Hartman: Excitement builds as TwinsFest nears

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 27, 2012 - 6:28 AM

Dave St. Peter is looking forward to the event, and looking forward to seeing Justin Morneau return to form.

With the Diamond Awards banquet scheduled for Thursday at Target Field and TwinsFest slated for this weekend at the Metrodome, team President Dave St. Peter said there is a lot of fan excitement around the Twins this week.

"[TwinsFest is] a benefit for the Twins Community Fund. I think we've gotten as good a player response as we ever have for this event," St. Peter said. "I think we're at like 62 or 63 current, or former, or even future Twins.

"Obviously there's a tremendous collectible show, an exhibit from the National Baseball Hall of Fame including the Bert Blyleven Hall of Fame plaque which is obviously new from last July. Just a tremendous opportunity to really be the unofficial kickoff for spring training, considering our pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers February 18th -- we're inside a month now on that."

TwinsFest will include stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau; major offseason acquisitions such as Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, Jamey Carroll, Joel Zumaya and Jason Marquis; plus many others from the team's 40-man roster.

As far as improving the team before spring training starts, St. Peter said: "I don't know that you ever say you're all through. I know that Terry Ryan and Rob Antony and Mike Radcliff are continuing to look at some other options, including mainly I think pitching, but obviously we'll see. There are still a lot of players that I think can help teams on the [free agency] board, so you always obviously remain open to that.

"We felt good about this modest signing [of Zumaya] last week, we think that's a low-risk, high-reward move. Obviously, we're hoping to catch lightning in a bottle on one or two of these guys, but there are another couple guys out there that we have our eyes on."

Hopeful for Morneau

St. Peter is optimistic that Morneau -- who played in only 69 games last year because of a number of health problems, including another concussion, after a concussion wiped out the second half of his 2010 season as well -- will make a comeback in 2012.

"I appreciate that there's always an unknown when you're dealing with concussions," St. Peter said. "But I think as Justin said in that story [in last Sunday's Star Tribune], he's far ahead of where he was a year ago at this time. I know he's cautious. I think that's really the path that people take when dealing with concussions. We read about it every day, we see it every day in terms of sports. I think we feel, those of us that have talked to him, feel much better this year than we did a year ago going into the year, because I think he feels that he's much more healthy. You're never going to know until you get to spring training and get him into game situations, but we're actually pretty optimistic that he's going to have a bounceback year for us."

Morneau had four surgeries last year, too. "[Surgeries] have been a big part of his career here the last two or three years," St. Peter said. "I think last year, they went unnoticed beyond all the concussions and some of the other things that he was dealing with that really prevented him from having the type of year that obviously he wanted to have.

"But let's be honest, the Morneau/Mauer situation is very important for this baseball team. I think they both are at this point in pretty good shape coming into spring training and understand their importance to this club."

New Siebert Field close

With the necessary $7.5 million raised to go forward with a new Siebert Field, Gophers baseball coach John Anderson is waiting for approval by the university's Board of Regents to start the project. A message has been sent to potentially interested architects.

Meanwhile, Anderson is happy that the Metrodome is available for his full schedule this year after repairs following the December 2010 roof collapse.

On another subject, Anderson, who has been working on a year-to-year contract, has been offered a five-year deal by Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi, and Anderson said that once a couple of items in the contract are cleared up, he will sign it. He has been Gophers coach since 1981.

The Gophers also play one game at Target Field, May 5 against Penn State. St. Peter said he is excited to have the Gophers at the Twins' home again. The Twins and Gophers also have worked together to submit a bid to play host to the Big Ten baseball tournament at Target Field in 2013. It would be the first time the Big Ten had moved that event to a major league facility.

"I'm not sure where it's going to go, but we continue to believe that the promotion of amateur baseball and certainly the relationship with the University of Minnesota has been important to the Pohlad Family and to our organization as well," St. Peter said.

Jottings

• Even though Gophers football coaches are nowhere near the highest paid in the country, a survey by the University of Minnesota showed that since 1985, salaries of full professors at the school have risen 32 percent, presidents have gone up 94 percent and football coaches 650 percent.

• Jerry Kill and his Gophers football staff have been trying to recruit speed, and an early testing of the squad showed that five of the 10 fastest times were by new recruits in school: cornerback Martez Shabazz, running back James Gillum, cornerback Briean Boddy, cornerback Jeremy Baltazar and receiver Isaac Fruechte, all junior college transfers.

• Former Gophers football coach Glen Mason was one of many coaches who attended the viewing of the late Penn State coach Joe Paterno. ... Jeff Schemmel, the former San Diego State athletic director and Gophers assistant AD, now runs the search firm that recommended former Gophers assistant Tony Levine to be named coach at Houston. Incidentally, Levine will headline the Minnesota Football Coaches Association clinic March 29-31 in St. Louis Park.

• Ben Lauer, the outstanding Wayzata tackle, has committed to the Gophers.

• Minnetonka's Jake Gardiner scored his first NHL goal Tuesday in Toronto's 4-3 overtime victory over the Islanders. He also has 13 assists in 42 games. ... Former Gophers defenseman Paul Martin has five assists in his past six games and recorded his 200th NHL point last week. He has one goal and 15 assists in 42 games for Pittsburgh.

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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