Out of the blue, into a red-hot fielding drill

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 24, 2011 - 9:10 AM

An infield drill, part of the Twins' first workout, sums up the team's values.

FORT MYERS, FLA. - On glorious days like Wednesday, writers search for synonyms to describe the prescription-glasses-clear, azure, cerulean, cobalt, indigo, sapphire sky that hung over Hammond Stadium.

Synonyms weren't necessary. In the morning, as the Twins began their first full-squad workout, the sky was blue. Really, really, blue. A soft breeze carried hints of sea salt over the fields on another 80-degree day in paradise, and the real work, the art and craft of baseball, began.

After a team meeting, stretching and a game of catch, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire called every infielder in camp to the half field tucked behind the home bullpen at Hammond Stadium. "Time for 'Good Morning America,'" he said, and thus began a drill that is steeped in Twins lore and reflective of all the organization holds dear.

"Good Morning America" is Gardenhire's version of a drill installed and instilled by his predecessor. Tom Kelly, now a special assistant to the general manager, called his version "Rocket-Fire," and used fungo bats and ground balls that raced across the infield like tracers to test and humble his players.

Wednesday, Gardenhire and Kelly coached the infielders while four coaches hit or threw grounders to the players. After five days of leisurely workouts designed to ease pitchers and catchers into their routines, "Good Morning America" shocked the players and their cardiovascular systems like a defibrillator.

After the 1986 season, Gardenhire was traded to the Twins. As an aspiring shortstop, he remembers his first "Rocket-Fire" drill under Kelly in 1987, Kelly's first full year as Twins manager.

"I was involved in that in major league camp as a player," Gardenhire said Wednesday. "That sent me to become a coach real early. 'Rocket-Fire' took me out of commission.

"We kind of tweaked it as it went along, as I became a coach in '91. We tweaked it into Good Morning America, an everyday thing instead of a one-time-a-spring thing."

Infielders are forced to make play after play in rapid succession, facing every possible situation, as Kelly and Gardenhire chatter and critique. "The theory is to get their heart rate up and make sure they can keep their anxiety down at the same time," Gardenhire said. "Under extreme duress, guys panic and it's one of these things that you get a little tired, you get lazy. We want them to slow everything down rather than speed everything up -- and catch the ball."

The '86 Twins finished 71-91. Kelly instituted "Rocket-Fire" in the spring of 1987. The Twins would play exemplary infield defense and win the World Series.

"We kept going until we fell down, or got better," Kelly said. "You found out who could handle the duration, the stamina, the composure end of it.

"What we're looking for is composure under duress. It's also built so that the pitchers, while they warm up, they'll see how hard our players are working on defense, and we hope that will entice them to throw the ball over the plate and give these players a chance to get the out.

"In '87, I saw players who wanted to stop finishing last and thought, 'This guy thinks this is important, let's get after it.'"

Players who arrive in Twins camp from other organizations are often surprised by the intensity of the drill and by the Twins' emphasis on fielding. Kelly is a stickler for proper footwork at first base. Gardenhire obsesses over middle-infield play, particularly the turning of the double play.

So under a really, really blue sky on Wednesday morning, the past and present Twins managers worked their charges like they were drill sergeants and this was boot camp, and Gardenhire began melding an infield that features talent and uncertainty at every position.

First baseman Justin Morneau is recovering from a concussion. Presumed second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the All-Star from Japan, is adjusting to a new country. Presumed shortstop Alexi Casilla is trying to prove he can play every day in the big leagues. Third baseman Danny Valencia is trying to become the Twins' first long-term third baseman since Corey Koskie left after the 2004 season.

Utility infielder Matt Tolbert has run through the Twins' infield drills since 2008. "At first, I was like, 'Wow, that's a lot of ground balls,'" he said. "I just tried to keep up.

"After you do it a few times, you get used to it. At first, it's pretty tough. You hear TK and Gardy and see them walking around, and so you want to do everything right. It's intense."

Intense by spring training standards, at least. Under the really blue sky and the sea breezes, in the midst of a camp that often resembles millionaire calisthenics, Twins infielders hustle and hone their skills.

"I kinda like it," Valencia said later, as he wiped sweat from his face. "It definitely gets you ready."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

  • related content

  • Ron Gardenhire (left), Tsuyoshi Nishioka

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions
Final123456789RHE
Cleveland «0020320007140
Minnesota010010000272
@Ballpark Replay
Preview | Matchup | Lineup | Log | Wrap | Box
W:C.Kluber(17-9) L:A.Swarzak(3-2)
HR: CLE- None MIN- None

ADVERTISEMENT

Toronto - LP: D. Hutchison 2 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 5
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 2 FINAL
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 1
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 10 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: E. Santana 2
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: M. Gonzalez 2
Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta 0 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 1
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Danks 10 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: N. Karns 5
Cleveland - WP: C. Kluber 7 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: A. Swarzak 2
Detroit - LP: R. Porcello 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 5
Seattle - LP: H. Iwakuma 3 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 8
Los Angeles - WP: C. Perez 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 5
Texas - WP: S. Tolleson 2 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Street 1
Philadelphia 6 Bottom 9th Inning
Oakland 6
San Francisco 2 Top 9th Inning
San Diego 8
Arizona - LP: W. Miley 3 FINAL
Colorado - WP: C. Bergman 8
Cincinnati - A. Simon 7:05 PM
St. Louis - L. Lynn
San Diego 22 FINAL
Buffalo 10
Dallas 34 FINAL
St. Louis 31
Washington 34 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
Houston 17 FINAL
NY Giants 30
Minnesota 9 FINAL
New Orleans 20
Tennessee 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 33
Baltimore 23 FINAL
Cleveland 21
Green Bay 7 FINAL
Detroit 19
Indianapolis 44 FINAL
Jacksonville 17
Oakland 9 FINAL
New England 16
San Francisco 14 FINAL
Arizona 23
Denver 12 4th Qtr 0:59
Seattle 20
Kansas City 34 FINAL
Miami 15
Pittsburgh 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Columbus 4 FINAL
Carolina 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Washington 1
St. Louis 1 2nd Prd 15:44
Columbus 1
Calgary 7:00 PM
Edmonton
Edmonton 7:00 PM
Calgary
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(12) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(9) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
(23) East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(20) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
(14) Miss State 34 FINAL
(17) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(13) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Chivas USA 0 FINAL
Toronto FC 3
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 32 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How sure are you that the Twins are on the road to improving?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close