SAUK CENTRE, MINN. - When a young fan on Monday asked the panel of Twins celebrities for a win prediction this season, manager Ron Gardenhire grabbed the microphone.
"I hope we win one more game than everyone else in the division,'' Gardenhire said.
The crowd of about 350 fans at Holy Family School -- the first stop of the 2012 Twins Winter Caravan -- erupted with applause.
On paper, it looks as if the Twins have a long way to go to turn a 99-loss season in 2011 into an AL Central division title, but this is the season of hope -- the period before spring workouts and a month of exhibition games. So Gardenhire will try to sell hope as he, hitting coach Joe Vavra and pitchers Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing tour Minnesota via bus on the first leg of the annual trek.
"The fans deserve answers,'' Gardenhire said, "and they have a lot of questions, as do I, of what is going to happen in spring training.''
The four Twins -- accompanied by mascot TC Bear --were seated on a stage in the gymnasium as fans young and old, many wearing Joe Mauer, Denard Span, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan jerseys, fired questions.
The first question, predictably, was about the condition of Mauer and first baseman Justin Morneau.
"Mourny has been through an awful lot,'' Gardenhire said. "Of course, he had the concussion symptoms and he had three surgeries at the end. His foot, his wrist and his knee [a cyst was removed from his left knee], and he has been rehabilitating all of those things.
"Mauer is doing fantastic. He's down swinging a bat in Florida and is working out every day and doing fantastic. He's way ahead of where he was last year. He didn't have any surgeries, and I expect him to do well.''
The questions were wide-ranging. One young fan asked how much money they made (TC Bear stood up and gave two thumbs up). Another wanted to know whether they had read the latest Harry Potter book (No).
After the event, Gardenhire was asked if there's a chance Morneau, who has sent out mixed signals about his recovery, will be behind other players at the start of camp.
"Everyone tells me he will be ready the first day,'' Gardenhire said. "He might have setbacks, you don't know, but we have to wait until we get there and see where he is at the first day.''
Until he can prove it, Gardenhire will tell fans during the tour that his team will be better. A lot of it depends on the health of the M&M boys -- and that still might not be enough, at least on paper.
Gardenhire said he's spent the offseason answering so many questions about 2011 that he still hasn't gotten the season out of his system.
"Do you ever?'' he said. "It's a constant. Everywhere you go, you talk to people and it's like, 'Hey tough year,' and it never goes away. I'm 100 percent in agreement that it wasn't acceptable and we have to fix it."
He's had many conversations during the offseason with former manager Tom Kelly.
"I've talked to him a long time on the phone,'' he said. "Conversations I thought I never could get into with T.K. We spent an hour on the phone one day, talking about different things we should do in spring training, which way to go and how I should have done different things. It's actually been good. Tom has helped me out a bunch.''
Gardenhire didn't want to comment directly on the team agreeing to terms with reliever Joel Zumaya on a one-year deal but said: "If we are able and lucky to sign a guy like that, it is pretty special, if he is healthy. We have seen what the guy can do.
"We have faced him. He's throwing the ball up to 100 miles an hour. It is something I've told [the front office], we need power arms in this organization.''Etc.
• Toby Gardenhire, 29, son of the manager, has been hired as the head baseball coach at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Drafted by the Twins in 2002, he made it to Class AAA Rochester but wasn't brought back after last season.