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.
So anyway, as I was saying when we were cut off ...
Welcome to the 6-4-3 blog. I'm in Fort Myers to cover spring training for the first time in four years, and it's hard to believe it's been that long. My stint covering the Twins for the Pioneer Press was cut short in mid-2009 when my lack of union seniority proved fatal during a round of layoffs in St. Paul. But I've circled back, this time across the river, and when all-star beat writer Joe Christensen decided his life needed fewer 10-day road trips -- Joe named this blog for me, a pretty good indication of where his mind is at after eight stellar seasons covering the Twins -- I jumped at the chance to watch baseball for a living again. Bonus: No more Metrodome!
My perspective, I hope you'll come to agree, is as a baseball fan, interested and amused by the daily routine of the game. Living out west, I've attended every Colorado Rockies home opener (except for the years I covered the Twins). I've sat in the stands for games at 52 major-league stadiums, and have attended, mostly by buying tickets on the street, at least a game or two of every World Series since 1986. Yes, I was there, in the upper deck behind the Twins' dugout, when Kirby homered in 1991, the loudest crowd I've ever heard in my life. I'm one of you, and I hope you recognize that sensibility in my stories.
I start my new beat today, as the understudy/partner of walking Twins encyclopedia La Velle E. Neal III, and I'll be providing coverage of spring training here. Please come back often for Twins news, updates, lineups, observations, analysis, and discussion. I can also be found on Twitter @MillerStrib.
But before we start the Twins' 2013 journey, and in the spirit of fandom, let me begin with one of the coolest fan stories I've come across in awhile. It's about a Chicago native, and nominal White Sox fan, named Tony Swann.
If you attended either of the past two TwinsFests, you may have met Tony, may have stopped in front of his booth. He had an eye-catching sign, a brightly colored banner reading "Buying Your Ticket Stubs for Cash." But it wasn't clear to most passers-by what he was doing.
That's because, unlike every other dealer on the Metrodome floor, Swann wasn't trying to make money. Quite the contrary -- he's spent thousands of dollars to accomplish something that honestly won't mean a thing to anyone but him.
Swann became a big fan of Carlton Fisk when the Hall of Fame catcher played for the White Sox, and soon began collecting a lot of Fisk memorabilia. He's got programs, bats, autographs, baseball cards -- all the usual stuff. But about a decade ago, he embarked upon a project that only a fan could understand. He decided to collect a ticket stub to every game Fisk ever played.
A lot of collectors focus on objects that grow in value as they get older; baseball cards from decades, for instance, can be pretty valuable. But tickets stubs? Gathered in a collection as specific as this one? Not so much.
But that hasn't stopped Swann. Fisk played 2,499 games over 24 seasons, starting with a two-game audition for the Red Sox in 1969. Swann has stubs from those games, and hundreds more. In fact, counting the six stubs he acquired at TwinsFest -- a haul that made the $450 he paid for the booth space, plus travel expenses, well worth it, he said -- Swann now owns used tickets from 2,322 of them, leaving just 177 to go.
Thirty of them are from games played in Metropolitan Stadium and the Metrodome. That's not bad, considering Fisk played in 90 games in Minnesota during his career. But only Texas, with 33 missing games, has been tougher for Swann to find. The reason: During the 1970s and 80s, Twins' tickets had the team's logo and opponent printed on the main ticket, but it was torn off as fans entered the stadium, leaving them with just a rain-check stub, an inch and a half-long scrap of paper that didn't say "Twins" or "baseball" or anything. Most Minnesota stubs have only the date, the seat number and "Metropolitan Stadium" printed on them, so nondescript that most fans undoubtedly tossed them in the trash.
So Swann's been coming to TwinsFest for two years, mostly just to hand out slick postcards with his "want list" printed on them to Twins fans, in hopes someone comes across a stub or two from 1976 in their attic. Now that's a dedicated collector.
