La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, after last night's game, realized that the Ryder Cup would be on at around 2 a.m.
``I'll probably watch it. I'll probably be wide awake,'' he said.
I ran into him walking through the clubhouse this afternoon and asked if he watched any golf last night.
``Unfortunately, I watched a lot of it,'' he said.
The Twins rut' has him up late at night wondering when his pitchers will turn things around. Francisco Liriano struggled on Thursday, and his relievers were worse. He can't run Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes and others into the ground, so some other pitchers have to eat up some innings. But they are being eaten up instead.
Carl Pavano is on the mound for the Twins tonight, trying to head into the playoffs with a little momentum. Unfortunately, Pavano gave up six runs to the Jays in two starts at Rogers Center earlier this year,
Bad thing: Justin Morneau was supposed to stretch and work out with the team today but there is no sign of him.
Good thing: Jim Thome, who hasn't played since the Twins clinched, is back in the lineup today.
Bad thing: I'm hearing Mauer's knee will be something he'll have to fight through the rest of the season. Never good news when a team's best player won't be at 100 percent for the big games. Mauer is catching tonight, so he's well enough to do that. But anyone who watched him run to first last night saw someone who isn't at full strength.
One more bad thing: It's getting so rough on Gardenhire that his family is on his case. His younger brother sent him the following cruel joke: ``I heard the Vikings are looking to make you the defensive coordinator. That way they'll give up just 10 points a game.''
Updates Thome is in the lineup, but just for two plate appearances so he can get some swings in. Mauer is catching Pavano because he hasn't done much of it this year. Gardy said Mauer will stay in the game as long as Pavano is on the mound.
Orlando Hudson tweaked an ankle yesterday but Gardy said he was fine and he just wanted to give Hudson a night off. Jon Rauch has indicated to the coaching staff that he should be ready for the ALDS. He'll test his sore left knee during a bullpen session either Monday or Tuesday.
1. Travis Snider, LF
2. Yunel Escobar, SS
3. Jose Bautista, RF
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Aaron Hill, 2B
7. Adam Lind, DH
8. John Buck, C
9. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
Ricky Romero, LHP
1. Denard Span, CF
2. J.J. Hardy, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Delmon Young, LF
5. Jim Thome, DH
6. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
7. Jason Kubel, RF
8. Danny Valencia, 3B
9. Nick Punto, 2B.
Carl Pavano, RHP
There seems to be a point every season when the injures just keep coming.
The Twins starting middle infield of second baseman Orlando Hudson and shortstop J.J. Hardy is out for today's game. Hudson tweaked his shoulder yesterday. Although he felt much better when he arrived at the park today, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire decided to keep him out of the starting lineup.
Hardy is still bothered by a sore left wrist, and acknowledged that if he doesn't improve by Tuesday he could wind up on the disabled list.
Reliever Pat Neshek said his right middle finger felt a lot better and that he might try to pick up a baseball in the next couple of days. It's while gripping the baseball when he feels the most pain.
Joe Mauer is in the lineup as the designated hitter today. He's wearing turf shoes with cleats attached to them to give his sore left heel a little more comfort, The Twins will cross their fingers when he runs the bases and tries to stop.
Even Jose Morales has had another setback during his rehab in the minors, injuring a hip while sliding into a base.
It will be interesting to see who will get healthy in time for Black and White week - series against the White Sox and Yankees.
There were a few guests around before the game. There was the Hastings family that Gardenhire has developed a friendship with - Logan and his father, Jeff, are both in the Army.
Gardenhire also spent some time talking with former Vikings coach and current CHICAGO BEARS ASSISTANT COACH Mike Tice.
Tice also chatted up Joe Mauer before the game. Hope he didn't ask him to back up Jay Cutler. We don't need him.
By the way, anyone know how the Canucks are doing in the NHL playoffs these days?
!. Cesar Izturis, SS
2. Ty Wigginton, 2B
3. Nick Markakis, RF
4. Miguel Tejada, 3B
5. Matt Wieters,C
6. Luke Scott,DH
7. Adam Jones, CF
8. Garrett Atkins, 1B
9. Nolan Reimold, LF
RHP Brian Matusz
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Nick Punto, 3B
3. Joe Mauer, DH
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Michael Cuddyer, RF
6. Delmon Young, LF
7. Wilson Ramos, C
8. Brendan Harris, SS
9. Alexi Casilla, 2B
RHP Nick Blackburn
I had plenty of leftovers from reporting the J.J. Hardy story that appeared in Sunday's paper and on the website today. Met with his father for an hour at his favorite slushee place in Tuscon, Ariz. and quoted him once in the story. Had a long and fascinating talk with his brother, Logan. In our business, being 50 inches over budget is better than being 5 inches short.
I also spoke with Mike Hanson, Hardy's baseball coach at Sabino High, who was pretty funny. He pretty much outed Hardy for trying to sneak off school grounds with his buddy, J.C. Field, when they were office aides for him..
``They would try to get off campus and try to get away from the campus monitor,'' Hanson said. ``It was like a secret agent thing. They they would hide behind cars and sometimes (the monitor) would catch them and send them back to my room.''
I then called Hardy's buddy, Field, for confirmation.
``We tried to dodge the monitors and tried to get out for an early lunch,'' Field said. ``For some reason, we were always caught.''
