Twins Spring Training NotesThis is a little late in coming seeing that the Twins are already 6 games into the season, but I think it is appropriate to give my impressions of the team as a whole in my first nutcan post longer than a paragraph that isn’t condemning religion or republicans.
I recently traveled to Florida to see 3 Twins spring training games. I would highly recommend this to anyone considering it in the future. The access you get to everything is worth the trip alone. I now relate my notes and jumbled thoughts.
March 21: Fly into Ft. Myers airport, pick up a rental car and drive to the game against the Phillies. I got there about 90 minutes before the game started. The complex is actually 4 other fields plus the stadium where games are held. The Twins take batting practice before the games on the field adjacent to the stadium, and the minor leaguers are usually practicing or playing games on the other fields. I got there just after batting practice had ended. The one nice thing about the park is that you are allowed re-entry if you leave. Being that I can’t usually do this when I go to see a crappy $5 rock show at some bar, it was pretty fantastic. I went and checked out the stadium and then came back out, and Joe Nathan was signing autographs by the practice park. The crowd was awash with “hope you get your contract” sentiments. (this was pre-signing). I can’t say I was in agreement with resigning Nathan, it was nice to see the fans showing some love. I don’t have anything against Nathan, but am against paying anyone in their 30’s 12 million for 70 innings. Anyways, the Twins lost, but the highlight was a 12-year old girl singing the national anthem better than almost anyone I’ve ever heard.
March 23: Easter Sunday and the park isn’t as packed as it was on Friday, although it fills up pretty good by the 2nd inning or so. I arrived early and watched batting practice. Jason Kubel was launching home runs left and right, and the girls do love Joe Mauer. As the players were leaving, Gardenhire and Morneau were walking out of the practice field together and Gardenhire turns to the crowd and yells, “I’m sitting Justin today so he’s going to come and sign autographs for all of you.” Morneau was clearly walking back to the stadium at that point, but he came over and signed for over an hour. About halfway into it, it started pouring rain and he stood out there for the whole rain storm, signing every last kid’s autograph, while some random guy held an umbrella over his head. Morneau was a staple of signing autographs for kids the whole time I was there, and seemed generally happy to do it. Liriano pitched 4 no-hit innings and looked good. His command was a little off at times but his changeup was incredible and he threw a couple of solid sliders. Jason Bartlett went 4-4 for the Rays if I recall. Twins win.
March 26: My first time seeing Gomez play, and it was less than impressive, but the Twins win again. Falling down seemed to be his forte today. 2 cuts so hard he fell, 2 missed bunts for strikes, 2 strikeouts and a botched fly ball to center that put him on his ass. He had just been handed the CF job the day before, so it might have been nerves, but I was not enthusiastic at that point. However, he did double late in the game and he certainly can run. Probably the fastest player I’ve seen except for maybe seeing Jose Reyes against the Twins last year. He has been impressive so far this season, but he’s going to be up and down all season, strike out a lot, and probably needed some more time in the minors. Before the game Tony Oliva came over by the batting practice field and signed autographs. Being that none of the kids knew who he was, it wasn’t too hard to get one. He said something completely incomprehensible to me in the thickest latino accent I’ve ever heard, and I nodded and smiled and said, “Thanks Mr. Oliva”
Play of the trip: Livan Hernandez coming up on a bunt that he was not going to have time to field and make a play to first, so he kicked it directly into Morneau’s glove. It was a perfect kick and a perfect catch. The crowd went nuts and the entire Devil Rays team was applauding the play.
New favorite Twin: Matt Tolbert. This guy was a machine. Prior to every single game he was taking batting practice after everyone had left, then if he wasn’t starting the games, he went straight to the batting cages and hit more balls. After the games, he was again back in the cages. In between, he signed autographs every chance he got for every kid he could. He was signing autographs in the stadium up to about 3 minutes before the games started and as I was leaving one day, I saw him pull his truck over as he was leaving the stadium and sign for all the kids waiting by the players parking lot. He’s probably not going to be much more than a bench player in years to come but he’s a class act and certainly will put up better production than crappy Nick Punto ever will.
Autographs obtained: I had a ball I carried around and got signed by: Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser, Delmon Young, Matt Tolbert, Brendan Harris, Jesse Crain, Tony Oliva, and Jason Pridie. I just missed Pat Neshek, Craig Monroe, and Tom Kelly. Mauer signed on the day I wasn’t there.
