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.
Twins president Dave St. Peter and general manager Bill Smith took questions from their season ticket holders in a conference call tonight and there were several interesting answers.
Smith said he expects the big league coaching staff to return and that it's unlikely the Twins will try to re-sign Jim Thome. St. Peter said the dimensions at Target Field will not change heading into 2012.
Smith said even if the Twins don't pick up Joe Nathan's club option for 2012, they're interested in keeping him.
Asked about some of the fundamental lapses, Smith said it might be time for the team's minor-league managers to start pulling players from games if they throw to the wrong base or don't run out a ground ball.
Asked about the top offseason priority, Smith said it's tough to pick one because there's a long list.
"We need a [starting pitcher]," Smith said. "We’re looking for that starting pitcher because we might have a starting pitcher or two that we want to put in the bullpen.
"We need to upgrade the bullpen, there’s no question. We’re looking for that backup catcher that can provide a little bit more offense. We’ve gotta figure out shortstop, and that may involve going out and getting another shortstop. We’ve got [Alexi] Casilla, we’ve got [Trevor] Plouffe, we’ve got [Tsuyoshi] Nishioka, we’ve gotta find somebody that can be a stable, starting everyday shortstop."
My favorite part came when a caller named Ann from Eagan asked, "I want to invest in a new jersey? Would it be safe to buy a Michael Cuddyer jersey?"
Smith said, "It will always be safe to buy a Michael Cuddyer jersey because whether he is with the Twins or any other club, Michael Cuddyer’s one of the great representatives, certainly, in my 30 years in baseball and my 26 years with the Twins. He’s one of my favorite players that I’ve ever been around, so a Michael Cuddyer jersey for me is always going to have value.
"We hope to re-sign him. We’ve had some talks, but again, he’s a free agent, and players earn that right, and he has that right to listen to us and listen to the other 29 clubs. And again, our hope is that Michael Cuddyer finishes his career in the Twins organization."
I'll have more on this for tonight's first editions.
KANSAS CITY, MO. -- Before every game at Target Field, a video game commercial runs with Joe Mauer at the controller, using his own likeness to smash an impressive home run onto Target Plaza.
In reality, Mauer hasn’t homered at Target Field all season. He’s hit just one homer there since the ballpark opened last year.
This season, Mauer has missed 66 of his team's 146 games, but whether he plays or not, fans keep seeing him on commercials, sweating profusely in sports-drink ads, singing in a Minnesota tourism spot, mimicking Troy Polamalu in a shampoo ad.
Late last month, Mauer missed six games with a neck injury. During that absence, a local fitness company launched an ad campaign that plays off the catcher’s wholesomeness. It includes the line, “Any time Joe Mauer hits a single, an angel gets its wings.”
When I spoke to Mauer for this story about the criticism he’s faced this season, we talked about his work as a pitch man. It’s caused some backlash, including some within his own clubhouse, with some grumbling that he seems more focused on making commercials than keeping himself on the field.
But all the ads were shot last offseason. Mauer said the time he spent shooting all the ones that have runs this year combined to take about one week of his time. The companies are told that Mauer has a conditioning program that he needs to follow, so arrangements are made for his workouts.
“It’s funny, you see the commercials, and because I’ve done things for Sony and Gatorade, I mean, they play them over and over, and it might seem like I’m spending a lot of time with them,” Mauer said. “But fans and people are frustrated [with his season], and they see that, and it’s just kind of like another thing. So I understand where it’s coming from, but I guess it’s good they know how little time it really takes.”
Mauer is under contract to shoot more commercials this winter, but again, he doesn’t plan to let it interrupt his offseason workout plan. It's imperative for him to come to spring training stronger, and he knows it. I asked him if he thought about cutting back on the ads.
“I don’t think I’m going to take on anything else,” Mauer said with a knowing chuckle. “Obviously, there’s some things I’ve tried, and some things I won’t do. There’s things that I tried and liked. but obviously, I know what my job is, and that’s what comes first and foremost.”
The Twins announced today that their season-ticket prices will not be increasing for 2012, noting that single-game ticket prices will be announced at a later date.
There were some price increases for Twins season-ticket holders from Year 1 to Year 2 at Target Field, but there won't be for Year 3. The team has capped its season-ticket sales at 25,000 full-season equivalents at Target Field, which has an approximate capacity of 39,500.
“We are tremendously thankful for the loyalty and support of our season ticket holders and are committed to ensuring Twins season tickets remain a great value for our fan base,” team president Dave St. Peter said in the press release. "Even in these challenging economic times, Twins baseball and the Target Field experience will continue to be a part of Minnesota’s summertime traditions for the 2012 season and far beyond.”
Note: The Twins and Yankees square off tonight at 7:10 p.m (Duensing vs. Sabathia). Check back here later today for the starting lineups and other pregame notes.
What a beautiful night to salute one of baseball's greatest power hitters and all-time gentlemen.
Harmon Killebrew died nine days ago of esophageal cancer at age 74. The entire Twins team attended his funeral last Friday in Peoria, Ariz., and he was laid to rest Monday in a private service in Payette, Idaho.
Tonight, the Twins are giving Killebrew their own send-off at Target Field with free admission for fans.
The field looks immaculate. The sky is crystal clear. There's a water tower atop a building overlooking center field that has been painted off-white, with navy blue pinstripes and a big No. 3.
Hank Aaron is expected to be here. Scheduled speakers include Rod Carew, Michael Cuddyer, Jim Kaat, Paul Molitor, Justin Morneau, Bud Selig and Killebrew's wife, Nita.
Fox Sports Net will be televising. Here's a Twitter feed of all the tweets featuring the word Killebrew.
For Twins hitters, the trees beyond the center field wall at Target Field aren’t a performance issue, they're a safety issue.
“The trees are beautiful,” Michael Cuddyer said Saturday at TwinsFest. “But they cast three different shades on the background -- in the view of the hitter. Especially those 3 o’clock games on Saturday, it’s scary. It’s literally scary. It’s not that I’m worried I’m not going to be able to see the ball, hit the ball. I’m literally scared I’m not going to see the ball period.”
Cuddyer said there were times when he was hitting and could not see the ball. So when Twins president Dave St. Peter said Friday that the team will probably move those trees, the team’s hitters were relieved.
One important thing to note is that the team does plan to transplant those Black Hills Spruce trees.
“We do not yet have a plan for where they end up, but I guarantee that they will be authenticated and then removed in order to be lifted out and transplanted elsewhere ... be it on site or another place,” Twins head groundskeeper Larry DiVito wrote in an e-mail. “They will not be cut down.”
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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