sweep of the Division leading Kernels. (Cedar Rapids’ magic number is 1, so the loss kept them from clinching the first half Division title.)

Daniel Santana, Snappers LF

He had help. There were no fewer than four extraordinary defensive plays behind him, a fact he was quick to point out in post-game interviews with local media after the game. In addition, Anderson Hidalgo supported Hermsen with three hits while Aaron Hicks and Daniel Santana added two hits each. Hermsen was also treated to the traditional “shaving cream in the face” treatment by team mates during one interview (see video below).

Snappers CF Aaron Hicks held on 1B by the Kernels' Casey Haerther

Memorial Stadium seats a bit over 5,000 fans and just under 4,700 paid their way in tonight. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was “Thirsty Thursday”, with beers $1.50 all evening (if this post is a bit incoherent, you now know why). I think it’s pretty safe to say the Snappers have never had support like that on the road before as it was probably pretty close to a 50-50 split in terms of fan support between the local Kernels and Hermsen and his Snappers.

The Kernels organization made a call to Beloit after Hermsen was promoted to the Snappers and specifically requested that, if possible, their rotation could be set up to allow for Hermsen to get a start in Cedar Rapids. To their credit, the Snappers obliged. I’d like to hope we’ll get another opportunity to see him pitch in Cedar Rapids when the Snappers return to town in August, but with the way players bounce up and down the organizational ladder, you just never know if that opportunity will present itself. But if this ends up being the only chance that BJ’s family and friends get to watch him pitch locally, at least he gave them a night to remember. – JC

Can you feel a Draft?

You may or may not be aware, but the MLB First-Year Player Draft is being held Monday – Wednesday this week.

I know, it’s hard to get too fired up over the draft. It’s not like the NFL, where fans have watched most of the top draft picks play several years of College football on Saturdays and can legitimately envision at least the players taken in the top few rounds wearing the uniform of their favorite team during the following season.

Sure, there are exceptional talents that find their way on to MLB rosters in their first full year after being drafted, but it is extremely rare and even rarer if your favorite team manages to avoid being so pitiful that they get awarded one of the top 2-3 spots in the draft. The Twins draft in the 21st position this year and it’s almost impossible to project who (a) might still be available and (b) who the Twins might have their eyes on for that pick. What you CAN bank on is that, whoever they pick, he won’t make his Target Field debut until at least 2012… and more likely closer to 2014 or 2015… if ever.

BJ Hermsen, Twins 6th round draft choice in 2008 (photo JimCrikket)

So why do we bother paying attention? Well, for me, the answer is, “Usually, I don’t. But this year is different.” Why? There are a couple of local kids down here in the Cedar Rapids area that are likely to be drafted in the first few rounds and it would be great to see either or both of them join Iowan BJ Hermsen (now pitching for the Twins Class A affiliate, Beloit) in the Twins organization.

I’m sure it’s no big deal to Minnesotans when a local kid gets drafted, even by the Twins. But the Iowa High School Athletic Union seems to do whatever it possibly can to assure that the best HS athletes in Iowa (a) don’t play baseball, and (b) if they do, they get no attention from professional scouts. You see, unlike schools in the other 49 states, Iowa schools play a summer baseball season, rather than in the spring. This means that Iowa schools are just now getting their seasons in to gear, while HS players all over the country have finished giving scouts a full season to look them over.

Jon Keller hopes to go in the top 5 rounds (photo CR Gazette)

Jon Keller, a pitcher who throws in the low 90s for Cedar Raids Xavier, has committed to play for the University of Nebraska, but if he gets picked in the top five rounds, he’ll be considering going professional.

Kellen Sweeney awaiting draft day call (photo CR Gazette)

Kellen Sweeney, an infielder at Cedar Rapids Jefferson, is projected to be a low second round or high third round pick. He has a spot at the University of San Diego to fall back on if he doesn’t get a contract he likes.

If the name Sweeney sounds familiar to Twins fans, it’s likely because Kellen’s older brother, Ryan, just finished facing the Twins over the weekend as the right fielder and #3 hitter for the Oakland A’s. Ryan was a second round choice of the White Sox in 2003.

Ryan Sweeney long before claiming RF for the A's (photo Perfect Game)

I saw a lot of Ryan Sweeney during his pre-HS days. He’s a couple of years younger than my own son and Ryan’s dad, Gary, was coaching his son’s amateur teams at the same time I was coaching my son’s teams. Gary liked to schedule games against teams made up of kids that were older than his team’s. In fact, Ryan and my son played on the same team in a fall league run by Perfect Game (one of the largest scouting services in the country and operated out of Cedar Rapids). I recall Ryan as being a good, but not great, pitcher and having excellent fundamentals, both at the plate and in the field.

A while after my son graduated from HS, he and I began doing some umpiring together. We’d work adult and youth amateur leagues around the area. I recall the first time we worked a double header involving Gary Sweeney’s club, which by that time was featuring the young Kellen Sweeney. I’m guessing Kellen was probably 12 or 13 years old. I remember thinking that Kellen looked much more advanced both offensively and defensively than what I recalled his brother Ryan being at the same age.

Kellen is coming off of Tommy John surgery this summer, but it doesn’t seem to be having a negative effect on his scouting evaluations. I’m far from an expert at evaluating talent and you never know whether a kid has the mental strength to go with the physical talent 9not to mention the luck) to make it to the Bigs. However, given that Ryan Sweeney is hitting over .300 for the A’s right now, I wouldn’t be at all disappointed to see Kellen in Ft. Myers with the Twins at their minor league facility next March.

These kids are about to experience the excitement of taking the first step toward realizing the dream of playing Major League Baseball. Do yourself a favor on the Twins off day and check out your local sports pages to find out what local diamond heroes in your area are hoping to be drafted and then keep checking on whether they’ve been selected by the Twins or another organization this week. Who knows… even if they get drafted by the BitchSox or Evil Empire, they could find their way to the Twins eventually!  – JC

Fun with the Yankees… *snort*

Since the Knuckleballs folk all decided to attend the Yankees/Twins game yesterday, and in an effort to forget about our little “left on base” problems, I thought I would share a few fun photographic moments.

this is the view from JC & CapitalBabs' seats

JC & CapitalBabs in RF stands

CapitalBabs & her brother, Paul, at his first game!

Managed to catch a shot of KL sitting in her season seats directly across the park from us!

KL and her mom keeping score!

and my favorite picture from the day, a shot from Denard Span that came right at us to RF and I caught the ball in mid-air.

And just to narrow down all the pics I took at the game, I settled on a just a couple of great action shots.  The first slideshow is action at the plate and the second is shots on the mound.

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