Swann has met another collector who set out to buy a stub from every game of Cal Ripken's consecutive-game streak, and another who collects stubs from every no-hitter ever thrown in the major leagues, and he's joined forces with them to find old tickets. But his quest strikes me as the most amazing, considering how hard he's working at it -- and how basically worthless, except to him, the complete set will be. He's got stubs from a few spring training games that Fisk played in, too, plus a few minor-league games, and even a New Hampshire state basketball tournament game from when Fisk was in high school. But it's those 2,499 regular-season games that keep him searching websites, contacting memorabilia dealers, and driving to Minnesota to hand out postcards.
You can see his entire collection, and find his "Need 'em" list, at his website: BuyingOldTickets.com.
I can't say I'm as insanely driven as Swann -- but I'm a fan, too. I'd like 6-4-3 to be a place where we share our experiences as fans, from going to Target Field to debating the new leadoff hitter.
There are players hitting baseballs down on the field. Let's get started.
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 spring training home in Fort Myers, Fla., would get a $45.5 million facelift, to renovate Hammond Stadium and enhance the surrounding facilities, with the team agreeing to a new 30-year lease, under a proposal presented today to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.
Hammond Stadium’s seating capacity would increase from 8,000 to 9,300, with wider concourses, renovated concession stands and rest rooms, a 360-degree walkway for fans around the field, and more shaded areas.
The Twins would pay $13.8 million toward the project, partly through an increase in rent from $300,000 to $500,000 per year, and through the construction of an on-site dormitory that would include 55 sleeping rooms for players and staff. The rest of the tab would be paid through a county bond issue, with the state of Florida kicking in $15 million over the course of the 30-year lease.
The Lee County Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the matter Nov. 6, and a report in the Fort Myers New Press quoted one commissioner who expects the measure to pass 4-to-1.
Bill Smith, the Twins former general manager who now works as a special assistant to the team’s president and GM, has been the Twins point person on the project and played a central role in the planning when the Lee County Sports Complex first opened for the Twins in 1991.
“We’re excited, we’re pleased,” Smith said. “We think there’s a very good package of improvements to the ballpark that will make this thing one of the best in the game.”
The new lease would take effect when the renovation is completed, and Smith said the Twins hope that’s in time for spring training in 2015.
The plans would add an additional practice field, build a new weight room on the major league side of the complex and add a hydrotherapy area.
“We have a great complex now, but it’s 22 years old, and there’s a lot of it that needs to be refreshed and remodeled,” Smith said. “And in addition to that, there’s a lot of things that have changed in the game over the last 22 years.”
Smith said the Tigers and Pirates are among the teams that have on-site dormitories in their spring training facilities.
The Twins want 55 rooms because that is a number they would use throughout the season with their Class A Florida State League affiliate and rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate both based in Fort Myers. During spring training, older minor-league players would still stay in local hotels.
“It’s much more than sleeping rooms,” Smith said. “It’s dining facilities which allow us to improve nutrition across the board in spring training and year-round for rookie players and our instructional league players.
“It’s meeting rooms and classrooms to help us improve education across the board for all players, not just for teaching English to foreign players.”
I wrote my Sunday column on Lew Ford last week, detailing his long road back to the majors after being released by the Twins in 2007. We talked by phone last week, and he mentioned how much he missed Minnesota’s fans, wishing there was still a chance to come here with the Orioles this season.
He told me about the time in 2009, when a group of Minnesotans went to one of his games with the Long Island Ducks, each wearing a T-shirt with a letter that spelled out “L-E-W-W-W-W-W!"
I included that story in the column, then received an e-mail this week from the guy who organized the group. His name is Max Page, and he’s working now as a legal clerk in Brainerd. He provided more details.
In July 2009, Max was working as an eighth-grade social studies teacher in the Bronx. There were nine people in the group that went to see the Ducks that night and most of them were teachers. They all donned green T-shirts with the letters painted in black, and the spelling actually went "L-E-E-E-W-W-W-W-!"
