Dave St. Peter joined the Twins in 1990 as an intern when they were in the midst of turning a last-place club into a World Series winner one year later.
St. Peter has seen more losing seasons than winning seasons as he has advanced to become the Twins president and chief executive officer. He’s watched the Twins lose 90 or more games 10 times in 28 years while they’ve made the playoffs in seven of those seasons.
Still, ask St. Peter what he sees out of this year’s squad and he believes there’s much more positive on the horizon at Target Field than negative.
“We have been here before. We’ve had other groups of young players that have emerged,” St. Peter said this week as the Twins prepared for Opening Day on Monday. “It happened in the early ’80s, happened in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and it can happen again and I suspect it will, led by the [Byron] Buxtons, the [Miguel] Sanos, the [Max] Keplers, the [Jose] Berrioses, the [Eddie] Rosarios, [Jorge] Polanco, others across our minor league system that I think will emerge here in the near future.
“We’re bullish on our future. We’re going to have to earn back a level of credibility across our game and frankly in this market. But you know I believe that a period of sustained success is on the horizon and closer than a lot of people think.”
The biggest change the Twins made in the offseason was behind the scenes with the hiring of Derek Falvey as chief baseball officer and Thad Levine as general manager.
“They have been really thoughtful, I think, in their approach and diligent in trying to take the time needed to get to know the organization, to assess the current people that are in place but maybe most importantly to start to share their vision and expectations for really how our organization will look over the long term,” St. Peter said of his early impressions. “We have a lot of work to do. By no means is our organization, our baseball operations, where we want it to be.”
The Twins didn’t make a ton of moves in free agency, signing catcher Jason Castro and relief pitcher Matt Belisle. St. Peter said he thinks that could help the team in the long term.
“I think we want to find out what we have in this core of young players to ensure that they’re given every chance to develop at the major league level,” he said. “Sometimes in signing free agents it would have made that more challenging, it would have limited at-bats, it would have limited innings.
“This is going to be a franchise that is reliant on the development of young players that we draft and bring through our farm system to the big leagues.”
When asked if anyone in spring surprised him, St. Peter quickly mentioned ByungHo Park, who responded from being cut from the 40-man roster by hitting .353 with six homers and 13 RBI in 19 games. Park will start the season at Class AAA Rochester. He said the team also liked the spring pitching of Kyle Gibson (1.59 ERA in 28⅓ innings), and he praised Buxton for his improvement.
“He appears to be a more mature player both on the field and off the field,” St. Peter said of the former No. 1 overall pick. “There is no doubt in my mind that [new Twins special assistant to the general manager] Torii Hunter has had a positive influence on him in terms of trying to demonstrate a level of leadership inside of that clubhouse.”
Bringing back the fans
When Target Field opened in 2010 the Twins were one of three teams to average a sellout, finishing third in overall attendance (3.2 million fans). In 2011 they stayed strong, finishing fourth (3.2 million), but things have fallen since — 12th in 2012 (2.8 million), 17th in 2013 (2.5 million), 19th in 2014 (2.3 million), 20th in 2015 (2.2 million) and finally dipping to 23rd last season (2.0 million).
“[The team’s record] has had an impact,” St. Peter said. “Obviously our season ticket base is going to be down some. We lost probably about 1,500 full season ticket equivalents. We had just shy of 14,000 [in 2016]; this year we should end up with at least 12,000, hopefully.
“It has had some impact. Make no mistake, we have done this to ourselves. All of that being said, I think if we can play reasonably well throughout the early part of the season I remain optimistic that we can push our attendance to last year’s attendance total and hopefully back beyond north of 2 million fans.”
In that search for fans, the Twins have introduced a spring ballpark pass that costs $99 for 30 games in April and May. The ticket gives access to the stadium but not a seat. St. Peter said the team has already sold 750 of those passes and expects to go over 1,000 sales. He also said the Twins added new LED lights throughout the stadium, costing about $3 million, and the Twins are already looking at other ways to improve the fan experience in 2018.
Still for the team to get Target Field back to feeling like the home field it once was, there’s only one answer for St. Peter and this new Twins squad, and that’s winning.
• The website 247sports.com had the Gophers’ 2018 football recruiting class ranked No. 14 in the country. They are in a great class, as the following schools were ranked ahead of them, in order: Miami (Fla.), Penn State, Notre Dame, LSU, Florida State, Clemson, Washington, USC, Oklahoma, Northwestern, Texas A&M, Wisconsin and Ohio State. If the Gophers can keep that ranking it would be the best recruiting class in team history.
• Even though the Gophers football team’s depth chart is awfully short at offensive and defensive tackle, coach P.J. Fleck has made only one position change, and that was to move Mark Williams from quarterback to wide receiver. “I think that Mark will help us at wide receiver somehow, someway, special teams, and if it doesn’t work there we’re going to look at corner, as well,” Fleck said. “I’m just getting to know all of these players in terms of their football skill-set right now.”
• Quinn Carroll, the son of former Gophers tight end Jay Carroll, is a sophomore offensive tackle at Edina and one of the highest-rated prospects in the state for the Class of 2019. Carroll is on schedule to make a six-school tour starting with Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. His brother Collin Carroll was a long snapper for Virginia Tech for four seasons.
• NFL.com named Vikings defensive lineman Danielle Hunter to its list of best players under 25. “The amazing thing with Hunter is that he was a rookie at 20 years old, so despite having played two years in the league, he will turn all of 23 in October,” NFL.com said.
• Tre Jones, who led Apple Valley to the Class 4A state championship and averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists, told GopherHole.com that he plans to take all five of his official recruiting visits after the AAU season. Jones also said that the school recruiting him hardest is Butler, though the Bulldogs haven’t offered a scholarship.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org