Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
Guest blogger Jason Iacovino of Owatonna reports from Kansas City.
Dear Kansas City Royals,
I'm writing to personally thank you for the great ballpark, warm sun, and friendly hospitality we received this weekend. Oh, and thanks for helping get our baseball team healthy in the win / loss column, too. I know it's tough to drop four straight at home to a team that was 20-games below .500, but we can always count on you. It's a real treat to have you in our division, KC, and now that we've made up four games in four days on first place Cleveland, we can start to dream again.
To think, in four short days, you've given us hope that we might cut our deficit to single digits by the All Star break and make a second half run. We couldn't have done it without you. I especially want to extend my gratitude for handing us a win on Sunday. Three of four would've been delightful under our circumstances this season, but the sweep was a nice touch.
Don't get me wrong, our guy Brian Duensing was fantastic in eight shutout innings, but it always helps to have a three run lead gift-wrapped before you even take the ball. As you may recall, the last time our crew was at Kauffman Stadium in August 2009 (When this space was known as Section 220), you introduced us to a new baseball acronym called SPF, meaning Silly Plays in the Field. Outfielder Josh Anderson (Who regrettably is no longer a Royal) provided us with a lot of SPF that weekend in our three game sweep.
In Sunday's 91 degree heat, we needed even more SPF and you didn't disappoint. After Ben Revere led off the game with a single, your new guy Eric Hosmer picked up where Anderson left off by inexplicably trying to throw Revere out at second on Alexi Casilla's bunt. Not only was there no chance to get Revere, but Hosmer did us one better by throwing the ball into the outfield, putting runners at second and third. That should've been all the SPF we needed to take an early lead, but Michael Cuddyer popped out on the first pitch he saw and a Danny Valencia walk set up a chance for your boys to get out of the inning unscathed. Delmon Young was about to ground into that inning ending double play you needed, but Royals SPF at Kauffman is the gift that keeps on giving.
Thankfully, your second baseman Mike Aviles had to handle a low throw from Wilson Betimet, double clutched, and couldn't beat Young on the relay to first. Your generous SPF contributed to a 1-0 Twins lead. Jason Repko would add two more runs on a bloop single to center, and just like that, Jeff Francis was tagged for three unearned runs.
Sometimes you need a little extra SPF to protect you from getting burned, and I'm so happy you gobbed it on in that first inning
. We cruised from there. The crazy thing is, this season, our Twins have been generally providing the SPF. Thanks for reminding us SPF is best served by the Royals; I'm hoping we'll stop impersonating you in this regard. I'm tempted to also thank your pitchers for making Alexi Casilla look like Derek Jeter in his prime this weekend, but I actually think the credit goes to Lexi. It seems he became motivated to show us he can make the plays in the field and be productive at the plate, now that Trevor Plouffe is no longer breathing down his neck.
Let's also not forget Matt Tolbert, who drove in two more runs Sunday with a triple to seal the game in the ninth. I don't know if you felt you had to play down to a lineup comprised mostly of Triple-A players in getting swept in a four-gamer or if we're just better off with fresh faces who view each game as an opportunity instead of a chore, but I'm impressed either way.
I'll give credit where credit is due if, after three games in Cleveland, we find out our rejuvenation--no matter how brief--was basically nothing more than your continued generosity.
Maybe we'll keep winning for a while, but even then, I won't forget who helped us the most when nothing seemed possible. Meanwhile, it was fun to be so close the action in Section 113 on Sunday as we were able to personally congratulate the newer, younger Twins as they came off the field after they completed the sweep. I even complimented the umpires on a nice series.
Even as I took great pride in how our Twins came together on a weekend when manager Ron Gardenhire had to juggle his lineup Ringling Bros. style, I won't allow your part in the proceedings to go unappreciated. We'll be back next year, so I hope the warm sun will be shining and you'll have plenty of SPF for us again. We had a blast.
Thanks again, Jason Iacovino
(This is the second dispatch from Section 219 frequent commenter Jim Crikket, who is on his annual trip to Florida and writes well with a sunburn.)
