Aaron Hicks moved into his new baseball home Sunday, and if it was cold, he didn’t notice.
“I felt more excitement than [cold]. I actually thought it would be colder. But I’m busy getting a look at where I’m going to be working every day,” Hicks said Sunday morning after spending about an hour roaming Target Field’s big outfield in sub-freezing temperatures. “I just want to get as comfortable as possible.”
That’s what his manager wants, too. So Ron Gardenhire grabbed a fungo bat and took his rookie outfielder to the deepest part of the diamond, then commenced hitting fly balls off the wall. Hicks and Wilkin Ramirez, another outfielder new to Target Field, tried to judge caroms off the padded fence, ricochets off the limestone facing, and the best angles for cutting them off.
“I’m trying to get used to the dimensions, how to play balls off the wall. They’re a little tricky,” said Hicks, who plans another session before the gates open Monday. “I was worried about that.”
Hardly anyone seemed worried about Monday’s cold weather, and Josh Willingham, a native of Alabama, might have had the best advice: Treat it like a hanging curveball.
“You’ve just got to be stronger than the weather,” the outfielder said after arriving at frigid Target Field to unpack his equipment and prepare for Opening Day.
Good advice, though fans arriving for Vance Worley’s first pitch Monday might want to rely on several layers of warm clothing, too. The Twins confirmed Sunday that their season opener against the Detroit Tigers will be played as scheduled, despite a National Weather Service forecast that calls for an afternoon high of 32 degrees, with sustained winds of 10-15 miles per hour. The Twins had the option of postponing the game until Tuesday. But temperatures are expected to remain in the mid-30s, so the team decided to stick to its schedule.
The coldest home opener in Twins’ history was 51 years ago, when mercury registered only 33 degrees at first pitch.
“We’d all like it to be 75 and balmy, nice and warm, but it’s not,” said outfielder Darin Mastroianni. “We’re in Minnesota. It’s going to be chilly, and we’ve just got to get through it. It’s cold for everybody, that’s what you’ve got to remember.”
Under terms of the sport’s new collective bargaining agreement, teams can no longer require players to practice the day before the season opens, so the Twins workout was optional. Nearly every player showed up at some point, most spent at least a little time on the field, and Mastroianni said perhaps six or eight took batting practice in the team’s heated cages.
Sunday afternoon, the Tigers held a full-scale workout, complete with batting practice on the field; it, too, was voluntary, but since the alternative was sitting in a hotel room, it appeared every Detroit hitter took part. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter and Prince Fielder all hit long, towering (if wind-aided) home runs, and Fielder even plunked the flagpole on the right-field plaza.