La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.

Nishioka arrives, coaches swap roles, Punto's return?

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 16, 2010 - 1:22 PM

Tsuyoshi Nishioka has arrived in the Twin Cities for a physical and to meet Twins staffers. There's been enough progress made on a contract that the Twins could announce his signing either Friday or Saturday.

Nishioka arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport around 11 a,m. strutting through the doorway where international flights arrive wearing sunglasses and with several Japanese reporters in tow. Cameras rolled as he headed for his ride downtown.

One observer told me a few U.S. servicemen were on the same flight from Narita Airport and initially thought the cameras were for them (Ouch!)

Nishioka spoke to Japanese reporters before boarding the flight to the Twin Cities.

``I am so excited,'' he said. ``Finally, I am able to go to Minneapolis.''

He indicated that the deal might already be wrapped up but I'm worried something is missing in the translation. Here's his comment on that subject:

``I am not going to visit there to negotiate,'' he said. ``When I come back to Japan, even my (back) number has been decided."

UPDATE: Twins GM Bill Smith, in a stunning move, has acknowledged that Nishioka has arrived in town.

His e-mail: ``...in response to the many requests, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and his wife arrived this morning via Delta Airlines from Japan and he will complete a series of physical examinations today and tomorrow.

``Contract Negotiations are on-going, but not complete.''

OTHER NEWS

As grandfather sports reported this morning, Third base coach Scott Ullger and bench coach Steve Liddle are swapping roles. Liddle has experience coaching third base, so it shouldn't be a rough adjustment.

Ullger wants to manage one day, so the switch will allow him to work more closely with Gardenhire. Ullger ran the team any time Gardy was tossed from a game anyway,so this makes more sense.

Undoubtedly, there will be some of you who think Ullger got too many people thrown out at home plate, Third case coaches can't do anything right. Al Newman is as popular as anyone can be, but when he coached third, he was called, `Non-stop Newmie.''

PUUUUUUUNTTTOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

Nick Punto is still looking for a job. There was a report last week that Cleveland had showed some interest. Word is that some in organization wouldn't mind Punto coming back as a utility player. I'm not sure that sentiment is shared by all of the key people at Twins Way..

Punto's defense is unquestioned. The problems are his dives into first base and frequent fly outs. But it doesn't hurt to have a reliable glove off the bench.

The question is if the Twins can sign Punto for pennies on the dollar (he made $4 million last season) or make Matt Tolbert the main utility player and look for another bench player.   

 

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