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.

Twins open camp: "Baseball is in the air''

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: February 17, 2014 - 8:43 AM


I can be a smart aleck sometimes.

The clubhouse was buzzing this morning as pitchers and catchers prepared for the first workout of the season. While chatting with some other reporters in the middle of the clubhouse, I did a double take as Joe Mauer entered the room.

I didn't say hello. I didn't wave or nod my head toward him. I walked over to his stall and said, ``What the hell are you doing here? This is for pitchers and catchers.''

``Baseball is in the air, La Velle,'' Mauer, the first baseman, replied.

Someone overheard the conversation and added: ``Justin Morneau would not have come in today.''

Mauer smiled and said: ``I'm not Mourny.''

Mauer is here to work out with the other position players here for the start of camp. All 37 pitchers and catchers reported on time for the start of workouts, with at least 16 position players already in town.

The catchers are having a meeting right now. There was an all-team meeting at scheduled for 9 a.m. eastern, then the first workout.  But the clubhouse was already bustling with activity.

Tony Oliva was in the batting cages with Jason Bartlett. Kurt Suzuki had a session with Tom Brunansky - who broke into my interview with Suzuki to pull him away. No problem, I'll catch him later.

Here's another funny story from this morning. Suzuki grabbed the chair next to him and had me sit down for the interview. It happened to be Stuart Turner's chair. Turner, who was drafted last year,  needed to get into his stall and saw me sitting in his chair but was too nervous to ask me to move (which usually happens). I didn't see any of this because I was firing questions at Suzuki.

Dustin Morse, the Twins media relations maven, comes up to me and tells me that I'm in Turner's way. I introduced myself to Turner later and gave the dude-just-tap-me-on-the-shoulder talk that I seem to have every spring training with a couple players.

Met some other players in camp for the first time. I said hello to Johan Pino and Edgar Ibarra. This is Pino's second tour of duty with the Twins. ``It's been seven years,'' he said. Actually, it's been five. Pinto was the player to be named in the Carl Pavano trade in 2009 that ended up being a nice return for the Twins, as Pavano pitched well for two years. Ibarra, a lefty, throws 92-93 with a good slider and change. He threw 311/3 innings of scoreless ball at one point last season.

Met Kennys Vargas today. He's every bit as big as Miguel Sano. He's 23 now and went .267/.364/.468 with 19 homers and 93 RBI at Class A Fort Myers last season.

Here are today's bullpen pairings

Group One:  Burton, Gilmartin, Thielbar, Meyer, Pressley

Group Two: Perkins, Tonkin, Fien, Nolasco, Hoffman

Group Three: Duensing, Guerrier, Pelfrey, Hughes, Aaron Thompson

Will check in after the workout.

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