Ponson bypasses chance to connect at first TwinsFest

Free-agent pitcher Sidney Ponson pulled out of TwinsFest one day before it started because he needed to take care of some unexpected business.

That left Twins General Manager Terry Ryan a little disappointed, but he said Ponson had a good reason to stay home.

Ryan wanted Ponson, who has struggled the past three seasons, in town for several reasons. He wanted to see what shape he was in. He wanted Ponson to meet his teammates. And he wanted Ponson to see how excited the fan base is.

The Twins hope Ponson thrives off the atmosphere in town and the camaraderie among teammates enough that it brings out the talented sinkerballer who went 17-12 in 2003.

"I always like this thing because not only do you get a chance to see them visually and see what they might have been doing, they get a pretty good idea of what the interest and passion is for this ballclub here," Ryan said. "They are right down there on that field with all kinds of fans.

"The bar has been raised in this organization, and people expect winners. That's why I like to have people come here."

Newcomers Ken Harvey, Randy Choate and Jeff Cirillo all attended TwinsFest.

It's a record!

Twins President Dave St. Peter said 35,835 fans attended TwinsFest, breaking the record of about 33,000 from 1992.

St. Peter also said that single-game ticket sales were 37 percent higher than at last year's TwinsFest.

And spring-training ticket sales are running about 15 percent ahead of last year, raising the possibility that every spring game could be sold out this year.

"It's just more confirmation that this fan base is energized," St. Peter said.

A word of caution

While the Twins will approach Johan Santana and Joe Nathan about contract extensions in the near future, there's no guarantee that things will work out. Especially in Santana's case, because the lefthanded ace might command a $20 million annual salary.

Ryan is cautious. Getting Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Santana and Nathan signed to long-term deals would be one the highlights of Ryan's long career -- but would take many things to fall in place.

"There's going to be some situations where they might not be receptive to that approach," Ryan said. "Some players will want to go year to year. Some will be interested in security. Sometimes you can get to that point and sometimes you can't.

"A lot of things have to come together. It's easy to talk about that stuff but difficult to accomplish."

The Twins' 1999 payroll was $19 million. Santana's annual salary could top that.

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