Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
So the Twins named their Opening Day starter and he was a six-game winner in an injury-curtailed 2012 season. That's Vance Worley. And the Twins top pitcher from last season, Scott Diamond, will start 2013 on the disabled list in his comeback from arm issues that surfaced during the off-season.
And come Monday morning, the Twins will be tied for first place in the American League Central. We'll see if that lasts until sundown.
I've learned over the years to cut down on my blogging during spring training, which is one of the reasons Section 219 has taken a break during the Twins stay in Florida. There's little I can add from up here that can't be told better from reading the reports from our crew on the scene in Fort Myers and from our TwinsCentric crew.
That Jared Burton seemed to get lit up every time I listened for a few innings adds little to the discussion -- except nervousness, maybe. (On closer inspection, most of those were unearned runs.) I've learned over the years not to look at exhibition ERAs. Joe Nathan getting knocked around was Exhibit A; Dusty Hughes getting people out was Exhibit B.
Besides, February and March are kind of a busy time in my A-job of keeping this web site together. This last month or so, I've been living with Tubby, Percy, Gophers of many sports and all of the related excitement that comes with this time of year. One beauty of baseball is that it hits you smack in the face right when you emerge from the weeks when so many winter sports finish up in their haze of tournaments.
Plus, you can only be grumpy about stuff so many times and -- having reached my grumpy limit -- it's time to look ahead and try to get excited, or at least intrigued, about the flawed Twins.
I am prepared to look for the best, and I hope that feeling lasts. My list includes:
*Aaron Hicks. God bless Darin Mastroianni and the Puntonian hustle (without the head-first slides into first base) that he brings to the Twins. But if he had been the Opening Day starter in center field, it would have symbolized all that is wrong with the team's decline. I know that spring training can be filled with illusions, but I hope that Hicks isn't one of them.
*Tom Brunansky. Is it a problem when No. 2 on your hope list is a coach? I'm intrigued about whether Brunansky's approach to hitting leads to some improvement. We're not talking about helping Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau as much as lessening the feeling from the last couple of seasons that, on many days, the Twins were fielding a lineup in which several spots were being filled by players for whom a hit would be a happy accident.
*Joe Mauer. If felt like every time I watched or listened to part of a Twins or World Baseball Classic game, Mauer was on base or in the process of getting on base. That he has a combined .558 on-base percentage with the Twins and for Team USA this spring confirms that it almost wasn't an illusion. I am beyond the "how many home runs should Mauer hit" issue. I want Mauer to play every day -- somewhere in the lineup -- and have the kind of year in which we won't leave our seats or the TV when we know he's coming to bat.
*The middle infield. I want to believe that what Brian Dozier learned as a failed major league shortstop will help him become a successful major league second baseman. I will make no other comparison between Dozier and Torii Hunter except to cite that it took a couple of extra trips to the minors for Hunter to get it right. I want to believe that we won't cringe when Pedro Florimon comes to bat, although his spring training numbers do not fill me with hope. I do like that Dozier and Florimon are Nos. 1 and 2 in innings played in Florida. That statistic speaks to a commitment that I hope isn't being made in vain.
*Gardy. Toward the end of his managing years, Tom Kelly's frustration with his players was pretty evident. If you'd gone from managing two World Series winners to relying on Chad Allen, Scott Stahoviak and some of the others, you'd be miffed, too. So far, Ron Gardenhire hasn't gone that route. His spring training desire for Jim Thome was odd, but -- reading between the lines -- I hope it was his way of saying that he needed more offense on his bench. Demoting Drew Butera was a step in that direction. Now, if he can resist the temptation to carry 13 pitchers ... If he goes, I don't want him to go beaten down.
I'm starting the 2013 season prepared to have more hope than expectations. If you've read this blog, it hasn't always been a pretty journey to reach that place and, yes, it may make me a sucker. I promise not to turn aluminum foil into silver linings. I promise to try having fun while being realistic about what we're going to be asked to support at Target Field this season. I got my Section 219 tickets this week and I'm looking forward to using them.
After all, it's baseball.
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