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.
Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire aren't saying. And in the absence of information, opinions are all over the map.
Everybody in the Target Field press box was guessing about whether Gardenhire will manage the Twins next season, a question that fortunately should be answered as soon as Monday. I heard confident predictions that he'll be fired, that he'll turn down a one-year contract, that he'll definitely be back. My own guess is that he signs a new contract, but that's as I type this; I've switched my opinion three times today.
But one thing was pretty clear in the Twins' clubhouse this weekend: The players seem pretty solidly behind their manager. Nobody ever goes on the record with calls for firing the manager, of course, but the current roster seems pretty loyal to Gardenhire. There's no evidence of a whisper campaign against him, no sense that he's lost the clubhouse in the least. If that's true, even amid 291 losses over three seasons, it's pretty remarkable.
Glen Perkins was particularly emphatic about his support.
"I don't think there's anyone else we want leading the team. There's no better guy," the Twins' closer said. "I've said it a thousand times -- this isn't his fault. He's doing the best he can with what he's given, and Terry [Ryan] is working hard to give him more."
His evidence, Perkins said, is on the field; it may not look like it given the record, but the Twins never stopped trying to win.
"He still gets us to work, he still gets us to care," Perkins said "You can't tell me our record would be better with someone else."
Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer, Scott Diamond, Brian Duensing and others seconded Perkins' sentiment.
"He's had my back, every single game," Diamond said.
"I respect Gardy more than anybody, he's a phenomenal manager. He knows how things should work, as far as winning," Dozier said. "I wouldn't want to play for anyone else."
We'll see on Monday if he has to.
One more clip from Perkins: As I wrote for the paper, he took the field before the game, in part to thank the fans on behalf of the team. But he also wanted to say, he explained afterward, that he understands and shares their frustration.
Some of the team's critics aren't just frustrated, they're angry. Perkins knows that very well, partly because he's active on Twitter. But also because he has been that angry fan himself.
When he was attending Stillwater High School in the late 1990s, he was constantly frustrated with the Twins, he said. "Actually, I've been an angry fan of every team here, at one time or another," he said with a smile. "I'm an angry Vikings fan right now."
I didn't ask about the quarterback. But I asked what he would tell those angry fans, most of whom want sweeping changes and more accountability. "Well, I'd say that we're working hard to turn this around, we're doing everything we can. And I'd say, thank you for supporting us," Perkins said. "Hopefully we'll continue to get their support."
He's sincere, he said, when he expresses his belief that a turnaround isn't as far off as many fans believe. The Indians, after all, had three 90-loss seasons in the last four, lost 94 games just last season, and now are heading home for a playoff game.
When better times arrive, Perkins said he wants to be part of them.
"Bobby [Cuellar, the bullpen coach] was saying today how much fun it is to work here, how great the people are. And I said, 'Imagine how fun it would be here if we were winning,' " Perkins said. "I think we'll get it turned around. And the fans on the fence, I hope we keep them, because I was one of them once. I was a diehard."
There are still plenty of those around, as the Twins' attendance of more than 2.4 million this year demonstrated.
"I definitely don't think the fan base here is apathetic," Perkins said, "and that's a good thing."
With the Vikings set to open their season on the other side of downtown this afternoon, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of crowd the Twins draw for Game 3 of this four-game series with Cleveland.
Esmerling Vasquez will be making his second start for the Twins after taking a loss on Sept. 2 in Kansas City. The righthander allowed five runs on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings in that start.
The 28-year-old from the Dominican Republic is getting a chance to prove himself after going 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA in eight starts for Class AAA Rochester. In those starts, Vasquez racked up 48 strikeouts and 14 walks in 43 innings.
The Indians counter with righthander Corey Kluber, who held Minnesota to three runs (one earned) over six innings on Aug. 7.
Update: Josh Willingham is getting a scheduled day off. He's dealing with a hamstring issue, but he played the past two days and responded well. Manager Ron Gardenhire said there's a good chance Willingham will be back in the outfield Monday.
Also, without making a big announcement, the Twins have quietly made Glen Perkins their full-time closer. I'll have more on this for tonight's first editions, but here's a sampling of Gardenhire's quotes:
"I've said we’ll use [Jared] Burton on days when Perkins can’t go, the rest of this year, but I’ve got no problem with Perk being the closer. I like it. I like handing him the ball and seeing him go out and wing it -- lefties or righties it doesn’t matter."
1. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
2. Jason Kipnis, 2B
3. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
4. Michael Brantley, CF
5. Carlos Santana, 1B
6. Russ Canzler, LF
7. Brent Lillibridge, SS
8. Jason Donald, 3B
9. Lou Marson, C
Starting pitcher: RH: Corey Kluber (1-3, 4.79 ERA)
1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Jamey Carroll, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, DH
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Ryan Doumit, C
6. Chris Parmelee, RF
7. Darin Mastroianni, LF
8. Eduardo Escobar, 3B
9. Pedro Florimon, SS
Starting pitcher: RH Esmerling Vasquez (0-1, 7.94 ERA)
Target Field. First pitch: 1:10 p.m. TV: FSN. Twins Radio Network
Follow along on Twitter: @JoeCStrib
It seems like this always happens to me the day after the home opener. One day is filled with pageantry, and the next morning is spent devouring all the coverage in newspapers and web sites -- it's a lot to digest.
I went straight home from Target Field last night, skipping the postgame bar scene, yet as I get ready to write my off-day story, I'm still wiped. Call it my annual baseball hangover.
Besides seeing the Red Sox scribes, as we do all spring in Fort Myers, we had several national baseball writers in the press box yesterday -- Bob Nightengale from USA Today, Tyler Kepner from the New York Times, Phil Rogers from the Chicago Tribune, Scott Miller from CBSSportsline.com, Jon Paul Morosi from Foxsports.com, Jeff Passan from Yahoo, John Hickey from AOL.Fanhouse, Aaron Gleeman from NBCSports.com, Mike Bauman from MLB.com -- and my only regret is not having more time to catch up.
Oh well. It'll happen down the road. I'm sure they understand. Covering the opening of a new stadium, in your hometown, is a once-in-a-generation-type thing.
Meanwhile, we at the Strib dispatched an army to the ballpark. Curt Brown was on the scene for A1. Vikings writer Judd Zulgad was on the Budweiser Roof Deck. Rachel Blount was in the cheap seats. Phil Miller filed a minute-by-minute diary. Bob von Sternberg was a blogging fiend.
In the front row of the press box, I sat between La Velle and Souhan. To Souhan's right were Randball, Reusse and Sid. Seriously, this was a pinch-myself moment. Sportswriting -- specifically sportswriting for the Star Tribune -- has been my dream job since high school. I always pictured covering an event like this for the paper, but in my thoughts it was a hockey game at Mariucci Arena or the X. So you could say, this was everything I dreamed it'd be and more.
The best part was picking up the actual print edition today. Loyal online readers, today is one of those days I'd suggest plunking down 50 cents for a hard copy. Only then can you see the work of our award-winning page designers. Only then can you fully appreciate the work of our all-world photographers (Jeff Wheeler, Brian Peterson, Carlos Gonzalez, Elizabeth Flores, Jerry Holt, Renee Jones Schneider, Richard Tsong-Taatarii and David Brewster.)
Sports Editor Glen Crevier had the vision of a 10-page commemorative section, and Baseball Editor Dennis Brackin and Slot Editor Kevin Bertels somehow helped pull it all together. I know I'm leaving several people out. Our main headline today is "Opening Act is a Winner." Couldn't agree more.
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