February 2009

Golfing for Charity

One day that’s always a little chaotic for beat writers at
Spring Training is when the club’s charity golf outing takes place and for the
Twins, that day was Thursday. It means the workouts go by a little quicker than
normal and afterward access to the players is limited with guys hurrying to
make their 1:00 p.m. tee time.

For me, it’s also the one day where I can qualify golf as work.

Having played golf for nearly my entire life, I’ll admit that I hardly pass up
the chance to hit the course. That’s especially true when it’s for a good
cause. So when the Twins staff has asked me in each of the last three years to
take part in the annual charity golf scramble outing, I gladly say yes —
getting permission from the boss first, of course.

This year I was lucky to play with three wonderful people who all live in the
Fort Myers/Naples area. Besides being great conversationalists over the four-plus
hours of our round, they also possessed some golf skills as well. We finished a
respectable 9 under par, having birdied five straight holes to finish our
round (nothing like getting on a hot streak late, right?). But we were not even close to the
winning groups. The tournament took place on two 18-hole courses – Nick Punto’s
group took first on one course with a 57 (15 under par) and Matt Guerrier’s
group finished first on the other with a 56 (16 under par).

My highlight of the round came on our last par three when I
stuck my iron shot four feet from the hole — good enough to beat out Kent
Hrbek for closest to the pin.

But the story of the day belonged to outfielder Dustin Martin,
who played for Double-A New Britain last season. Martin recorded the lone hole
in one of the day – the problem was it came on a mulligan. For the non-golfers,
teams can usually buy “extra shots” to use during their rounds. So if no player
hits a good shot or someone just wants a second try, one member of the group can hit again — which is exactly what Martin
did on that particular par three.

If Martin had hit the ball in the hole on his first try, he
would have won a Bose Stereo sound system. Instead, he just won closest to the
pin on that hole – with a very unusual “Zero inches” marked on the card.

Bobby Korecky is now a Diamondback

The Twins announced Wednesday afternoon that pitcher Bobby Korecky had been assigned to the Arizona Diamondbacks on a waiver claim.

The move signifies that the Twins officially signed right-hander Luis Ayala to his one-year, $1.3 million contract. Ayala has been in camp since Sunday but his deal had not yet been finalized. To make room for Ayala on the 40-man roster, the Twins put Korecky on waivers and he was claimed by Arizona. Korecky was 2-0 with a 4.58 ERA in 16 appearances for the Twins last season.

I’ll have more details on the move after we meet with general manager Bill Smith later this afternoon.

UPDATE: The Twins still haven’t officially signed Ayala. The club is just waiting on the official contract to come through from MLB so that it can be signed. That should happen very soon. The signing is close enough that Smith did talk about the pitcher and that will be in the story I’ll file a little later.

Pitchers and Catchers Day 2 — Tale of Inspiration

Spring Training is a time for new beginnings and one of the most inspiring stories of this spring is taking place on the back fields of the Lee County Sports Complex.

Former Twins third baseman Corey Koskie is working out there, with the Twins permission, as he tries to make Team Canada for next month’s World Baseball Classic.

Koskie, 35, hasn’t played in a Major League game since July 5, 2006 when, as the Brewers third baseman, he suffered a concussion that left him with dizziness and headaches that would not go away. After two-plus seasons out of baseball, Koskie hopes that the Classic could be a showcase for him and might lead to him getting another shot in the big leagues.

The fact that Koskie is even back on a baseball field is inspiring to anyone that watched him go through his rough ordeal — when he couldn’t drive at times or even play with his kids. One person that is particularly encouraged by Koskie’s latest step is Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

“He’s one of the all-time favorites,” Gardenhire said. “It’s nice to see him back on the field. He’s been going through a lot. That’s the big thing with Koskie. It’s actually good to see him not bouncing off the walls when he’s walking down the hallway because he’s dizzy.”

It was a little bit of a busy day so I didn’t get to watch much of the pitchers fielding work today. Most of the position players have already arrived (some new faces on Tuesday were Matt Tolbert, Trevor Plouffe and Deibinson Romero). While the pitchers worked out, the position guys spent the morning doing some work on the back fields of the complex. I think I’ve counted seven players who I haven’t seen in the clubhouse yet: Denard Span, Delmon Young, Jason Pridie, Dustin Martin, Danny Valencia, David Winfree and Alejandro Machado. Position players must report by Friday so it’s likely we’ll see more of these players starting to arrive in the next few days.

