Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
As cold as it will be today at Target Field, it could be a lot worse, according to Joe Mauer. The Twins' catcher said the coldest professional game he ever played was also a season opener, at Class A Quad Cities -- that would make it April 2002.
"It was opening night, and we ended up going 17 innings into the night," said Mauer, who remembers catching all 17 innings. "But we won. We were probably the first ones off the field. Shook everybody's hands and went inside."
Justin Morneau wasn't at that game, but he remembers the 2001 opener in Quad Cities also being the coldest game he's ever played. "I bet you it was in the teens, with the wind chill -- blowing snow and freezing cold," Morneau said. "But you know what? We survived."
The Twins hope to do that today against Justin Verlander, the Tigers' ace, a former MVP and Cy Young winner, who oddly enough has never won any of his five previous Opening Day starts. Verlander is 12-7 with a 3.21 ERA against the Twins in his career -- he's 7-1 with a 1.70 ERA over the past three seasons -- and has just signed a $180 million contract.
"If anybody has an advantage in the weather, it's the pitcher, because they control the tempo. They're moving, their heart is pumping, they're out there with the flow and staying loose every single pitch. Whether it affects him, I have no idea," Morneau said of Verlander. "We’ve seen over the last couple years, early, he won’t pitch as hard. Later in the game when he needs it, he’ll dial it up. Whether or not he’s able to do that, I guess we’ll find out."
And Morneau, who grew up in Canada, knows how to prepare for the low temperatures -- it's 26 as I write this, with the wind blowing toward right field.
"Sometimes you put too many layers on, you feel like you can't move," he said. "I'm just going to put hot sauce all over and throw some long sleeves on and some long johns and go out there and run around and enjoy it. We talked about it a little bit. We have all the cold weather gear now. It’s not really an issue, I don’t think.”
Ron Gardenhire and Scott Ullger are in the outfield at the moment, hitting fly balls (or trying to -- accuracy isn't easy) off the wall to give the outfielders some experience with the caroms. Here are the lineups for the first game of the 2013 season, which opens at 3:10 p.m.:
Austin Jackson, CF
Torii Hunter, RF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
Andy Dirks, LF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Alex Avila, C
Omar Infante, 2B
Justin Verlander, P
Aaron Hicks, CF
Joe Mauer, C
Josh Willingham, LF
Justin Morneau, 1B
Ryan Doumit, DH
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Chris Parmelee, RF
Brian Dozier, 2B
Pedro Florimon, SS
Vance Worley, P
Well folks, the time has come to switch blogs. After eight years covering the Twins for the Star Tribune, I’ve moved to the Gophers football beat, swapping places with Phil Miller.
As much as I love baseball writing, I requested the change, so I could spend less time on the road and more time at home with Julie C and our two young kids. I’m excited for the chance to cover college football, and it’s nice knowing the Star Tribune’s baseball beat is in good hands with Phil and La Velle.
Before signing off here, I want to thank everyone who stopped by Around the Majors over the years. If you haven’t yet, please add Gridiron Gold to your bookmarks, and you can come along for the ride as I make the transition from Target Field to TCF Bank Stadium.
The Twins have no plans to change the outfield wall dimensions (distance or height) for the 2013 season, and there will be no change to the batter's eye, such as the addition of trees, team president Dave St. Peter said today in an e-mail to reporters.
This would fall under the non-news news category. So many people ask the Twins these questions that St. Peter felt compelled to answer definitively.
The Twins had black spruce trees behind the center field wall when Target Field opened in 2010, but hitters complained that they had trouble seeing, so those trees were removed and replanted. After going 94-68 in 2010, the Twins have finished with the worst record in the American League each of the past two seasons.
Target Field was one of the toughest places for hitters to hit a home run in 2010, but by last season, it was middle of the pack.
"Like all aspects of Target Field, the Twins will continue to engage in regular review and study of playability issues such as these," St. Peter said in the e-mail. "It remains our goal to ensure the best possible facility for our fans, players and staff."
With the regular season winding down, and Miguel Cabrera closing in on baseball’s first Triple Crown in 45 years, I saw Tony Oliva at Target Field and asked the Twins legend what he remembers about that magical season for Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
“Forget about ‘67,” Oliva said, with a chuckle. “What about ‘66?”
“I don’t want to hear about ‘67,” Oliva said. “I put that out of my brain when we lost. We went to Boston to win one game, and we lost both.”
Yes, this was Boston’s Impossible Dream. One of the most famous pennant races in baseball history. Four teams slugging it out through the late summer -- Twins, Red Sox, Tigers and White Sox. The Twins entered a season-ending two-game series at Fenway Park, needing just one win, but Yastrzemski helped give Boston a sweep and the American League pennant.
Yastrzemski batted .326 with 44 home runs and 121 RBI. Harmon Killebrew also hit 44 home runs, but Yaz still gets credit for the Triple Crown.
“I think that was one of those dream years, when everything went perfect,” Oliva said.
But what about ‘66? Baseball had a Triple Crown winner that year, too, when Baltimore’s Frank Robinson batted .316 with 49 and 122 RBI.
Robinson ran away with the home run title (Killebrew was second with 39) and RBI title (Killebrew was second with 110). The biggest obstacle between Robinson and the Triple Crown was Tony O., who was a two-time reigning AL batting champ after batting .323 as a rookie in ‘64 and .321 in helping the Twins win the pennant in ‘65.
