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Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

Reusse: Park's first visit to Twins complex is merely a tour

FORT MYERS, FLA. – Byung Ho Park arrived at the Twins complex on Thursday morning, although it was for a sight-seeing tour of the facility. The assumption is that Park will start working out in some manner – perhaps with weight lifting and agility drills – on Friday.

Five years ago, infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka arrived on Feb. 1 and there were a couple of Japanese television crews there to chronicle his first movements as a Twin.

On Wednesday, Park was accompanied by Brian Maloney, the Twins’ senior manager for the complex, and a representative from Park’s sports agency.

There was no presence of South Korean media to follow Park, although that figures to change as actual spring training approaches.

The failure of Nishioka to produce as the organization’s first high-profile acquisition from Asia did not deter the Twins from taking a shot with the 29-year-old Park, the home run champion of Korean baseball.

Maloney guided Park through the dormitory and academy that is an impressive start for any player visiting the Twins’ complex for the first time. The group then walked over to the minor league clubhouse and fields, where a score of players – mostly minor leaguers rehabbing from 2015 injuries – were getting loose and playing catch.

Phil Hughes and Glen Perkins, the veteran pitchers, were exceptions to this. They were playing catch. Park had met the pitchers at last weekend’s TwinsFest and walked over to offer a greeting.

Perkins stared for an instant, then said: “I didn’t recognize you right away. How are you? Did you come to hit home runs?’’

Park said something and Perkins, laughing, said: “Not yet. Soon, though.’’

Maloney showed Park the weight-lifting area and batting cage, then the group took a golf cart across the parking lot for a look at the major league clubhouse. That was day one at the ballpark in Fort Myers for Park.

There are a handful of retirees who are at the complex most every day. They are anxious to watch Park in live batting practice, but with no idea when that might occur.

“Miguel Sano’s here, [Oswaldo] Arcia’s here, but they haven’t been taking batting practice on the field,’’ one daily attendee said. “Only in the cages behind the minor league clubhouse. That’s no fun.’’

*Don’t panic over this, Twins fans, but Sano spent 15 minutes taking fly balls in the outfield. They were fired from a machine and Sano didn’t have to run far to make the catches.

Here’s the don’t-panic part: There was a brief period where Arcia was demonstrating to Sano how to make the first step in pursuit of a fly ball. And even though Oswaldo has spent the whole offseason in Fort Myers working out, there could remain some skepticism over Arcia as an outfield instructor back in Twinsland.

*Considering the possible younger options such as Nick Burdi and J.T. Chargois, it was a surprise to some observers that the Twins offered arbitration to 32-year-old Casey Fien. The right-handed reliever has seen his strikeout rate go down substantially since 2013, when he was a stikeout-per-inning member of the bullpen.

Fien and the Twins settled for $2.275 million for 2016, a $900,000 raise. Obviously, his goal is to make the Twins not regret that arbitration decision. He was fully engaged in the conditioning drills with the younger rehab players on Thursday.

*Tommy Watkins was a Twins’ minor league infielder for 12 seasons, and played nine games in the big leagues in 2007. He retired as a player in 2009 and the Twins hired him as a minor league coach and instructor here in his hometown of Fort Myers.

Watkins had been the hitting coach for manager Jake Mauer at Class A Cedar Rapids, and he will serve in that role for Doug Mientkiewicz at Class AA Chattanooga this season. Chad Allen, the Lookouts’ hitting coach in 2015, has moved to Class AAA Rochester.

Watkins will need a couple of days off in the middle of May. He is being inducted into the Lee County Sports Hall of Fame, along with his cousin, Sammy Watkins, the Buffalo Bills’ receiver.

Sammy’s father is a cousin to Tommy’s father.

“Would that be the faster side of the family?’’ someone asked Tommy Watkins.

He smiled and said: “My mom was a sprinter, but somehow the speed missed me.’’

Reusse: Gophers hockey has lost fun and fans

This has been an extremely competitive sports market since the Wild returned the NHL to the Twin Cities in 2000. The Vikings are upping the stakes substantially in the battle for dollars and attention as they sell extremely expensive tickets and devour sponsors for the opening of the new stadium in August.

We have teams in the four major sports, a Big Ten university that pushes its customers for big dollars to watch football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey, and in 2017, a Major League Soccer team also will arrive on the scene.

The opinion here is that no significant sports entity has taken a greater hit when it comes to public interest than Gophers hockey.

Admittedly, I still judge this by the need the local dailies and TV outlets feel to cover a team or an event — a view that could be looked at as antiquated with the endless availability of specialty media on the Internet.

It has to be an indicator, though, that for roughly my first 40 years [1968-2008] as a Twin Cities sportswriter, the local dailies felt obliged to have beat reporters that were fully engaged with Gophers hockey during the season, and now both do the best they can to get a staff member to home games.

I arrived at a reason for this in the middle of this past week, while working on a column on South St. Paul naming its hockey arena in honor of Doug Woog.

The Big Ten has accelerated the decline in Gophers hockey interest, for sure, but the falloff was taking place before that, and here’s my reason:

It’s no fun anymore.

Gophers hockey has gone from being part of a cult of amiable characters to another sports business with onerous pricing.

Looking back through the Strib’s electronic library, I was surprised at the number of columns I offered on Woog and his colorful athletes.

Now, there’s no pressure for attention to be paid to Gophers hockey because it’s all drama and seriousness, and we have more than enough of that with the Vikings, Wild, Twins, Timberwolves, Gophers football and men’s basketball.


Phil Hughes runs into pitching coach Neil Allen at TwinsFest:

Allen to Hughes: “Man, you look good. You lost two people. Seeing what you’ve done is the best thing that’s happened to me this weekend.’’

Hughes to Allen: “Come on … I wasn’t that big last season.’’

What happened? Hughes: “I took a hard look at 2015 and knew I didn’t want to be that pitcher again.’’ Allen: “Dang, this is great.’’

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Penn State at Gophers men's hockey

    4 pm on FSN, 1500-AM

  • North Dakota at Gophers women's hockey

    4:07 pm

  • Wild at St. Louis

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Chicago at Timberwolves

    7 pm on 830-AM

  • Gophers women's basketball at Northwestern

    2 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • New Orleans at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Dallas at Wild

    7 pm on NBCSN, 100.3-FM

  • Toronto at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Michigan at Gophers men's basketball

    8 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Nebraska at Gophers women's basketball

    7 pm on 1500-AM

  • Washington at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers men's hockey at Ohio State

    5:30 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Gophers women's hockey at Minnesota Duluth

    7:07 pm

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