From Max’s e-mail:
I threw a baseball to one of the LI Ducks’ bullpen pitchers that said “Want to meet 9 Minnesotans at High Heat Bar [located a couple miles from the Ducks’ stadium] after the game? Check one: Yes No Maybe”
Lew checked yes, met us at the bar, partied with us for a couple of hours and called some of my friends saying, "Hey, this is Lew Ford." He was the coolest guy ever.
I ended up missing the last train back to NYC, which meant I missed my flight back to MN the next day, but all totally worth it.
Manager Ron Gardenhire tells a story about once seeing Lew out with a few people on one of the Twins road trips. Gardenhire asked if these were friends of his in town to see him, and Lew said, no, just some folks he'd met playing an online video game.
There are all kinds of stories about Lew helping to repair other players' computers. There's also the one about Ford burning himself with when he ironed a shirt while wearing it. Not true, he insists. He's a smart guy, but the Twins often kidded him for being goofy.
Basically, when it comes to ballplayers, Lew Ford is just different. And as Max and his friends will tell you, he's different -- in a good way.
Scott Paulus, avclub.com photo
The Twins are reaching across the state border to find their new radio play-by-play voice.
Cory Provus, 33, who has spent the past three years as a Brewers radio broadcaster, officially joined the Twins on Thursday, replacing John Gordon, who retired after the season.
Provus was the Brewers’ No. 2 radio broadcaster behind Hall of Famer Bob Uecker and was viewed as Uecker’s heir apparent.
Other candidates the Twins considered included Twins studio host Kris Atteberry, Royals announcer Ryan Lefebvre and Rochester Red Wings announcer Josh Whetzel.
The team officially unveiled Provus at 2 p.m., on flagship station 1500 ESPN, in an interview with Patrick Reusse and Phil Mackey.
Provus is a Highland Park, Ill., native who graduated from Syracuse. Before joining the Brewers, he did the Cubs pre- and postgame shows.
Before that, he worked as the radio voice of the University of Alabama-Birmingham and also worked on Syracuse broadcasts at WAER-FM from 1996-2000.
Provus will now be paired with Dan Gladden on Twins broadcasts.
Come back to startribune.com later today for an updated report and video from today's press conference at Target Field.
If I had a nickel for every time Twins GM Bill Smith has given his standard response, "We'll let you know," to one of our questions, I'd be rich. It wouldn't be Joe Mauer money, but I'd be rolling in coins.
The point is, Smith usually plays things close to the vest. He measures his words about the team's offseason plans because he doesn't want to compromise the organization's leverage, or he doesn't want players to read something about their job security that they wouldn't hear first from the team, etc.
But Smith also knows his audience. On Tuesday night, he and team president Dave St. Peter held a conference call with the team's season ticket holders. Coming off a 63-99 season, this group didn't want to hear a bunch of excuses and generalities about the offseason plans. The fourth-year GM was refreshingly candid.
On a tight deadline, I tried giving readers the highlights with this story last night. I'll be hosting a live chat today at noon, so stop by with your comments and questions about the Twins offseason. But first, here are some important leftovers from a rare version of Bill Smith Unplugged:
From his introduction:
"We turned the page the day after the season. We’ve started looking ahead. We’ve got big meetings going on in Fort Myers next week. We’re going through our organization player-by-player. We’ll start to look at free agents, we’ll start to look at trade possibilities, we’ll start to look at who is going to be healthy, and try to get this ship righted."
Regarding Danny Valencia:
"Valencia took a step backwards from last year. Call it a sophomore slump or whatever; he did take a little bit of a step backwards, but he was healthy and durable and played everyday over there. We’ve gotta give him a little more help from the shortstop position so that his range doesn’t get overly exposed over there."
Regarding the team's health. (The Twins used the DL 27 times.) Smith again said that most of the injuries were collision injuries, but added:
"We are working with that. I had about a three-hour meeting with our trainers last Friday. I’ve got another meeting scheduled with our internal medicine doctors [today]. We’re going to meet with our orthopedic doctors after our organizational meetings in about two weeks. We’ll be talking to our minor-league trainers. We are reviewing and going through all of our medical practices to see if there is something we can do better, and we are committed to that.
