Twins Talk story and all photographs by Gordy Jones
After watching some drills in the early days of this year’s spring training, I thought 2012 was going to be a continuation of the 2011 fiasco on the field. In fact, after one of the first spring games when the boys got clobbered, I overheard an umpire telling his colleague, “If the Twins keep this up, they’ll be lucky if they only lose 99 games.”
Being the optimist that I am — especially when it concerns the Twins — I began looking for bright spots. Joe Mauer was feeling great and playing well. Justin Morneau was feeling good – he was laughing again, and not experiencing any concussion symptoms. But Morneau wasn’t hitting great during the games. However, as I watched him swing at batting practice, I could tell he was getting his groove back.
Then during the final couple of weeks, things began to happen. Morneau’s stroke began working during games as he poked out a few dingers. Then, his doctor said that if Justin wears himself down, he could get his foggy head back. Justin then suggested it might be best if he DH’s a lot this year. No problem. Chris Parmelee, who was fighting for a spot on the roster, began to do things on the field and at the plate to impress management. He might be a perfect fit playing first base part time, with Justin picking up a few games there.
Pretty soon the pitching improved. One game, the staff only allowed one hit. Matt Capps was throwing some heat, but occasionally gave batters a flat home run pitch…right down the middle. He is currently developing a couple of new pitches, including a split-finger fast ball, which might help. I think the Twins should hire a team shrink to work with the pitchers. Most of them have the talent, but are too inconsistent…they forget what they’re doing. Liriano throws great, but if he makes a mistake, instead of composing himself, he freaks out… and within an inning he usually has to be pulled.
Blackburn should be great; Pavano has been fair, but should come around soon; and there might be a few nice surprises, too, because most of the staff seemed to improve as of late. In fact, Anthony Swarzak, who was fighting for a spot, was told a week early he had thrown well enough to make the big club.
Aussie Luke Hughes, who could’ve played pro soccer in his homeland but chose to try America’s pastime instead, seems to have blossomed this spring. He sprayed clutch hits, drove home runs, and made some key plays while playing all over…well, at least four different positions: outfield, short, first, and second bases.
Jamey Carroll, our new shortstop, scared me before I watched him play, but only because of his age, 38. When I met him, I would’ve guessed he was 28. He is wiry and in great shape, and it was a good feeling to see a reliable glove out there when a ball was hit up the middle.
Trevor Plouffe hit some powerful long balls, and did well playing the outfield. Suddenly some good things were happening. Josh Willingham (known by teammates as the Hammer) showed he can smack the ball, and Danny Valencia did, too. I think if the Twins can keep their pitching consistent, they will play .500 ball. If they are over .500 at the All Star break, there’s even a chance for a playoff run, but for sure a summer of entertainment. If we don’t get the pitchers to come through, though, it will be a long, miserable season. However, as an optimist, I’m getting excited! Let’s just have some fun!
You’ve Gotta Love that Kid!
For those of you who are old enough to have watched the Twins in the 70’s, you’ve got to remember the youngest All Star catcher ever, Butch Wynegar, and the series of commercials he did with Twins owner Calvin Griffith. At the end of each commercial, Calvin would say, “I really like that kid.”
Butch is now a hitting coach in the Yankee organization, and I was able to talk to him when the Twins played the Yanks in Fort Myers. He told me, “I still get reminded of those commercials. People will stop me and say: ‘I really like that kid.’ I still have a T-shirt at home that says that on. I can’t wear it anymore, though (laughing). I remember those times very fondly. I still have people in Minnesota. I still talk to friends from there and see them sometimes. I don’t know many current front-office people; they have changed…but I know Jim Rantz, director of minor leagues, and of course GM Terry Ryan. He was a player at that time. I have great memories of Minnesota. I loved Met Stadium. So many great memories there…playing under the stars,” he said as he smiled and looked toward the sky. “I’m glad Target Field isn’t covered. Two years ago I was fortunate enough to visit – I went with the big club during the playoffs and got to see the new park. It’s great. But I loved Met Stadium. As much as I love the old and new Yankee Stadiums, I loved the Met under the stars. Maybe because it was my first time playing in a big league ball park. I always thought Minnesota fans were outstanding, too. They made you want to play hard for them. I’ve cherished them from the time I began playing there.”
Another scene from one of those old Twins commercials went something like this: Calvin looked angrily at Butch as Butch laughed with teammates, making you think Cal disliked the jocularity. But then he grabbed the baseball and growled: “Never stop having fun at this game!” He smiled and walked away. Today that is my motto, and at age 56, it looks like Butch lives by that, too.