(Note: Section 219 reader Jim Crikket has been providing guest posts to this blog since its early days and always makes a habit of checking in during his annual sporing training trip. This is from his first day at Fort Myers ... and includes, among other things, the difference in demographics of people surrounding certain players.)
My first morning in Fort Myers didn't get off to the greatest start. I had planned on getting an early start to my day so I could spend plenty of time watching both the Twins and their minor leaguers go through their paces before heading in to the game with the Mets in the afternoon. Naturally, I overslept, so that plan didn't go exactly the way I had hoped. Still, I managed to get to the complex by about 10:30, so it could have been worse.
I spent a couple of hours wandering between the practice fields before heading in to the stadium. Here are just a few of the things I found to be interesting, entertaining, or some combination of the two.
Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems like there are just a lot more people watching the practices than has been the case when I've been down here in the past. I know the Twins are selling out virtually every spring training game and Twins tickets have become progressively more in demand seemingly ever since I started coming down here a few years ago, but I've seldom felt crowded around the practice fields before. Today, however, there was not only a good crowd around the Twins' practice field, but even quite a few more people over on the minor league complex than I remember seeing in the past.
The fans were several people deep along the fence that runs between the practice field and the stadium, where some of the more fan-friendly players come over to sign autographs.The first player I saw come over to sign was Scott Diamond. Scott not only accommodated a lot of autograph requests, but also was very patient with a number of fans who wanted their pictures taken with him (mostly young women, it seemed to me). Based on what I saw, if anyone decides to start a pool for which player replaces JJ Hardy in the hearts of a significant portion of the female fanbase, I'm going to put my money on Diamond.
Jim Thome also stopped along the fence after taking batting practice on the practice field. Jim is also very popular, but the demographic of those crowding for his signature was somewhat different than those around Diamond.
Speaking of Thome, I came back over from the minor league complex just in time to catch the last part of his batting practice session. Apparently. the rest of the players had finished up getting their swings in so guess who stepped in to get his cuts in between Thome's turns at the plate? Yeah, that was Ron Gardenhire entertaining the gathered crowd by taking several swings... each followed by an audible "ouch!". Look... I'm sure my swing today wouldn't be anything to brag about, but let's be clear on one thing... the Twins will NOT be activating their Manager to Player/Manager status this summer! The crowd enjoyed the show, however, and it was just one example of how Gardy and the entire organization make the spring training experience a lot of fun for fans.
I should also just mention a couple of observations from the minor league complex. One of the first things that got my attention was seeing young outfielder Max Kepler, the young German player the Twins signed a couple of years ago. I saw him last year and he looked like what he was, a 17 yr old high school kid. This year, he's really grown in to a good sized young man and he's still only 18 years old. He's definitely a guy to keep an eye on this summer.
As I watched some AA level players take batting practice, a new group of players arrived at the field with some familiar names. Chris Parmelee, Rene Tosoni, and Joe Benson showed up wearing their minor league uniforms... telegraphing that they had been among today's cuts from the Major League camp. Those players, along with the others taking batting practice on that field, were getting the opportunity to work out under the watchful tutelage of Hall of Famer Paul Molitor and a guy with a Twins World Series ring, Tom Brunansky, who's now got a coaching job with the Twins.
As for the game against the Mets, today, I'm sure some of you may have heard that there was finally a Joe Mauer sighting. Joe DH'd against the Mets as part of what was pretty much an A-list lineup and singled on a line drive up the middle in his first plate appearance. Other highlights from the game included a home run launched down the right field line by Denard Span and several very nice outings by Twins pitchers. Span's homer hit the RF foul pole at least halfway up the pole. Starting pitcher Brian Duensing started his day with a walk to Mets shortstop Jose Reyes but didn't give up a run until the fourth inning when Jason Kubel fielded a line drive single to RF and tossed the ball over Tsuyoshi Nishoka's head, allowing Reyes to score from third base. Other than that bit of sloppy defense, the period of the game during which the Twins regulars were on the field went very well.
Pitcher Jim Hoey finally showed a bit of why the Twins wanted him in the deal that sent Hardy to the Orioles. Hoey struck out the first batter he faced on three pitches that hit 95, 96 and 97 mph, respectively, on the Hammond Stadium speed gun. He had pitches even higher than that to subsequent hitters, including a 99 and, finally, a 98 to record another strikeout to his final hitter. I know he's running out of time to impress the staff enough to earn a spot in the Opening Day bullpen, but I can't help but think the Twins are going to find themselves in a situation at some point where having someone with that kind of velocity would come in handy.
The Mets lineup included two former Twins... Luis Castillo and Jason Pridie. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a lot of the Mets top players had made the long trip across Florida for the game. In addition to Reyes, the Mets lineup included David Wright, Jason Bay, Angel Pagan and their starting pitcher was Mike Pelfrey.
As you may or may not know, the Twins actually won the game with a walk-off hit by catcher Danny Lehmann. Lehmann drove in Matt Brown, who led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a double to the right center field gap. To the casual observer, the melee that broke loose from the dugout as players mobbed Lehmann might seem a bit odd for a meaningless spring training game. I, on the other hand, simply choose to look at it as an expression of just how much these guys absolutely hate the prospect of playing extra innings in spring training.
I had planned to drive up to Lakeland Thursday for the afternoon game against fellow AL Central contending Tigers, but with word coming from media sources that we'll see Twins batteries Carl Pavano/Drew Butera and Matt Capps/Joe Mauer play back here in Fort Myers in a minor league game, along with the news that Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew may be arriving in camp Thursday, I'm giving serious consideration to sticking around here.
I'll be submitting a few more reports over the next few days, as well as daily posts over at our Knuckleballs blog (www.knuckleballsblog.com). In the mean time, stay warm, all!