(This is the second dispatch from Section 219 frequent commenter Jim Crikket, who is on his annual trip to Florida and writes well with a sunburn.)
The hour long trip up to Port Charlotte from Ft. Myers was a piece of cake compared to that meandering trek to Port St. Lucie on Friday. I figured out last spring that this is one stadium where buying a standing room ticket is a great, cost-effective option. There's a nice "boardwalk" that stretches all the way around the outfield with plenty of seating, a tiki bar, food stands, etc. That's pretty much everything you need to enjoy a baseball game.
Arriving in time for some of the Twins' batting practice, I was greeted by a fly ball sailing overhead followed by a splash coming from a pond just beyond the boardwalk in left field. I'm pretty sure it came off the bat of Michael Cuddyer and it was followed by an almost identical shot just moments later. "Cool, Cuddy made the trip," thought I, "I'll go find a spot near right field to get a good view of him."
Shows what I know.
I have to admit, if you told me Jacque Jones, Ben Revere and Michael Cuddyer were going to be the starting OF, I'd have needed 3 guesses to pick out the guy they'd have starting in center field. Still, early in the game a Ray ripped a shot in to left-center and sure enough Cuddy did a nice job of running it down and making a backhand grab.
But Cuddy wasn't the only guy playing a position I wasn't expecting to see him at. Brendan Harris was manning first base and Alexi Casilla was the shortstop. I half expected to see Nick Punto in catchers' gear. Yet, the Twins once again went errorless and made all the plays that needed to get made.
I'm not sure I'm ready to declare that Francisco Liriano is "back", but from 400 feet away, he looked flat out nasty at times. Rauch looked good again. Duensing didn't miss as many bats as I'd have liked to see him miss, but he made a couple of Rays look pretty silly, as well. And Anthony Slama was once again totally overmatching the hitters he faced in the last inning. In spring training games, the "closers" often pitch the first inning after the starting pitcher finishes up (Rauch was the first arm out of the pen today). This means that while Slama has been very impressive, he's largely been facing other prospects getting late-game looks from the Twins' opponents. I'm very anxious to see what he can do against legitimate big leaguers, because from what I've seen so far, he looks very much like the guy who's going to be the Twins' closer, sooner or later. I want to see if there's any indication it could be "sooner".
The big blow of the day was delivered by Jacque Jones and I'm not talking about either of his two doubles. After having been thrown out at the plate by Gape Kapler (wasn't he John Travolta's teacher in an old sit com?) while trying to tag up on a Casilla fly ball earlier in the game, Jones tested Kapler again in the fourth inning when he tried to score from 2B on a Brendan Harris single to CF.
The first time, Ray catcher Dioner Navarro feigned nonchalance until just as the throw arrived from Kapler and Jones was tagged out. On the second play, Navarro caught the ball while blocking the plate and Jacque collided with him. Navarro was taken off the field on a cart after suffering a knee injury and although later tests revealed no breaks or other serious damage, the sight brought to mind Joe Torre's complaint about his catcher being "taken out" on a play at the plate in spring training a few years ago. Perhaps since the injury to Navarro didn't turn out to be serious, Jones will be spared the same criticism.
I personally didn't have an issue with the collision. Jones is battling not only for a spot on the roster but very literally for his professional life. He'd be a fool to give anything but a full bore effort every day. By the way, I was as skeptical of his signing as anyone, but I have to admit he's looking like he could have some value. Is it real or is it a mirage? Right now, I wouldn't bet against him spending time with the Twins this summer. Maybe a lot of time.
Sunday, it's a return visit from the Rays to Ft. Myers. The sunburn is even redder tonight than it was this morning (though I suppose that shouldn't be a big surprise). A smart person would stay indoors for a day. But the "A team" should be ready to go for the Twins and Scott Baker is on the mound, so we can pretty much forget any chance I'll be smart (as if that was even a remote possibility anyway).
I do feel I'm performing a public service of sorts. There are so many people who have never had to even contemplate the possibility of needing sunscreen to attend a Twins game... and that's all about to change come April!