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Some highlights from today's media day over at Target Center:
Nikola Pekovic: "I just hope everyone stays healthy. That's what we need." Amen.
Kevin Love had many variations on the same theme, which was, to paraphrase: nobody wants to talk about last year, and this is another year. He couldn't not have been more clear about that. Thank you for the Twitter suggestions to ask him about knuckle pushups, but we're pretty sure that would have resulted in a direct punch to our face -- and therefore possibly another hand injury for Love.
Head coach Rick Adelman said it took him a while to make a final decision on coming back this season, but he said it was looking that way for most of the summer. If the season started today, he isn't sure who his starting small forward would be. The rest, naturally: Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Love and Pekovic.
*Derrick Williams looks noticeably slimmer, down to 235 pounds after playing at about 250 last season. He played bigger last year while trying to defend power forwards; this year, with Chase Budinger potentially out for a while with a knee problem, he could be in the mix for minutes at small forward.
*Quote of the day from Alexey Shved, when asked about his weight and body: "The weight is the same, but I make more muscles."
*Ricky Rubio appears to be wearing his hair a little differently, which is always a subject for discussion. Also, he opened up his presser with, "Hi everyone." Think about that as you look at his picture since it was snapped at around that time.
Note: We're changing up the format a little. Us? Change? Yes! Jon will be providing a short commentary every weekend, followed by his favorite link and a list of recommended viewing. Please do enjoy. Jon?
I first went to Safeco Field in Seattle in 2006. At the time, I had been to very few major-league parks; I'd been to the Metrodome, of course, and the old Kingdome in Seattle (which was, if this is possible, even worse than the Metrodome), and I had been to Miller Park in Milwaukee, which feels like an indoor stadium even if the roof is wide open. It's no surprise, then, that I was totally blown away by Safeco. You can see the game from the concourse! There are a ton of food options from non-concessionaire sources! The stadium's entirely built for baseball!
In the seven years since, Target Field has opened, and I've been to another few parks, all with that same purpose-built feeling. I suppose it's natural, then, that when I went back to Safeco for the first time in seven years, it felt -- there's no other word for it -- middle-aged.
Safeco is still in possession of perhaps the best retractable roof in the majors; the roof was closed last night, but the game still felt outdoors, the exact opposite of the always-inside feeling in Milwaukee. The park also went through a remodel last offseason, moving the fences in, adding an enormous video board in right field, and opening up a closed-off left-field area. It is still a very, very nice place to watch a baseball game, and as a testament, the long-terrible M's drew 23,000 people last night - only two of whom were wearing paper bags on their heads.
Still, though, apart from local seafood chain Ivar's and a local burger place in left field, the food options felt very Metrodome-y (not surprising, as Seattle's concessions are provided by Centerplate, the same vendor used at the Dome.) Porter's BBQ, provider of an unbelievable BBQ hot link pulled pork sandwich, has apparently been replaced by a generic Centerplate version, to my vast disappointment. The newness, at least for me, has worn off, and the park has settled down into "nice" -- not wonderful, not exceptional, not rave-worthy, just nice.
On the one hand, it was disappointing not to be blown away, like I was in 2006. On the other, Target Field would be lucky to being doing so well 14 years after it first opened. Perhaps I'll have to wait another decade or so to really judge last night's trip to Safeco.
Link of the Week: I enjoyed everything about the zany Sabres-Leafs preseason brawl. Sean McIndoe broke the whole thing down at Grantland, and for good measure, imagined what the ensuing NHL disciplinary hearing must have been like.
What to Watch This Weekend
It was a big night for kissing Thursday at Target Center and Target Field.
Which one do you like better: Diana Taurasi planting on one Seimone Augustus (the friendly rivals go back 20 years to AAU days) or broadcaster Dick Bremer smooching Bert Blyleven for the Kiss Cam?
Both of these things, by the way, happened within about a quarter mile of each other at roughly the same time (somewhere in the 9 o'clock hour, we would say)
One of the saddest stats we can recall in recent Twins history is the one offered up by Phil Miller the other night: Justin Verlander struck out 8 Twins hitters in the first three innings of Monday's game. No Twins pitcher has struck out 8 hitters in a GAME this season.
Once the sting wore off, we wondered when the last time a Twins pitcher actually fanned a relatively modest 8 batters was. Turns out it was Sam Deduno on Aug. 29. 2012. Here is the box score. Drink it in:
In the context of life for 99.9 percent of us $21 million is a huge sum of money. It is a game-changer. It is the kind of windfall that would completely change the scope of day-to-day living for the rest of our lives.
In the context of baseball free agent contacts? Sorry Terry Ryan, but $21 million is not, in fact, huge.
The Twins GM is quoted in La Velle E. Neal's series on the Twins and how they might revamp their roster going forward. Here is the set-up and the quote:
Ryan contends that the signing of Josh Willingham to a three-year, $21 million contract before the 2012 season — a record deal for a Twins free agent — is evidence that he will take a plunge into the rich end of the free-agent pool.
“I think you are mistaken when you don’t think $21 million is huge,” Ryan said.
And we think Ryan is mistaken.
In the season Willingham was signed, his $21 million contract was only the 12th-biggest of the offseason. Two players (Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols) signed for more than 10 times as much.
In terms of annual salary, Willingham doesn't even approach the top. In fact, this list of the top 50 salaries in MLB in 2012, Willingham's first year after signing the deal, stops at $13.75 million for the 50th-highest paid player -- about half of Willingham's $7 million average salary.
Getting Willingham was bold by Twins standards -- as you saw, it was the most they have ever given to an outside free agent. And yes, the Twins have spent to retain their own guys (Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer being the prime examples).
But $21 million is not a huge free agent contract any way you slice it, particularly over three years. It was a nice, modest deal.
If the Twins have that mindset going into this offseason -- and it might be a bad one to have since, as Ryan correctly notes, spending in free agency is not a cure-all and can often cripple a franchise -- it would be wise not to expect any truly huge moves.
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