Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
As cold as it will be today at Target Field, it could be a lot worse, according to Joe Mauer. The Twins' catcher said the coldest professional game he ever played was also a season opener, at Class A Quad Cities -- that would make it April 2002.
"It was opening night, and we ended up going 17 innings into the night," said Mauer, who remembers catching all 17 innings. "But we won. We were probably the first ones off the field. Shook everybody's hands and went inside."
Justin Morneau wasn't at that game, but he remembers the 2001 opener in Quad Cities also being the coldest game he's ever played. "I bet you it was in the teens, with the wind chill -- blowing snow and freezing cold," Morneau said. "But you know what? We survived."
The Twins hope to do that today against Justin Verlander, the Tigers' ace, a former MVP and Cy Young winner, who oddly enough has never won any of his five previous Opening Day starts. Verlander is 12-7 with a 3.21 ERA against the Twins in his career -- he's 7-1 with a 1.70 ERA over the past three seasons -- and has just signed a $180 million contract.
"If anybody has an advantage in the weather, it's the pitcher, because they control the tempo. They're moving, their heart is pumping, they're out there with the flow and staying loose every single pitch. Whether it affects him, I have no idea," Morneau said of Verlander. "We’ve seen over the last couple years, early, he won’t pitch as hard. Later in the game when he needs it, he’ll dial it up. Whether or not he’s able to do that, I guess we’ll find out."
And Morneau, who grew up in Canada, knows how to prepare for the low temperatures -- it's 26 as I write this, with the wind blowing toward right field.
"Sometimes you put too many layers on, you feel like you can't move," he said. "I'm just going to put hot sauce all over and throw some long sleeves on and some long johns and go out there and run around and enjoy it. We talked about it a little bit. We have all the cold weather gear now. It’s not really an issue, I don’t think.”
Ron Gardenhire and Scott Ullger are in the outfield at the moment, hitting fly balls (or trying to -- accuracy isn't easy) off the wall to give the outfielders some experience with the caroms. Here are the lineups for the first game of the 2013 season, which opens at 3:10 p.m.:
Austin Jackson, CF
Torii Hunter, RF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
Andy Dirks, LF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Alex Avila, C
Omar Infante, 2B
Justin Verlander, P
Aaron Hicks, CF
Joe Mauer, C
Josh Willingham, LF
Justin Morneau, 1B
Ryan Doumit, DH
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Chris Parmelee, RF
Brian Dozier, 2B
Pedro Florimon, SS
Vance Worley, P
Justin Morneau got his way.
The Twins' slugger sent a text message to Ron Gardenhire on Monday after getting a glimpse of Tuesday's lineup. Morneau was listed as the Twins' designated hitter for today's game, so he texted Gardenhire asking to play first base instead.
Sure enough, Morneau is listed in the official lineup here in Dunedin as the cleanup hitter, and first baseman. Chris Colabello, originally scheduled to play first, is now the DH.
Now, Morneau just needs a game to play in.
The Twins' buses arrived in Dunedin during a pouring rain, and more is in the forecast. The wet weather let up for a moment, and ushers began wiping off the seats and the grounds crew began pulling the tarp off the field in hopes of holding batting practice, and eventually a game. But the rain quickly resumed, and the field is covered once more. It's too early to tell whether the Twins and Blue Jays will play their noon CT exhibition game.
There's plenty of interesting storylines if they do, beginning with the mere presence of Morneau and Joe Mauer. Both made the long bus ride here, a rare occurrence this early in the spring, but an indication of how much importance they place on being ready for the World Baseball Classic, which starts in 10 days.
Meanshile, Trevor Plouffe is in the lineup for the first time this spring, his sore calf apparently healed.
Mike Pelfrey, whose absolute confidence that he'll be ready when the season starts, is scheduled to throw the first couple of innings, another big step on his journey back from Tommy John surgery.
And all three major candidates for the Twins' center field job are in the lineup today. Aaron Hicks is leading off in center, Darin Mastroianni is batting second and playing left, and Joe Benson bats seventh and plays right.
Here's the Twins' lineup: Hicks CF; Mastroianni LF; Mauer C; Morneau 1B; Plouffe 3B; Colabello DH; Benson RF; Dozier 2B; Florimon SS. Pelfrey P, followed by some combination of Pressly, Robertson, Roenicke, Wood, Slama, Perdomo, Tonkin or Thielbar.
Check back here for updates on the game and the weather. You can also follow me on Twitter -- @MillerStrib.
CLEVELAND -- Tsuyoshi Nishioka was as relaxed as I've ever seen him before Monday night's game against the Indians.
There was no sign of the jitters that were painfully evident as soon as he hit the field, going 0-for-5 with two errors.
The game itself reminded me of his 2011 debut on Opening Day in Toronto. The ball found him right away, and he instantly looked frazzled. Tonight's first-inning error was an all-timer.
But for what it's worth, Nishioka seemed completely composed before the game, after arriving from Class AAA Rochester. He did plenty of interviews after leaving Japan for the major leagues last year, but the sessions never produced as much laughter as the one he conducted Monday.
Besides focusing on baseball in Rochester, Nishioka worked on overcoming the language barrier, too.
“I think I learned a lot of English -- and Spanish as well,” Nishioka said in words translated from Japanese by Ryo Shinkawa. “I learned a lot of English, so I’ll start reading newspapers now, and I’ll know what you guys are writing. So don’t be too hard on me.”
Nishioka, 28, smiled as he said this. To prove his point, he answered some of the American media’s questions in English. Asked if he was happy in Rochester, Nishioka quickly said, “Not happy.”
