Paul Molitor has been on past Twins winter caravans, so even though he’s on his first since being named manager, he knows what he’s getting into.
Fans will want pictures, autographs and to know what his favorite book is.
“I don’t know how much you can gauge how they feel about the team,” he said after one tour stop on Monday in St. Paul. “Obviously, when you make stops at schools and towns and hospitals, you’re going to get some enthusiasm regardless of where you are just because it’s an opportunity for people to get more personally connected to people from our brand.”
Molitor raised an eyebrow and added: “It’s a strange time in Minnesota sports as far as the Twins.”
Molitor looked at the Twins’ situation in relation to current events in town. Since Dec. 30, the Wolves, Wild, and Gophers men’s basketball and hockey teams are a combined 2-20. With spring training not far off — pitchers and catchers report Feb. 22 — the Twins, perhaps, could be a diversion.
“We all know what has come before us, the long run of success and then four years of frustrations and big changes for the first time in a while,” Molitor said. “People are hungry to try to latch onto something for them to cheer about.
“Not that some of the franchises around here can’t turn things around, but it’s an opportunity for us to come in here heading into April and to make a good impression and get off to a good start and have people warranted in their enthusiasm about some of the changes that were made.”
The organization is looking for positive momentum after four consecutive seasons of at least 92 losses. That has led to change. Molitor has replaced Ron Gardenhire as manager and the coaching staff has been altered. Righthander Ervin Santana was signed to boost the starting rotation. Torii Hunter (in right field) and Eddie Guardado (bullpen coach) were brought back for veteran leadership. The Twins feel they have bottomed out and, with top prospects nearing the majors, they will start to rebound.
Undoubtedly, that will be the message the Twins organization will attempt to send as they make more than 40 caravan stops in Minnesota, North and South Dakota and Iowa through Jan. 22.
Yet through the first two stops along the caravan on Monday, mascot T.C. Bear was asked more questions than the group that included Molitor, closer Glen Perkins, third base coach Gene Glynn and bench coach Joe Vavra.
Hold on, that was not a reflection of the state of Twins baseball. The Twins made stops at Farnsworth Aerospace PreK-8 and then at Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary, both in St. Paul. And kids love mascots.
“After the New Year you start getting excited for the baseball season,” Perkins said. “I’ve gone on caravan and that leads into TwinsFest, and that’s when you start to see the passion of the fans. That’s when it gets exciting.”
Following the visits to the schools, the driver of the charter motor coach managed to maneuver through a couple of narrow streets, then park so the entire traveling party could grab lunch at the Nook in St. Paul (many ordered the Molitor burger). Then it was on to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital to visit with several patients and their families.
Nick Engbloom, development officer for the University of Minnesota Foundation, chatted with the Twins contingent between visits to patients’ rooms. Engbloom, who attends about 10 games a year, hopes the bottoming out has taken place.
“We kind of got spoiled for a while there with those division titles,” Engbloom said. “I think every now and then you have to go through a down time to become a positive again. I think the last four years have been tough, but there’s a building mode, if you look at that minor league system. That’s something you can look forward to for the future.”
Molitor has spoken with several players by phone and met with his coaching staff to finalize spring training plans. He will meet with his new pitching coach, Neil Allen, during TwinsFest Jan. 23-25. Then he will pack for his first spring training as Twins manager — his time to start working on that first impression.
“It’s coming quickly,” Molitor said. “I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I want to be very at ease about spring training once I get down there.’’