Here are a few other things that were noteworthy on Day 2 of camp:

  • Twins general manager Bill Smith said that the club expects to finalize Luis Ayala’s contract soon, possibly as early as Wednesday. The final medical report on Ayala is expected at that time. When the signing is completed, the Twins will have to create a spot on the 40-man roster for him. It’s still unclear which player might be outrighted or released to make room for the pitcher.

  • When answering the questions about players taking part in the World Baseball Classic, Gardenhire joked that he’s most concerned about his players facing each other in the event. Closer Joe Nathan could pitch to first baseman Justin Morneau when Team USA plays Team Canada in the opening round in Toronto. And they’ve already kidded about what might happen at that point. “My guys are talking about buzzing each other now,” Gardenhire said while shaking his head.

Welcome to spring drills…need help finding your way?

The first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers is always a bit confusing — well, confusing for the new players at least.

That’s due to the long and complicated workout schedule that’s posted for the players on the wall inside the clubhouse.

Bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek (“Stelly”) is responsible for making camp go smoothly and he has his own unique way of communicating that in his schedule. Left-hander Craig Breslow spent the final four months of last season with the Twins, but Monday marked the first time that he had to read the Spring Training schedule.

Breslow seemed excited to see there was a schedule for the day posted. But he stood in front of it with other Twins players for a bit of time as they tried to figure out where they all were supposed to go first.

Starter Scott Baker might have had the best definition for the schedule when he called it, “controlled chaos”

I used the morning to wander out on the fields watching the pitchers drills. Although I caught a glimpse of a little PFP (pitchers fielding practice), the majority of my time was spent by the bullpen to see some of the new guys throw. I was particularly interested to see R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball — which Mike Redmond caught with more success than I expected. One interesting thing about Dickey’s knuckleball is the speed at which he can throw it, much harder than some other knuckleballers.

In addition to the news that I wrote Monday about Boof Bonser’s cortisone shot and an update on Joe Mauer’s health, there were a few other items of note.

Francisco Liriano was the only pitcher not present for the first day of workouts. It’s the second straight year that the lefty has reported late to camp, but this time it was out of his control. Liriano’s flight on Sunday morning from the Dominican Republic was canceled. He and third base prospect Deibinson Romeo tried to get a later flight but that too was canceled. So the expectation is that both players would fly in on Monday and they’d be in camp on Tuesday.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire read a note on his desk after the workout that said Alexi Casilla and Carlos Gomez were going on Tuesday to get their drivers license. It was unclear whether this would be the first time for the players to get them because often players from other countries have to get a new license every year. Drivers licenses are only issued for the length of time for a player’s visa. So those players who are on one-year contracts have to constantly get new ones, which means taking the tests over again too — doesn’t exactly sound like fun to me.

Luis Ayala threw in the bullpen for the first time on Monday, but his deal with the Twins has not yet been finalized. So a corresponding move on the 40-man roster still has to take place.

All right, Day 1 of big league camp is in the books…more to come on Tuesday.

Reporting Day

The quietest day of Spring Training is always the day that pitchers and catchers report. While players have to technically be in Fort Myers, they aren’t required to be at the ballpark – let alone to work out. Usually the Twins have a few guys who, in addition to unpacking their lockers, head out to the fields to get a little throwing in, but it’s not an organized effort.

However this year was a little different than most. By around 11:00 a.m. there was a large group of pitchers who had gathered inside the clubhouse at Hammond Stadium and most of them proceeded out to the practice fields. It included a range of players from closer Joe Nathan to starter Scott Baker and even newcomers like Jason Jones and Sean Henn.

Of course, Reporting Day is also the day to catch up and chat with some of the guys that you haven’t seen in months. One of the guys that everyone looks forward to sitting down and talking to is Mike Redmond as he can always be counted on for an interesting conversation.

A funny exchange occurred on Sunday when Redmond walked back into the clubhouse following his workout.  Joe Mauer was sitting at his locker, which is next to Redmond’s, and had a glove waiting to hand to him. It was bigger than most catcher’s gloves and without having to see the name “Dickey” inscribed on the glove, Redmond knew exactly what it meant — time to start catching the knuckleball.

