The Twins are about to start a season unlike any in the history of the baseball, and it will all begin when spring training starts back up Wednesday at Target Field, after being shut down on March 12 because of the coronavirus.
Despite the quick turn of events from baseball being stuck in labor negotiations on Monday to announcing training camps would open next week on Tuesday, Twins President Dave St. Peter says the club has been preparing for this moment for months and will be ready the second players arrive.
“Over the last few months we have spent a lot of time contemplating what a restart of our season could look like, and specifically spring training,” St. Peter said. “I know I have great confidence that [manager] Rocco Baldelli and certainly [bench coach] Mike Bell, [major league staff assistant] Nate Dammann, who do such a wonderful job of coordinating our traditional spring training, that they’ll have our players in the right position, in the right mode to prepare for the forthcoming 2020 season.
“I feel good about that preparation. Obviously the health and safety protocols are our top priority. That will be new for everybody. But, again, we have great counsel from our medical team, from our trainers, and we know that our players not only appreciate that but know how critical it is. It will be different, it will be new, but I know it will be exciting for our group to be back together.”
Fans at Target Field?
One of the biggest questions to do with health and safety is whether the club will be allowed to have fans at Target Field during this 60-game season.
Such places as Canterbury Park have been allowed to have spectators in attendance after consulting with Gov. Tim Walz, and St. Peter said the Twins will follow a similar course.
“We remain in ongoing conversation with the governor’s office as well as the Minnesota Department of Health. They have been very supportive and collaborative relative to all of our return-to-play plans,” St. Peter said. “Most recently those conversations have shifted to the reintroduction of fans into large venues, such as Target Field, U.S. Bank Stadium and other stadiums and arenas across Minnesota. I am hopeful that at some point in the 2020 season we will be able to introduce fans.
“It ultimately will be up to the governor’s office and the Department of Health and frankly up to the virus in terms of whether that will be possible. But I am optimistic that we will get to that point. We’ll have a lot of information around how priority will work. Season-ticket holders will be given top priority.”
One thing St. Peter has no concerns about is the playing surface at Target Field.
“Target Field is in spectacular shape,” he said. “We certainly will have the ability to host spring training. It will be different from a traditional spring training. We’ll be more spread out, social distance, we’ll probably have to stagger some workouts and some bullpens and things of that nature.
“But I am confident we’ll be able to get all of our work in, and I know for our players it will be nice to be back in Minnesota where they feel so much love and support and at Target Field, the ballpark that everybody loves coming to on a daily basis.”
Built a contender
The fact is that whether the Twins play 162 games or 60, they were built to be a contender. St. Peter said that after the shutdown and all the negotiations, the expectations the Twins had at spring training are still there.
“We’re just excited to be back playing baseball,” St. Peter said. “Obviously the journey to get to where we are today has been challenging and nobody has been thrilled with how publicly the negotiations played out. But the fact of the matter is that we left spring training in March with a really good baseball team, a team poised to take an additional step or two toward the pursuit of a world championship, and that team will take the field next week at Target Field to continue that journey.
“We are excited because we think we have a great group of staff and players and a team that is poised to do great things.”
Two pieces of good news: Center fielder Byron Buxton is fully healthy, and free-agent pitcher Rich Hill is progressing from shoulder surgery.
“Byron from all accounts is healthy and raring to go. I think back to spring training, I think it was going to be questionable whether he was ready to go [for the original Opening Day], but there’s no question now. I know Byron feels excited to be at 100 percent,” St. Peter said. “Then in terms of Rich Hill, Rich has gone through his progression coming off surgery and again I know he’s another one that’s chomping at the bit to get to Minnesota to continue his work more directly with [pitching coach] Wes Johnson and assess where he’s at in his recovery. Again we expect that he will be in the mix here at the beginning of the 2020 season, which is good news for our pitching staff.”
Yes, the fact is that from top to bottom this is a formidable ballclub, and St. Peter can’t wait to see it on the field.
“Again I love our team,” he said. “I think we were able to add over the offseason both on the diamond with [former MVP and new third baseman] Josh Donaldson and his bat, and of course we know the strength of our club might be the depth of our bullpen and the depth of our starting pitching. We know it will be challenging.
“It’s going to be a completely new environment for every team, and of course it’s a truncated season. So all bets are off, so to speak. But I like our group a lot and I think we’re poised to do great things. We go into the season with a tremendous level of optimism. I think that is something that most fans across the Upper Midwest share. We can’t wait to get started.”
• MLB is going to allow teams to have an extra 30 players eligible beyond the 30-man daily roster, and the Twins’ group will train somewhere in the area, either CHS Field in St. Paul or on the University of Minnesota campus at Siebert Field.
• Minnesota has not officially been eliminated as a hub site by the NHL for the potential Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the NHL is no longer considering Minnesota. The NHL has cut the list of 10 in half, with an announcement expected soon on the final two sites.