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.
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.”
The Minnesota Twins today filled their three major league coaching vacancies, naming Terry Steinbach their new bench coach, Tom Brunansky their new hitting coach and Bobby Cuellar their new bullpen coach.
Joe Vavra will remain on Ron Gardenhire’s staff as the third base coach, Scott Ullger will be the first base coach, and as announced earlier this month, Rick Anderson will remain the pitching coach.
Brunansky and Cuellar were expected choices for the Twins, but the one surprise was Steinbach coming back into a coaching role, as it was widely speculated that the Twins would promote Class AAA manager Gene Glynn to their big league staff.
Steinbach, a New Ulm native who caught in the majors from 1986 through 1999, will be the bench coach and catching instructor, Ullger will oversee outfield instruction and Vavra will oversee infield instruction.
Twins pitching prospect Kyle Gibson continues to raise hope in the Arizona desert.
The 2009 first-round draft pick, who had Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow on Sept. 7, 2011, had another strong start in the Arizona Fall League on Tuesday, holding the Mesa Solar Sox to one run on six hits over five innings, with no walks and eight strikeouts.
Gibson, who turns 25 next week, is 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in two starts, with no walks and 16 strikeouts. Keep in mind, this is usually a hitter friendly league, and typically features baseball's stars of tomorrow. Last year, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were both in the AFL -- on the same team.
Next year, the Twins will be as careful with Gibson as the Washington Nationals were Stephen Strasburg this year. Not to put those two in the same category, but the Nationals limited Strasburg to 160 innings in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery.
Still, the fact Gibson is back to dominant form, with his fastball reportedly touching 93-miles per hour, is a very encouraging sign for the Twins.
It's been an emotional day for the Twins in Fort Myers, Fla., as Minor League Director Jim Rantz announced this morning at the team's organizational meetings that he is retiring after 52 years with the team.
"You talk about a face of a franchise," General Manager Terry Ryan said. "Even though Jim’s not out there in the public view very much, inside this organization, the roots of the organization -- it is Jim. He hired Gardy. He was part of hiring Billy [Smith]. He was part of hiring me and almost all of our major league coaches and managers and trainers."
Rantz will remain with the team through Dec. 31, and Ryan said the team will choose his successor before that date. For now, Brad Steil has been named the team's interim farm director. Steil, 36, has been with the Twins for the past 12 years, including the past five as Rantz's top assistant overseeing the team's minor league system.
"He's a bright guy, he’s been around Jim for the last eight or nine years, and he’s got a pretty good presence," Ryan said. "He’s got the ability to evaluate, he’s certainly organized, he’s got a tremendous work ethic. He knows what we’re all about. He knows all of our players. He knows all of our staff. There’s a lot of positives Brad does present."
Rantz, 75, said he told Ryan and Smith one year ago that 2012 would be his final year as minor-league director.
"The reason we announced it now is we’ve got the org meeting, so all the field people are here, all our scouts are here, and we have about 85 people here," Rantz said. "It’s time to enjoy the family and the grandkids and see how the summers go without baseball every day."
A few Twins nuggets for you to chew on today while watching the MLB Postseason:
* Kyle Gibson was terrific in his Arizona Fall League debut, pitching five scoreless innings, allowing four hits with no walks and eight strikeouts. Gibson, who turns 25 on Oct. 23, is 13 months removed from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery, and he continues to re-establish himself as the Twins top pitching prospect.
* As Baseball America reported, the Twins have re-signed third baseman Deibinson Romero, who could have left as a six-year minor-league free agent. I spoke to minor-league director Jim Rantz, who said Romero was signed to a minor-league deal with an invitation to big league camp. The Twins could still lose Romero, 26, in the December Rule 5 draft unless they add him to the 40-man roster.
Romero batted .267 with 19 home runs and a .797 OPS this year in 138 games for Class AA New Britain. Rantz confirmed that Sean Burroughs has elected free agency. When you look at the Twins third base depth chart, it goes Trevor Plouffe and then Romero, although Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar can play there, and Brian Dozier could probably do it, too.
* The Twins will wrap up their instructional league play Friday in Fort Myers, Fla., and the organizational meetings will run from Sunday through next Thursday, as General Manager Terry Ryan and staff break down every player throughout the system.
CLEVELAND -- The Twins are moving their Class A Midwest League affiliation from Beloit, Wis., to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with a press conference to announce the new four-year agreement scheduled for Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
"We went there [to Cedar Rapids] and visited the facilities and met with their board of directors yesterday," Twins minor league director Jim Rantz said. "We haven't signed anything yet, but there's probably going to be an announcement at 1:30 tomorrow."
After spending eight years in Beloit, the Twins were ready for the change. Cedar Rapids had been home to the Angels' Midwest League affiliate for 20 years, but now there's an opening. It's about one hour closer to the Twin Cities and has a much nicer ballpark.
"The stadium is 10 years old and seats 5,500; Beloit is still trying to get a stadium," Rantz said. "Cedar Rapids is another nice location for us geographically, and there are a number of Twins fans down that way."
Mr. Shucks. Photo from Cedar Rapids Kernels website.
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