A check on Baseball-Reference.com, shows that Oliva went 4-for-4 on Sept. 11, in an 11-6 win over Robinson’s Orioles at Met Stadium. Oliva was batting .320, and Robinson was at .313 with three weeks remaining.
Oliva, now 74, said he got into a fender bender and suffered whiplash sometime right around then. Though he didn’t miss a game, his success waned. He finished the year batting .307 and tipped his hat to Robinson, the league’s MVP.
“Cabrera reminds me of Frank Robinson because Robinson was a righthanded hitter, and if you pitched him away, he could hit it out of the ballpark to right field,” Oliva said. “Cabrera is a dangerous hitter like that because you can’t pitch him inside or outside.”
No doubt, and looking back, you realize that facing Tony O. was no picnic for an opposing pitcher, either.
Here's some quick notes off today's Twins media luncheon:
* Camilo Pascual has been elected to the Twins Hall of Fame, team president Dave St. Peter announced.
* Also, the Twins plan to unveil another statue this year at Target Field, this one of Kent Hrbek. It will be outside Gate 14.
* St. Peter said there are no plans to change the batter's eye at Target Field this year -- in other words, the trees aren't coming back -- but he said the team will continue to discuss ways to make that big black wall look better.
* Manager Ron Gardenhire confirmed that Carl Pavano will be the Opening Day starter, on April 6 at Baltimore, with Scott Baker slated for the home opener, April 9 against Albert Pujols and the Angels.
* Denard Span said he feels the best he's felt, physically, in two years. He wants to play center field but is open to moving to a corner if that's best for the team. But to hear Gardenhire talk, this won't be an issue.
"[Span's] going to lead off and be my center fielder," Gardenhire said. "That’s my expectations. If somebody were to tell me that he’s not able to do that, then we’d have to ad lib. But if Denard comes in healthy, then he’s my center fielder, there’s no questions to me about that."
Last week, in an interview with Patrick Reusse and Phil Mackey on 1500ESPN, Twins president Dave St. Peter said the team’s 2012 payroll “will end up at the end of the day being relatively comparable [to last season].”
Just so we’re all clear moving forward, the Twins official 25-man Opening Day payroll was $113 million. According to insiders, the team wound up spending closer to $118 million by season’s end, even with the money saved on the Delmon Young and Jim Thome trades. Keep in mind, players collect their salaries on the DL, and their replacements cost money. It adds up, even when the replacements are making the major league minimum ($414,000).
When interim GM Terry Ryan was asked about next year’s payroll on Monday, he said, “I think our payroll is going to be south of where we were last year.”
How far south?
“What was it last year?” Ryan said.
A reporter answered that it was $115 million, a common estimate.
“I don’t know if that’s accurate, but I think it’s going to be somewhere around $100 [million],” Ryan said.
Ryan downplayed the importance of payroll in determining a team’s success, and we all know he won four division titles with significantly less in his first tenure as GM.
St. Peter has a slightly different view
I caught up with St. Peter after the press conference and asked him about Ryan’s $100 million comment.
“Terry and I, frankly, have not had one discussion about our payroll for next year,” St. Peter said. “He’s been privy to it because nothing has changed from what we had been telling Bill [Smith]. ... I think it can be a fluid number. I’m hoping we can find a way to inch it forward."
"I think it’s also important what Terry said: Nobody here has ever viewed payroll as the end-all," St. Peter added. "Frankly, whether it’s $100 million, $95 million, $105 million, I think we can be successful next year. That’s certainly the belief that we have.”
The Twins are trying to draw a line. The Opening Day payroll jumped from $71 million in 2007 -- the final year of Ryan’s first GM tenure -- to $113 million last season. Obviously the jump was made easier because they appear to be printing money at Target Field, but that doesn’t mean they’ll continue to increase spending.
St. Peter told Reusse and Mackey that last season’s payroll was “frankly, north of where I wanted it to be, or where we thought it should be relative to our percentages of revenue. But we made a decision, obviously, to try to bring back [Carl] Pavano, bring back [Jim] Thome, and I don’t think anybody here regrets that. I think we thought they were the right decisions at the time.”
Big difference in revenue sharing
On the radio, St. Peter also gave a clear answer to a question many of us have had: How has the team’s revenue sharing picture changed since it left the Metrodome? St. Peter said the Twins were collecting about $20 million in revenue sharing money in their final years at the Dome. After a one-year grace period that teams get when they move into a new ballpark, the Twins paid $10 million into the revenue sharing pot this year.
That’s a $30 million swing, when comparing the Twins revenues in 2009 and 2011.
Ryan knows Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will combine to make $38 million next year (and again in 2013). It’s going to be tough to fill 23 other roster spots for $62 million. By our calculations, even if the Twins let all four of their free agents leave -- Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan and Matt Capps -- the Twins would still pay $83 million to return the rest of the club for next year.
* Here's how we got to that $83 million number. They've cut some of the players listed from this late-September chart, but the numbers won't change much.
Maybe Ryan has a few tricks up his sleeve -- such as trading away Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker or another medium-salaried player -- but the hunch here is the Opening Day payroll will land closer to $110 million. Every team sets a budget and then builds in flexibility so money can be spent if the right opportunity arises.
Maybe the Twins wanted to send a message: The gravy train is over. Yes, they’ve handed out some bloated contracts in recent years (to Mauer, Morneau, Baker, Nick Blackburn, Denard Span and Tsuyoshi Nishioka) but under Ryan, they intend to squeeze value out of every dollar spent.
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