Looking back to spring training, even Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is surprised about how well the team has played this year.

"We had 30 new people in spring training," Gardenhire said. "When you have a turnover like that, and you have 30 new people in spring training, if you look at our team out there, there's not very many bats from last year on that field that were here last year. You've got a lot of different people, so you've just got to work with it. It's fun to watch them play. They get out there and get after the game and they try hard. It's fun to watch."

Gardenhire was asked if this was the toughest Twins team to manage since he took over for Tom Kelly in 2002, because of the offseason losses of Torii Hunter, Johan Santana and Carlos Silva and the many new faces in the lineup.

"I don't know if it's the toughest," Gardenhire said. "I know that we have a lot of different people and you're trying to figure out what works and what doesn't work, and there's some injuries that play a part in that.

"Every year you've got to face challenges and you try to get the best possible situations out there you can, and this team is no different."

Gardenhire said there are a lot of experiments going on.

"We're trying different things, and with a young pitching staff, it seems like you go through it and it's fun," he said. "That's what we're in baseball for is to teach. You like to teach, and we're getting plenty of that this year.

"That's just the way it is. You've got to do what you've got to do. Other teams have to do it, and we do, too. You're always trying to find a set lineup, and we've got a few guys there in the middle that we rely on every day and we mix and match with the rest of them."

How would he assess the performance of young center fielder Carlos Gomez?

"I think he's come on and played really, really well," Gardenhire said. "He's fun to watch, he's learned a lot. He's learned to play the game and he's starting to understand everything a lot better. He's been a lot of fun to watch. He's been a real pleasant surprise."

Can the Twins contend for the Central Division title?

"We'll see. It's all going to be down to our pitching," Gardenhire said. "If our pitching holds up and our young pitchers stay in there, we're hitting the ball enough and we're giving ourselves opportunities. It's all going to get down to pitching. We know we can play with these guys, it's just if we pitch good."

We will know a lot more about this team after it completes the next road trip to Boston and Detroit, and then a road trip after the All-Star Game to New York to play the Yankees and to Cleveland.

Great experience

Gophers guard/forward Jamal Abu-Shamala, who will be a senior this year, is having a great experience playing basketball in Jordan on their national team. He traveled to Turkey for a two-week training camp, had another training camp in China and then went to Taiwan to play in an international tournament for the William Jones Cup.

"I feel that this experience will really help me overall for my basketball career," Abu-Shamala reported in an e-mail. "I have really enjoyed learning about the different cultures and have enjoyed meeting people over here. Everybody has been very embracing and have been great to me."


Through the first 47 home games, the Twins have drawn 1,179,618 compared to 1,341,378 a year ago, down 161,760. However, because they raised ticket prices, the club was up $801,358.40 in ticket sales this season for the months of March, April and May. Gross ticket revenue in 2007 for those three months was $16,703,277, compared to $17,510,635.40 in March, April and May this season. There were 789,730 tickets sold for the first three months of the season in 2007, and 740,092 for the same time period this year.

Torii Hunter, through 80 games with the Angels, is hitting .271 with nine home runs and 37 RBI. After 80 games in 2007 while still with the Twins, Hunter hit .302 with 17 home runs and 63 RBI.

Juan Rincon, who was released by the Twins and signed by Cleveland, is pitching for the Indians' Class AAA Buffalo farm club and has allowed three earned runs in 1 2/3 innings in two appearances. Former Twins outfielder Jason Tyner is also with Buffalo, hitting .228 with one home run and 13 RBI.

Tom Lehman, the former Gophers golfer and U.S. Ryder Cup captain, has won $602,118 this year on the PGA Tour. Lehman is ranked 18th on the career money list for the PGA Tour with $20,303,980. Lehman finished tied for 28th at the Buick Open last week, shooting 11 under par. ... Wayzata native Tim Herron has made the cut in 11 of the 16 events he has played this year, with earnings of $383,904. Herron has made the cut in his past three events and placed in the top 20 at his past two events -- the St. Jude Championship (tied for 13th) and the Travelers Championship (tied for 19th) last month. ... John Harris of Minneapolis is 62nd on the Champions Tour money list, earning $129,679 in 15 events. His high finish this year was a tie for 21st place in the Toshiba Classic in March. He recently finished tied for 55th at the Commerce Bank Championship.

Scooba East (Miss.) Community College tackle Tim McGee, who signed a tender last spring to play with the Gophers and couldn't get into school, told Scout.com that "I found out that I had to retake an English class and the Minnesota coach told me to go to summer school and then I would be ready to come in to the second summer session." But then he said he got a call back saying he couldn't be admitted. ... The Gophers have a commitment from one of the better punters in the country in Chicago Brother Rice's Dan Orseske, according to GopherIllustrated.com. He was ranked the top punter at the Kohl's Professional Kicking Camp National Showcase in May with better than a 43-yard average and outstanding hang time.

Grant Balfour, who was with the Twins in 2001 and from 2003 to 2005, had arm problems that might have ended his career. Now he is a middle-relief ace for the Tampa Bay Rays with two saves and a 1.08 ERA. ... Former Gopher Mike Mee is batting .300 with two home runs and 35 RBI in 82 games for the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks, a Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. ... Now that Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez has been put on the disabled list for a second time because of a sore right shoulder, ex-Gopher Jack Hannahan will get another opportunity to see action with the A's.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com