Hartman: Treeless batter's eye hasn't helped Twins

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 18, 2011 - 11:09 PM

Twins batters wanted the removal of the spruces from center field, but so far it hasn't appeared to help them any.

Twins President Dave St. Peter was very reluctant to remove the beautiful trees beyond the center-field fence at Target Field, but he had to do so to please Twins players who claimed the trees made it difficult to hit.

Hitters also wanted the Twins to move in the fences, but St. Peter was not going to change the dimensions of the ballpark. Moving in the fences would have had a negative effect on the Twins pitching staff as well.

Well, it might not have anything to do with the removal of the 14 spruce trees growing back there, but for the first 15 home games the new batter's eye has not done any good for the Twins batters. Of the key Twins from 2010 and '11, only Jason Kubel and Jim Thome have shown an increase in average compared to the first 15 home games of 2010. All the other key hitters have gone down. And Thome's numbers aren't really reflective of his contribution since he has been hurt.

And the Twins' 15-game home record is also a disaster, as they opened 10-5 at Target Field in 2010 but are 4-11 this season.

Kubel struggled at .188 (6-for-33) through the first 15 games at Target Field last year, while this year he is hitting .310 (18-for-58). Thome hit only .214 in the first 15 home games last year, in which he played 10 games. This year, he is hitting .278 with five RBI but has played in only five games.

Justin Morneau, whom I believe is playing daily despite being more injured than some of the Twins players on the disabled list, is not doing that badly at home this year, hitting .281 and seven RBI, having picked it up lately. Last year, he got off to a terrific start at .360 with eight RBI.

Michael Cuddyer is hitting .255 at home with two home runs and five RBI. Last year through 15 games, he was hitting .281 with five home runs and 17 RBI.

Denard Span is hitting .302 at home with one RBI this year compared to .339 with eight RBI in 2010.

Joe Mauer, whom some people in the Twins organization expect to sit out for some time even though the catcher is rehabilitating in Florida, played in nine of the 15 games last year because of a bruised left heel, hitting .313. This year, he has played in only four games at home, batting .250.

And Delmon Young, who came off the disabled list last week, has hit .226 with three RBI at home, having played in eight of 15 games. Last year, he played in 13 of the first 15 games, batting .263 with five RBI.

Check the total of the seven players, and you find that they had eight home runs, 53 RBI and 46 runs through 15 home games last year. This year, the totals are four home runs, 32 RBI and 24 runs.

True, you can blame the injuries, with Young, Mauer and Thome all having been on the disabled list. And as a group, the seven players are only hitting 10 points lower at home this year (.279) than they did at this point last year (.289).

But they aren't scoring runs, aren't hitting with runners in scoring position, aren't hitting home runs and are often even struggling just to get on base. Yes, changing the batter's eye has not been the solution for the Twins' star players at home.

Jottings

• Apparently, according to Timberwolves officials, Target Corp. hasn't made a decision yet whether it will continue to hold the naming rights on Target Center when its contract runs out at the end of September. The Wolves have 14 years left on their lease with the city and would prefer a 14-year naming rights contract. There had been rumors that Sanford Health of Sioux Falls, S.D., which has a one-year contract for a billboard on the side of the building, would be a candidate, but apparently that's not the case. Life Time Fitness, which has a health club in the arena, is reported to be one of the leading candidates if Target doesn't renew. The Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal reported that the present agreement called for $18.75 million over 15 years, and also that the Wild is being paid $3 million a year by Xcel Energy for naming rights to the St. Paul hockey arena.

• Before deciding to withdraw from the NBA draft, Gophers junior center Ralph Sampson III worked out at camps in Chicago and New Jersey. It was Sampson's uncle who called Gophers coach Tubby Smith with the news that Sampson decided to remain in school and play college basketball this season. ... Bemidji State and Augustana (S.D.), both of the NCAA Division III Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, will be the two exhibition foes for the Gophers this fall at Williams Arena. Bucknell, a team that lost 81-52 to eventual champion Connecticut in the first round of the NCAA tournament but won 23 of 25 games before that, will open the regular season against the Gophers Nov. 11.

• The Gophers baseball team played its last game ever in Siebert Field on Tuesday, beating North Dakota State 8-5. Coach John Anderson said that the University of Minnesota officials in charge of facilities would have never allowed a game to be played at the field had the officials checked it. Anderson has scheduled 36 games at the Metrodome for next year, including the annual Dairy Queen Classic that will include Nebraska, New Mexico State and West Virginia. The Gophers also will play Nebraska at home in 2012 as a conference foe. This year's team can clinch a Big Ten playoff spot by winning one game over Ohio State at Target Field this weekend.

• Gophers wrestler Dylan Ness, the younger brother of former Gophers NCAA champion Jayson Ness, qualified at 145.5 pounds for the U.S. Senior World Team Trials June 10-11 in Oklahoma City.

• The Houston Chronicle reported last week that Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey narrowed his candidates for the team's head coaching position to three: former Wolves coach and VP Kevin McHale, former Wolves coach Dwane Casey and former Nets coach Lawrence Frank. After being fired by McHale in 2007, Casey left the NBA to travel overseas and study European techniques, rejoining an NBA team in 2008 with the Dallas Mavericks as their top assistant under coach Rick Carlisle. The Mavs are now playing Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals. It was also reported by ESPN's Marc Stein last week that the Golden State Warriors are looking at Casey for their coaching vacancy. McHale has been working as a television analyst but hasn't coached since finishing up with the Wolves at the end of the 2008-09 season.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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