Easiest autographs to get: Tolbert, Nathan, Morneau
Hardest to get: Liriano, Gomez, Cuddyer (never even saw any of them)
Bobbleheads obtained: Torii Hunter and Brad Radke. The others were Jack Morris and Billy Martin. It looks like they are just leftover bobbleheads from regular season games.
Questions: Why do Twins fans like Punto so much? After Mauer, Morneau, and Neshek, he probably got the biggest cheers from the crowd. Does having one of the worst offensive seasons of all-time endear players to the hearts of their fans? Is it the head-first slides into first that conjure up images of a young Pete Rose, except without the hits, batting average or toughness? I don’t understand.
Sweetest ride: Mauer drove behind me for a couple miles on his way home in a pimped out 300C hemi.
Since I have to post a link, I posted it to my current favorite Twins blog.
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|Jon - 2847 Posts|
Good post Micah.
It's interesting how much access to themselves the players seem to give.
"Morneau was clearly walking back to the stadium at that point, but he came over and signed for over an hour. About halfway into it, it started pouring rain and he stood out there for the whole rain storm, signing every last kid’s autograph, while some random guy held an umbrella over his head. Morneau was a staple of signing autographs for kids the whole time I was there, and seemed generally happy to do it."
That story is great because it captures how he's cool and interacts with the fans, yet he's still got a guy to hold an umbrella for him. Not that it's wrong or that it doesn't make complete practical sense since he can't sign and hold the umbrella, it's just a funny image I think. Anyway, it's good to hear he's connecting with fans like that.
As for "crappy Nick Punto," maybe Sarah can explain the love since she actually named him as her favorite Twin in a moment of panic or something.
I think it's because before last year he would make the good defensive plays and actually do ok in the other aspects of the game and since he's a littleish guy who is clearly not a star, people found it lovable or something.
The strange thing is, last year he not only played poorly, he found a way to make mistakes in virtually every situation. He wasn't even able to successfully bunt. I like the guy, but it was tough to watch (or listen to) him play last year.
As for Tolbert, Matt and I enjoy having him on the team because of the classic scene in the movie Major League when Jake Taylor is in Mexico and he gets a call from the Indians, thinks it's a practical joke and says, "Is that you Tolbert?" We constantly say it now when he's mentioned. We'll probably wear out the "joke" by the All-Star break, but right now, I find it funny every time.
Now for a bunch of stuff this story reminded me of that nobody will probably care about.
Tony Oliva actually came to EC this last summer. I got his autograph on a ball. I don't think I had much of a conversation with him because I had an awkward freeze up moment reminicent of when I met LeRoy Butler. Except I think this time it was because I really didn't have anything genuine to say to him because I hadn't ever really watched him play or anything. Anyway it felt awkward.
One of my friends and I talked about going down to Spring Training this year but never actually got around to it, not surprisingly.
But since we're on the topic of spring training experiences, I will mention that they showed a couple games on tv that we were actually able to see. My main thoughts (which I think I've already shared with some people) were that 1) Spring training games are cool to watch because it actually feels like spring, plus you get to see the old and new players, plus it's laid back so the booth guys talk about interesting stuff sometimes. Which leads me to my other point 2) Tom Kelly is an excellent booth guest. They got him to talk about the 87 and 91 teams some. I can't remember if what he said was even that great, I just know that hearing him talk about Kirby and Gagne and other guys was really cool. I don't know exactly why, it just felt like we were getting inside access into those years. Also, he is still connected with the team so he gave good insights into the players like a manager might give, except he's not the manager so he was able to say more or say it differently or something. I dunno, maybe it was because I was recovering from the flu or something or because it finally felt like spring, but I thought TK was great to listen to.
|Carlos44ec - 2078 Posts|
Dude, next year I might go just for the shwag.
Excellent post, you could outwrite the entire Star Tribune staff.
|PackOne - 1528 Posts|
|Is this the same site?|
|Carlos44ec - 2078 Posts|
PackOne Wrote - 04/07/2008 @ 01:06:22 PM
Is this the same site?
What do you mean- are you asking because the reporting quality just muliplied, or because they seem to have suddenly hired a staff of traveling reporters?
|PackOne - The girls all know he's "way cool" Jr.|
|I was talking about the overall look.|
|Scott - 6225 Posts|
Jon Wrote - 04/06/2008 @ 05:09:04 AM
"Is that you Tolbert?"
You could have at least said you were from the Yankees!
|Scott edited this at 04/07/2008 9:17:09 pm|
|Carlos44ec - 2078 Posts|
|That Tolbert joke is hilarious. I'm going to watch Major League tonight!|