The Twins have 34 days until their first spring training game on March 2, and this weekend brings TwinsFest to Target Field. Twins President Dave St. Peter said fans are excited, with the team coming off an 83-79 record and second-place finish in the AL Central last season.
“We know that our team took a significant step forward in 2015,” St. Peter said. “And where there were questions for our team going into spring training [last season], I think the good news is there’s far fewer than existed a year ago, and there’s much more optimism that we can continue to get better and find ourselves competing once again for postseason play.”
St. Peter said the team expects most of the current roster to be in town for TwinsFest.
“Really, it continues to be a great showcase for all of our players, well north of 60 current and former players,” he said. “I think out of the 40-man roster, we’ll have upwards of 37 or 38 … as well as a number of top prospects, a lot of guys who aren’t on that roster yet but are on fans’ minds.”
While the Twins weren’t too active in the free-agent market, they did make a huge international signing in designated hitter Byung Ho Park of South Korea. Twins fans can expect to see him this weekend at Target Field.
“If not now, then very soon [Park] will be in Arizona working out, really beginning to assimilate to the United States,” St. Peter said. “He’ll come to Minnesota for a variety of things, including TwinsFest. He was at the Diamond Awards [banquet at Target Field on Thursday] and then right after TwinsFest, his plan is to go to Fort Myers [Fla.] and begin working out at the CenturyLink Complex and get ready for spring training.
“We’re very excited about the way he is approaching this transition and again, we understand it will be a transition, but we’re optimistic that Byung Ho Park is going to have success in the big leagues, and hopefully sooner rather than later.”
St. Peter also said the Twins have invited retired outfielder Torii Hunter to spring training to instruct players.
“We have made that invite to him and a couple other guys to come in as guest instructors,” St. Peter said. “I’m sure [General Manager Terry Ryan] and that group will have something to announce on that front in the relatively near future. That’s our hope. I continue to have hopes to have Torii involved in our organization in a variety of ways.”
Hunter received two awards at the annual Diamond Awards. Proceeds from the banquet go to the University of Minnesota’s research and patient care in ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), ataxia, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease. Hunter also will be at TwinsFest this weekend.
A year ago, the Twins broke a four-season streak of having 90 or more losses and finally started to see promise from young stars such as Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Eddie Rosario.
St. Peter said the fans are responding to those expectations and increasing ticket sales.
“It’s better,” he said. “We have a ways to go to ultimately get where we want to be, but we feel good about our chances of building on last year’s attendance [of 2,220,054] and going back north of 2.3 million, hopefully approaching 2.5 million in total attendance. Our season-ticket base, we expect to see a nice increase there, the first time we have seen that in five years, which is a good thing. Our new center field [all-inclusive seating] area, CATCH, I expect that to sell out in the next week or so. There is some limited membership there.
“We’re in better shape than we have been in the last four or five years, and that is certainly bolstered around what’s gone on with our baseball team and [manager] Paul Molitor and our younger players, but also I think just the continued belief that the Target Field experience is among the best in sports.”
While many fans hoped the Twins would pursue more free agents, St. Peter said the team was hesitant with some players because of the high price of signing them and the potential loss of draft picks for Class A free agents. But the team might still make some moves.
“There are a lot of [unsigned free agents], and I know that’s something that Terry and our guys are keeping an eye on,” St. Peter said. “You never know if there will be a fit to bolster our club, perhaps on a short-term deal. We’ve done that in the past and we’re not afraid to do that again. I can assure you it’s all about trying to be opportunistic. A couple guys on the free-agent market are also tied to losing a draft pick if you sign them, so that’s something to keep an eye on. I think the Royals just went through that with [righthanded starter Ian] Kennedy that they added to their roster. So we’ll see how that plays out.
“I think we’re confident with our club going to spring training, but I know if the opportunity presents itself, Terry wouldn’t have any hesitancy in recommending to [owner Jim Pohlad] that we make some additions.”
Yes, for the first time in a number of years, fans can head to TwinsFest with hope that the team can compete for a division title and a postseason berth.
U at Vikings stadium
Interim athletic director Beth Goetz reported that the Gophers will be involved in a doubleheader college basketball program at U.S. Bank Stadium, which is nearly 90 percent complete, either next year or the following season.
“We would hope to get Iowa or Wisconsin to join us in a doubleheader at the Vikings stadium,” Goetz said.
The Gophers would play a nonconference foe and so would either Iowa or Wisconsin. The hope is that either one of the two would be big drawing cards to the Vikings’ new stadium.
Meanwhile, Goetz reported that about $80 million has been raised to build the various facilities that are expected to break ground on campus around Feb. 1.
Vikings sales good
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley reported that all U.S. Bank Stadium construction work is now being done inside. The team is closing in on 45,000 seat licenses sold, out of 49,000 available.
“We have 66,200 seats in the stadium,” Bagley said. “Of that number, 49,000 roughly are seat licenses, or SBLs, stadium builders licenses, and of those we’re approaching 45,000 sold. We’re selling steadily for the new stadium. The seats and suite sales are ahead of schedule. … We had an upswing in sales after the playoff game because fans are excited about the team as well as the stadium.”
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org