He paused to let the laughter subside, then explained in Japanese: “The staff down there was great. Geno [Manager Gene Glynn] and Bruno [hitting coach Tom Brunansky] -- I think they had to do a lot for me to keep my motivation up and maintain it throughout the season.”
Last year was a struggle for Nishioka on and off the field. He broke his leg and struggled when he returned, posting a .278 on-base percentage and making 12 errors in 68 games. His then-wife had their first baby in August, and the couple divorced over the offseason.
In Rochester, he gradually found more of a comfort level for the American game, not to mention American culture. His batting average by month went: .203 (April), .205 (May), .255 (June), .298 (July) and .071 (in three August games).
He committed six errors in 70 games at second base, and three errors in 14 games at shortstop. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said the plan is to give Nishioka regular playing time at second.
“That’s what he was playing down there and playing very well,” Gardenhire said before the game. “All the reports have been that he’s playing fantastic baseball and having quality at-bats and playing solid defense. So I’m excited to see if he can carry that right into here.”
After the game, Gardenhire chalked up Nishioka's first-inning error to nerves and complimented him on his at-bats. The manager sounded undeterred in his plan to keep giving Nishioka playing time, but you have to wonder how long the Twins will let this go.
They are playing their best baseball of the season, and now they've got a guy who looked completely out of sorts patrolling the middle infield. That might change. Perhaps Nishioka will compose himself like he did in Rochester, but I'd have to think this must happen sooner rather than later.
Bill Smith never really left the Twins, and now he's officially back as Assistant to the President and General Manager.
He spent four years as the GM before the Twins replaced him with Terry Ryan in November. The Twins immediately began discussing this new position with Smith and gave him some time to think about it.
Smith was seen at Target Field multiple times during the transition. He'll begin working under his new title on Jan. 1. Among his tasks:
* He'll continue to work with Lee County, fostering relationships he's been building since the Twins spring training facility opened in 1991. The Twins hope to do some major renovations on the facility for 2013.
* Assessing the team's player development in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, etc.
* Smith helped lead a seamless transition from the Metrodome to Target Field, and the Twins will have him lead their efforts on developing and maintaining their baseball-related facilities (Target Field, Hammond Stadium, etc.).
* Smith, a longtime member of baseball's minor-league advisory board, will work with Twins minor league director Jim Rantz on maintaining relationships with the team's affiliates.
"All of us with the ballclub are thrilled to have Bill Smith staying with the Twins family," team president Dave St. Peter said in the announcement. "His many contributions during a 25-plus year tenure with the Twins has directly resulted in much of the success this franchise has enjoyed on and off the field. To that end, we are excited to have this opportunity to have him on board with hopes of maximizing his many talents."
The Twins announced their 2011 Diamond Awards winners today, based on the voting conducted by the Twin Cities chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
All winners will be honored at the seventh annual Diamond Awards dinner on Jan. 26, 2012 at Target Field, with proceeds benefiting the University of Minnesota's research on ataxia, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and ALS. (For ticket info, call 612-624-444 or click here.)
Most Valuable Twin: Michael Cuddyer
Twins Pitcher of the Year: Glen Perkins
Most Improved Twin: Perkins
Most Outstanding Rookie: Ben Revere
Upper Midwest Player of the Year: Des Moines native Jeremy Hellickson (Tampa Bay Rays)
Bob Allison Award (leadership on and off the field): Cuddyer
Mike Augustin Award (media good guy): Cuddyer
Minor League Player of the Year: Brian Dozier
Minor League Pitcher of the Year: Liam Hendriks
Herb Carneal Lifetime Achievement Award: John Gordon
Carl Pohlad Community Service Award: Carl Pavano
Kirby Puckett Award: Terry Steinbach
ANAHEIM, CALIF. -- You've seen the replays over and over: Jered Weaver fires the ball toward Alex Avila's head. He keeps walking off the field because he knows he's getting ejected, and he is screaming at home-plate ump Hunter Wendelstedt, so angrily he needs to be restrained.
Pitchers should never throw at a batter's head intentionally. It's that simple. But it would have been absolutely understandable if Weaver had thrown at somebody below the neck considering the context of everything that happened Sunday afternoon in Detroit.
Carlos Guillen asked to get a teammate buzzed when he showed him up -- big time -- on his home run.
Weaver (14-5, 1.88 ERA), who was locked in a terrific pitcher's duel with Justin Verlander, was pretty unsentimental. Avila is the same guy who caught him in the All-Star Game.
MLB handed Weaver a six-game suspension Tuesday, and he appealed. "I wouldn't do anything different," he said. Mark Whicker brings some interesting perspective in today's Orange County Register:
Every baseball player has an intimate, long-standing relationship with failure. And since failure is so communal, players do not celebrate actions that become someone else's failure. That is known as "showing someone up" and it is a major felony on a baseball field.
"Guillen did everything but a cartwheel," [Angels Manager Mike] Scioscia said. "The culture of this game has changed a bit, where hitters do stand and watch their home runs. It's more of an accepted practice. I do know that in my first year, which was 1980, that was not happening."
Whicker and Scioscia also make a good point about the overreaction toward Erick Aybar's bunt leading off the eighth inning, when Verlander was still working on a no-hitter:
Never mind that Aybar is an excellent bunter, the Angels were still close, and the act of swinging away wasn't working particularly well.
"I think the day that we stop trying to win a ballgame when we're down 3-0 is the day we take the uniform off and go home and let somebody else do it," Scioscia said, with emphasis.
What a game that was Sunday. It's one people will be talking about for a long time. I'll check back later this afternoon with the starting lineups from Angel Stadium.
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