I was unable to quote Field in the story either. It just so happens that Field currently is an assistant baseball coach at North Dakota. He played little league baseball with Hardy while as they grew up and still speaks with Hardy regularly. He even tried to talk him through his struggles at the plate last year with the Brewers.
``We talked about the mental side of it and just trying to enjoy the little things about the game.'' Field said.
Field thinks that Hardy landed in the perfect place to rebound with the Twins, who generally operate under a relaxed atmosphere. I
``He was always the guy who was team-oriented,'' Field said. ``Always the guy who never thought he was better than everybody else, although he was. We wasn't a cocky player but had a quiet confidence, which really propelled the teams we were on.''
The gym Hardy works out at is located in the back of Southwest Spine and Sports in Tempe, Ariz. and is run by a former major league strength and conditioning coordinator.
The day I was there, so was the Angels' Howie Kendrick and Jason Buldger, the Mariners' David Aardsma, former Brewers teammate Geoff Jenkins and Horacio Ramirez, who was about to sign with the Giants.
Hardy was all smiles as he moved from station to station (he's strengthening his wrists in a bucket of rice on the right, both photos courtesy of Brad Armstrong). He had just agreed to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration with the Twins and was fired up about joining the team.
``Just wanted to get that out of the way,'' he said of he deal..
It was his idea to hit Dilly's Deli for lunch. We drove through ASU's campus on the way there.
He's a real easy-going fellow. I can see why he's good friends with Mauer.
Hardy's father is a tennis instructor. His mother was an excellent college golfer. Hardy joked about the time he asked for the U.S. Open tennis finals tournament be turned on in the visitors clubhouse in Cincinnati - during an NFL weekend- and his teammates went nuts..
``They wore me out over that,'' Hardy said.
He said football was never on in their house while he grew up, so they weren't fans. Only recently has Hardy taken an interest in the sport.
And since he's with the Twins, ``now, I'm a Vikings fan,'' he said.
The equipment trucks have dropped off all the Twins gear as the club prepares for the first pitchers and catchers workout on Monday. A few players already have arrived for informal workouts. The only major leaguer I saw today was Brendan Harris.
Although some major leaguers are in town, they might use these final few days to relax before the daily grind begins.
Several minor leaguers worked out on Wednesday. I watched Trevor Plouffe and Joe Benson take batting practice. Had never met Benson before, so I introduced myself.
``Hopefully, I won't have any injuries this year,'' said Benson. a multi-tooled prospect who missed a chunk of the season for Class A Fort Myers when he punched a wall and broke his hand.
``Yes,'' I said. ``You know,if you fight a wall, the wall is going to win most of the time.''
He then explained that he meant to hit a fence and didn't know there was something else behind it.
I also met Max Kepler, the German prospect (his mother is from Texas) who signed for nearly $800,000 last year. He just turned 17, has his GED after attending some high school in Fort Myers and was excited about getting his permit to drive a car.
Kepler...what a frame. I see what the Twins are talking about. I can't believe someone in Germany didn't try to make Kepler, who's about 6-4 and, 180 pounds, into a soccer player. He could have been a taller Oliver Kahn. Or a taller Michael Ballack.
Welcome to my new home.
This will be a busy week for the Twins as TwinsFest approaches. Baseball talk will start to dominate - not soon enough, I'm guessing, after that Vikings debacle yesterday.
Now it's time for a shameless plug: The Fifth Annual Diamond Awards takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Minneapolis Hilton.
It's an annual gathering of like-minded individuals to talk baseball, have a good meal and raise money for neurological research at the University of Minnesota. There's a silent auction before the banquet with a lot of great items to bid on (including a chance to follow me around the ballpark for a day). We'll hand out awards from the 2009 season - Joe Mauer, Joe Nathan, Denard Span, Jose Mijares, Michael Cuddyer and other players will be on hand - and look ahead to the 2010 season. The Diamond Awards will be televised at a later date on FSN,
There will be a lot of talk about the opening of Target Field (photo, right, courtesy of David Joles). In fact, I know that a Target Field presentation is on the script! Heard last week that the final seat count will end up just under 39,500.
Tickets for the event are $150.00, of which $100.00 is tax deductible. We have raised over $2 million to help the U of Awards with research and patient care in ataxia, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
For more info, go to www.minnesotadiamondawards,com or call 612.624.4444.
The Diamond Awards has sort of signaled the kickoff for TwinsFest, which takes place Friday through Sunday at the Dome. This will be the first chance fans can interact with new shortstop J.J. Hardy.
What's going to be strange for the Twins is going back to a building they just moved out of.
Hopefully the Twins will have some news this week to spice up these events. They remain interested in slugger Jim Thome, although I sense that the White Sox will make a late push to keep him so he doesn't land with a division rival, Tampa Bay has been mentioned as a possibility, too.
And maybe we can get a Joe Mauer update. The Twins and Mauer have done a good job of keeping details of their negotiations to themselves. All I have been told is that the sides are talking. Haven't heard any numbers.
Other than that, the Twins might have some minor news to announce, like the Gophers' baseball game that will be played at Target Field in late March, and a bunch of new sponsorship deals. Joe C., Howard and I will take turns appearing at the StarTribune booth to answer fans' questions.
So this should be a fun week as baseball season nears!
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