MILWAUKEE —Kevin Morgan was in his first year as an instructor in the Mets organization in 1998 when he met Mike Bell, an infield prospect trying to work his way up to the majors.
"We had a relationship that long ago, and we kept in touch over the years," Morgan said. "And then we reconnected here" just over a year ago, when Bell was hired as the Twins' bench coach and Morgan left the Mets to become the Twins' minor league field coordinator.
That's what made Rocco Baldelli's decision this week to add Morgan to his coaching staff so bittersweet. Morgan, hired as the team's new major league field coordinator, will shoulder many of the duties that Bell, who died of cancer last week, had handled.
"It's tough. Personally, it's been emotional and challenging," said Morgan, a 51-year-old native of Lafayette, La. "Right now, I'm here really trying to fill any gaps that we may have. To serve the player, serve the staff and help out in any way I can."
Morgan's playing career amounted to only three innings with the Mets in 1997 — he popped up on the first pitch in his lone at-bat — but he spent 22 seasons in their organization, helping train their minor leaguers. The Twins put him in charge of their group of instructors last year, and Morgan said it wasn't easy to walk away from that responsibility, even for a uniformed job in a big-league dugout.
"I was torn. I kind of pride myself on being a team player and doing whatever is asked of me," Morgan said. "So while it was certainly an honor to even be considered to fill the gap, I was also thinking about [the responsibilities] I may be leaving behind."
He intends to stay in touch with the Twins' coordinators he used to lead, even as he serves Baldelli.
"Though I may not be there in person on a day-to-day basis, I hope I can still be a sounding board and someone that can still help out in any way possible," he said.
Maeda to enjoy honor
Kenta Maeda won his first Opening Day start in Japan, the first of five he pitched in his homeland, so he understands how to deal with the nerves and hoopla and ceremony of the occasion.
"Sometimes it's a tough day to perform your best, not just as a pitcher but for players and everyone else on board. It's a special day so it just makes it all that much more tough," the righthander said. "I just have to be myself on the mound, and that will push me forward to pitch very well."
Still, there's no denying that Thursday's game will be among the most memorable of his career.
"I'm really honored to take that role. Just to be on the mound that day is a dream come true," Maeda said. "I like to enjoy those big moments, rather than feel under pressure, and convert all that pressure to push myself further. I think that's what gets me going."
Take charge guy
Andrelton Simmons is used to being a general on the infield, of taking responsibility for himself and his teammates. But Josh Donaldson has a reputation for aggressiveness, so the Twins' new shortstop said he is getting used to how they will work together.
"I'm trying not to step on anyone's toes, establish dominance or anything," Simmons said. "But I want my teammates to know, I've got this. I've got this."
It won't be a problem, Donaldson said.
"I want him to take charge, he's the middle infield guy. He has the most priority," Donaldson said. "You're the captain of the infield, you do what you need to do. Look, he's the shortstop and I have no problem with that."
Mostly, they are trying to get used to the Twins' heavy reliance on shifting infielders around.
"I don't think either of us coming here were shift-oriented. Both of us liked to cover more ground as much as possible. But that's the organizational way and both of us had to buy into that," Donaldson said. "So it's more just learning that communication, more on cuts and relays, and knowing how much ground you have to cover on fly balls that either can get to."
The Twins made their final preparations for the season with an afternoon workout at American Family Field, the newly renamed Miller Park. But the bullpen sessions and batting practice were conducted without Baldelli, who traveled to Arizona, along with president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine, to attend Bell's funeral. He will rejoin the team in time for Thursday's opener.