"We’ve got a lot of good programs in place, and we’ve got a lot of good people in place. This year was kind of the perfect storm of injuries, and we need to make sure that we don’t have this happen again."
Regarding Tsuyoshi Nishioka:
"We need to give him a mulligan on this year. The injury in the first week of the season was devastating to him with all the changes and adjustments he had to go through in his first season over here."
Later, a caller told Smith and St. Peter point-blank that putting Nishioka on the big league roster was a mistake.
"I appreciate your comments on Nishioka," Smith said. "It was certainly a disappointing year, and we expect better things from him next year. We expect him to come back in 100 percent condition. And hopefully we can avoid something like that broken leg in the first week and give this guy a chance. He’s not going to be given anything, but he’s going to have the opportunity to compete for all the at-bats and innings he can get.”
A caller talked about Joe Mauer's potential as a first baseman.
"That’s kind of a Plan B," Smith said. "We have to have a Plan B, but Morneau has turned himself into a very, very good first baseman. It doesn’t do us any good if he can’t play, and you’re right, he’s missed a lot of time the last two years because of concussions, and he had a back injury the year before, so it’s something we’re trying to evaluate, if he would be better off in a DH spot. And if that’s the case, Mauer could go play first base.
"We’ve gotta find ways to keep their bats in our lineup more often. And ideally, Joe’s a catcher, and Justin’s at first base -- that’s perfect. But if it doesn’t work, then we’ve gotta have that Plan B that keeps them in the lineup."
Regarding Chris Parmelee:
"We’re hoping Justin Morneau’s going to be our first baseman next year, that we’re going to get him back and playing on a regular basis. If that doesn’t happen, we’re going to be looking for a first baseman, and if Chris Parmelee comes to spring training and can perform at the same level that he performed up here in the big leagues -- he hit .350 for the month -- he’s going to have a chance to make our club and play a lot."
Regarding Joe Nathan:
"We have a club option, that we’re going to have to make a decision on by end of the World Series. If we pick it up, then Joe is here for 2012, if we don’t pick it up, then Joe will be free agent. And even if we don’t pick up the option, we have interest in keeping Joe. He’s been a tremendous get for us when we got him from the Giants in that trade."
On potentially re-signing Jim Thome:
"Jim was a great contributor here for two years, and we were lucky to see him get that 600th home run. I would never say never, but I think at this point, we need some players that are a little more versatile. Jim’s 41 years old now. If he wants to play, he’ll have a job somewhere because he’s still a threat and he’s a great leader, but when you only have four guys on the bench, it ties up that manager tremendously. Jim’s either the DH or just a pinch-hitter; you’re going to have to pinch run for him if he gets a hit."
Last but not least, here are Smith's thoughts on correcting the fundamental lapses:
"It’s not that we’re not teaching it. It’s that somehow we’re not having the success that we’ve had over time. So what we have to be is less tolerant of those mistakes. We talked about in the minor leagues, if somebody throws to the wrong base, you might have to take him out of the game after that inning. When a guy doesn’t run out a ball, or when a guy doesn’t do something. In the old days, you’d take a guy out of the game. And that’s part of the learning process. I think we all share your thought that our defense was substandard this year."
Update: By popular demand from today's live chat, here's what Smith had to say about improving Ben Revere's arm:
"We’ve been working on that for years. He does a lot of the pitcher’s long-toss drills. ... I believe he had a football injury, a shoulder injury back in high school, and he just doesn’t throw well. And no matter what we do, I don’t believe we have any hope that he’s going to be an average thrower.
"We want him to get rid of the ball quickly. We want him to hit the cutoff man. All those little things can help a player be successful and contribute to a team’s success. You look at Juan Pierre in Chicago -- he’s played a long time and he doesn’t throw much better than Revere. Johnny Damon has had a tremendous career. He doesn’t throw that much better than Revere."
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