FORT MYERS, FLA. – It’s a good thing I no longer drink pop. If a visitor ever opens a carbonated beverage in the Twins clubhouse, the hiss will drown out all other sounds.
This spring, the Twins clubhouse is almost as quiet as their lineup.
That might be irrelevant. It might be generational. This is certain: It feels familiar. Being around the clubhouse this spring was like watching reruns of a show you hate.
Not to preach about the old days, but in the old days the Twins clubhouse was part finishing school, part vaudeville act.
Kirby Puckett would take charge of young outfielders and propel a stream of comedy that made players want to arrive early and stay late. Torii Hunter learned from Puckett and reprised his act. Johan Santana gathered Spanish-speaking players around him to tell jokes and talk ball.
Corey Koskie placed ice in David Ortiz’s underwear so Ortiz wouldn’t notice the peanut butter in his jeans. One of Ron Gardenhire’s first acts as manager was to trick Ortiz into hitting an exploding golf ball.
Every good Twins team in the past 30 years has featured large personalities.
The other day I walked into the 2014 spring training clubhouse. Two writers, waiting for interviews, were whispering, because to speak in full voice would have been like setting off a cherry bomb in a library. A few pitchers were playing cards at the center table. Some players were working out or doing drills. The remaining players in the clubhouse were all sitting at their lockers, staring at their phones.
The batting cages are almost as quiet as the clubhouse. When former Twins closer Eddie Guardado was in camp, he said he has never seen a more somber group of ballplayers than the Twins the past three years.
“Cellphones make a big difference,” said former pitcher and current broadcaster Jack Morris. “They can follow everything. They can read your article before you print it.”
Morris didn’t want to lambaste a new generation of players, but he was known for starting fake arguments in his own clubhouse just to get blood boiling before games.
“I think it’s a sign of the times, unfortunately,” said Rob Antony, Twins vice president and assistant general manager. “Everybody’s on Twitter, everybody’s communicating through their phone. It’s not anything I like, but I understand it.
“I don’t think you’re really going to get a feel for this clubhouse until we break and head north. There really isn’t a reason to have a ton of intensity now, especially for veteran players. You come in and do your work and the games don’t mean a lot to certain individuals.
“I wasn’t too excited about the atmosphere last year. It didn’t look like a team that was ready to go out and play together. I think that will be a little different with this group this season.”
It’s easy to blame cellphones for a lack of conversation. Twins closer Glen Perkins offered a counterpoint.
“I saw something on Twitter this winter that was taking a stab at that,” Perkins said. “It was a picture of people on a bus in the ’50s, and everybody had a newspaper in front of their faces. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.
“Some guys do what they do. Some guys aren’t morning people. Spring training is a hard time to read a clubhouse, too. A lot of guys in here are nervous, too. I’ve been there. You hide in your locker so they don’t see you and grab you and send you down.”
Perkins believes in a theory that GM Terry Ryan endorses: Winning creates chemistry.
Perkins and Antony also said that some of the new players, particularly Phil Hughes and Kurt Suzuki, could improve the clubhouse dynamic.
Even if chemistry doesn’t lead directly to winning, you’d like to see a spring training clubhouse that didn’t remind you of a bank lobby filled with contractors awaiting the fate of their loans.
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org