“We almost put a Mirabelli tag above your locker,” Mauer joked.

Redmond isn’t a stranger to knuckleballers like R.A. Dickey, who is in camp as a non-roster invitee. When he was with the Marlins, he caught Dennis Springer who was the club’s No. 5 starter in 1999. I chatted with Redmond a little bit about catching a knuckleball and he said that it takes some time to get adjusted to seeing that movement again. Mauer was a little disappointed that he won’t get to spend as much time catching Dickey this spring since he’ll be limited in his workload.

The glove was given to Mauer by R.A. Dickey, who is in camp as a non-roster invitee. Normally, Redmond said, knuckleballers don’t give catchers gloves. But it happened to be a good thing that Dickey had an extra one, since the ones that Mauer and Redmond ordered had not yet arrived.
In terms of news on Sunday, it was a pretty quiet day. Mauer was waiting to find out what he would be able to do during Monday’s first workout for pitchers and catchers. Right-hander Luis Ayala arrived at camp and is waiting for his contract to be finalized. He’s scheduled to take his physical on Monday and then the Twins will have to make a corresponding move to make room for him on the 40-man roster.

For love of the game

It’s Valentine’s Day and what better way to spend the holiday than watching a little baseball, right?

Well, actually for me it would just be watching some Twins players work out on the back fields of the Lee County Sports Complex. The Twins pitchers and catchers aren’t scheduled to report until tomorrow but a few guys were still out there on Saturday morning getting in their workouts.

Saturday is usually the day when many of the players who have arrived early don’t come out to the park. That’s because they know that once reporting day comes there is not much of a break to follow. But when I arrived at the ballpark Saturday morning, about 20 cars were parked at the facility. Among the recognizable faces out on the fields were Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, Jesse Crain, Mike Redmond, Carlos Gomez and Brian Buscher.

Over the last couple of days, I stopped in briefly to check in with some of the guys who are already here. There hasn’t been much in terms of news to report. It’s just been the usual catching up and seeing how everyone’s winter has been. That will all likely change in the coming days, as Spring Training “officially” gets underway.

So for now, I’ll leave you all with a valentine gift of five little words that’s sure to excite any baseball fan, “Pitchers and Catchers report TOMORROW”

Question Time

I’ve received many emails in recent weeks about the abrupt stop of the mailbag. Unlike what I wrote in the final mailbag of 2008, the weekly feature did not return as promised on Jan. 5 (I know it ended up being a lie, I’m sorry). At the time, MLB.com decided to head in a different direction and the mailbags were scratched.

But now comes the good news — the mailbag is back.

Well, actually it’s now called the “Inbox.” My weekly interaction with fans has a new name to better reflect how fans actually send me questions. So you can send your inquiries (along with your first name, first initial of your last name, and your city and state) to twinsmailbag@yahoo.com and some of those questions will be incorporated in a future Inbox.

One change with the Inbox is that it won’t have a set run date. Unlike the mailbag, which ran every Monday, the Inbox will run whenever I have received enough questions to warrant one (and of course, when I have enough time to answer the questions as well). I am going to try to have it run at least once a week in Spring Training and then will determine how often it will appear during the regular season.

So thanks for your understanding and bring on the questions!

Greetings from Fort Myers

It’s been a long time coming, but I have finally joined the blogosphere.

MLB.com recently decided to give all 30 beat reporters their own blog for the upcoming season and beyond. So people like me who are crashing the blogging party late can now join the rest of you in the fun.

My plan is to use the blog as a place for breaking news, certainly. But I also want it to be a space to share things that don’t often get into stories like clubhouse anecdotes, funny quotes and even some stats/analysis. My hope is that I can also use this blog as a better way to communicate with you, the fans. So any comments or suggestions that you have about the blog or what you would like to see here, please pass those along.

Turning back to Twins baseball, I’ve arrived in Fort Myers for the start of Spring Training. Even though pitchers and catchers don’t report until Sunday, I’ll be out at the ballpark over the next couple of days to work on some stories. So I’ll try to give you an update as to who’s arrived early and what’s taking place at the Lee County Sport Complex.

I’m looking forward to bringing you another season of Twins baseball (the final one in the Dome!) and hope you’ll be visiting my new little “corner” of the internet often.