The hour long trip up to Port Charlotte from Ft. Myers was a piece of cake compared to that meandering trek to Port St. Lucie on Friday. I figured out last spring that this is one stadium where buying a standing room ticket is a great, cost-effective option. There's a nice "boardwalk" that stretches all the way around the outfield with plenty of seating, a tiki bar, food stands, etc. That's pretty much everything you need to enjoy a baseball game.
Arriving in time for some of the Twins' batting practice, I was greeted by a fly ball sailing overhead followed by a splash coming from a pond just beyond the boardwalk in left field. I'm pretty sure it came off the bat of Michael Cuddyer and it was followed by an almost identical shot just moments later. "Cool, Cuddy made the trip," thought I, "I'll go find a spot near right field to get a good view of him."
Shows what I know.
I have to admit, if you told me Jacque Jones, Ben Revere and Michael Cuddyer were going to be the starting OF, I'd have needed 3 guesses to pick out the guy they'd have starting in center field. Still, early in the game a Ray ripped a shot in to left-center and sure enough Cuddy did a nice job of running it down and making a backhand grab.
But Cuddy wasn't the only guy playing a position I wasn't expecting to see him at. Brendan Harris was manning first base and Alexi Casilla was the shortstop. I half expected to see Nick Punto in catchers' gear. Yet, the Twins once again went errorless and made all the plays that needed to get made.
I'm not sure I'm ready to declare that Francisco Liriano is "back", but from 400 feet away, he looked flat out nasty at times. Rauch looked good again. Duensing didn't miss as many bats as I'd have liked to see him miss, but he made a couple of Rays look pretty silly, as well. And Anthony Slama was once again totally overmatching the hitters he faced in the last inning. In spring training games, the "closers" often pitch the first inning after the starting pitcher finishes up (Rauch was the first arm out of the pen today). This means that while Slama has been very impressive, he's largely been facing other prospects getting late-game looks from the Twins' opponents. I'm very anxious to see what he can do against legitimate big leaguers, because from what I've seen so far, he looks very much like the guy who's going to be the Twins' closer, sooner or later. I want to see if there's any indication it could be "sooner".
The big blow of the day was delivered by Jacque Jones and I'm not talking about either of his two doubles. After having been thrown out at the plate by Gape Kapler (wasn't he John Travolta's teacher in an old sit com?) while trying to tag up on a Casilla fly ball earlier in the game, Jones tested Kapler again in the fourth inning when he tried to score from 2B on a Brendan Harris single to CF.
The first time, Ray catcher Dioner Navarro feigned nonchalance until just as the throw arrived from Kapler and Jones was tagged out. On the second play, Navarro caught the ball while blocking the plate and Jacque collided with him. Navarro was taken off the field on a cart after suffering a knee injury and although later tests revealed no breaks or other serious damage, the sight brought to mind Joe Torre's complaint about his catcher being "taken out" on a play at the plate in spring training a few years ago. Perhaps since the injury to Navarro didn't turn out to be serious, Jones will be spared the same criticism.
I personally didn't have an issue with the collision. Jones is battling not only for a spot on the roster but very literally for his professional life. He'd be a fool to give anything but a full bore effort every day. By the way, I was as skeptical of his signing as anyone, but I have to admit he's looking like he could have some value. Is it real or is it a mirage? Right now, I wouldn't bet against him spending time with the Twins this summer. Maybe a lot of time.
Sunday, it's a return visit from the Rays to Ft. Myers. The sunburn is even redder tonight than it was this morning (though I suppose that shouldn't be a big surprise). A smart person would stay indoors for a day. But the "A team" should be ready to go for the Twins and Scott Baker is on the mound, so we can pretty much forget any chance I'll be smart (as if that was even a remote possibility anyway).
I do feel I'm performing a public service of sorts. There are so many people who have never had to even contemplate the possibility of needing sunscreen to attend a Twins game... and that's all about to change come April!
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