Can you believe it? It’s almost time for Twins spring training to begin in Florida! It seems like we just closed the dismal 2011 season; then suddenly it was January and time for the team’s participation in the many charity banquets, the caravan, and finally TwinsFest.
I got to spend a little time with Joe Mauer this winter, and I firmly believe he will be back full force, hitting and catching like he did his MVP year. As for his mediocre 2011 season, it’s like I reported all last year: He was sick and his knee hadn’t properly healed. He was a mess. He was pale, and if you’d talk to him, throughout the conversation he’d cough at least once. I don’t know why they didn’t figure it out sooner, but he had been playing with pneumonia and also had some kind of an intestinal problem. He had lost 25 pounds, and you could tell he didn’t feel well just by looking at him. Once they figured it out, they treated it and got him well. He has his color back, he has gained the weight back, and he has that spring in his step back, too. Joe has also begun a new workout program designed especially for him and what he does. He has always kept fit, but it was more generalized exercise that he did. His new program pinpoints Joe’s needs, and he is already several months into it. Joe also has two strong backups in Drew Butera as a good defensive catcher, and the addition of Ryan Doumit, who hit .303 in 77 games with the Pirates last year.
Our outfield should be semi-solid with Ben Revere, Denard Span, and the newly acquired Josh Willingham. Revere and Span are speedsters, but they are both works in progress, still learning to be major league outfielders. Their speed has led to some unbelievable catches, but their inexperience has also led to a few unbelievable blunders. And Ben has no arm whatsoever. Veteran Josh will be in right field, which is not a position he has played before. But he has played outfield many years, and I see no reason that he shouldn’t have it mastered before the regular season. Josh doesn’t have the arm that Cuddyer had either. It will be tough for Josh at first, too, because he is replacing a fan favorite. Michael’s presence will be missed on the field, in the clubhouse, and in the community. But the Twins have a great fan base, and they will warm up to Willingham before long. If he can hit 29 home runs, as he did last year, the fans will love him.
With Danny Valencia at third, and Alexi Casilla at second, the addition of Jamey Carroll will be appreciated. He won’t be fantastic, but he can play a good solid shortstop, and maybe be a mentor to Lexi and Danny.
I am a bit concerned about Justin at first. I haven’t talked to him, but I have read reports that he has been working hard, has resumed baseball activities, and is feeling well. But he is also afraid of coming out and saying that he is ready to go. It is more of a “wait and see.” Concussions are scary, and nobody knows what will happen. These were not Justin’s first two concussions that he’s suffered; he had some when he played hockey, too. I believe the more that you’ve had, the easier it is to get another. I hope he’s well — he’s a good player and a good dad. He can make this team so much better if he’s healthy.
Our pitching has the ability to be awesome. If everyone can pitch at the level they’re capable of, we’ll be a contender. But in the past they’ve been too inconsistent. And that’s the difference between champions and chumps: consistency.
If our pitching falls into place, and both Mauer and Morneau come back strong, we might make a run for it. But those are a lot of ifs. I think, more likely, 2012 will bring an entertaining and competitive season, just over .500, which would be an improvement over last year, when they lost 99 games, and the fun and entertainment were sparse and infrequent.
It was nice to have TwinsFest back at the Dome after being in Blaine last year because the heavy snow collapsed the Dome’s roof. One surprise feature the Twins offered this year: a Tweet and Greet. Many of the Twins players have Twitter accounts, and have thousands of followers who get to read comments daily, many about what the players are doing in their personal lives. They talk about everything from what they are having for dinner to baseball talk. At TwinsFest they tweeted teases about meeting privately with the fans sometime that day. Eventually they gave a one-hour warning that at 4 P.M. they’d be at section 217 to meet their Twitter followers. A couple hundred fans showed up, as well as Ben Revere, Denard Span, Danny Valencia, Brian Duensing, and Drew Butera. For an hour they answered fans questions about baseball, clothing, dancing, and basically everyone just laughed and had a good time. They really showed some personality and kindness toward their fans. And if this baseball thing doesn’t work out, I think all five of these fellows could make it in the standup-comedy biz.