Four months ago, when the Twins closed spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., because of the coronavirus, the team was gearing up for a season in which reaching the World Series was the only goal.
Now, as the team gets ready for its season opener Friday against the White Sox, Twins President Dave St. Peter said that goal remains the same, but it’s not the only accomplishment the club is aiming for.
“I think from an industry perspective, we’re focused on trying to ensure that we play a complete season,” St. Peter said. “I think so long as we’re going to play, from a Twins perspective, our focus is on winning. Again our team came off a highly successful 2019, we were able to add some key pieces going into 2020 and as [manager] Rocco Baldelli said the first day pitchers and catchers reported to Fort Myers, we are focused on getting to a World Series and competing for a world championship.
“That remains the goal here today as we get ready for the shortened season.”
While questions remain about what this season will look like, St. Peter said one thing is sure: This club is excited to be playing again.
“Our group enjoys coming to the park, they enjoy being together,” he said. “I think they appreciate the culture that Rocco Baldelli and our coaching staff have created and certainly the extra effort to ensure that our guys are safe and have a nice environment to work out at Target Field. There is certainly trepidation. It’s new, it’s different, this is a season like no other. So you know our players are humans. We’re going to take it day by day and I think obviously as we start playing games, some level of normalcy will return.
“But there is an environment we’re operating in that is quite a bit different from previous seasons, and that’s not lost on anybody within our club. But the positive thing is that our club is generally a veteran team and there is a strong focus here to try to win baseball games. That is the driving force within the mood of our club.”
Long road to opener
The 2020 season is already one of a kind from the amount of hard work that went into getting the Twins ready to play on Friday.
“There has been a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes, led by [President of Baseball Operations] Derek Falvey and [General Manager] Thad Levine,” St. Peter said. “But also [Assistant General Manager] Jeremy Zoll and [Senior Vice President for Operations] Matt Hoy, our medical team, all of our trainers, and of course Rocco Baldelli and our coaching staff, all aimed at creating the most comfortable environment that we can for our team, all rooted in safety, but also focused on trying to put our players in the best possible position to compete from Day 1 in a truncated season.”
Rotation, lineup stars
The Twins’ initial roster will feature as much starting pitching depth as the club has had in years.
A big reason for that are the free-agency additions of Homer Bailey and Rich Hill and the trade for Kenta Maeda from the Dodgers.
But the Twins also bring back Jose Berrios, who could be ready to take over as a true ace. The club will have to wait for Jake Odorizzi who was one of the best pitchers in baseball last year but will start this season on the injured list, and Michael Pineda, who is serving a suspension. But the Twins do have young pitchers Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer, who can all start.
“We have probably as much starting pitching depth as any team in baseball. We expect we’re going to need that over the course of this journey,” St. Peter said. “We cannot say enough good things about Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Homer Bailey, all really pros’ pros. They have been through the wars. They all are, I think, at points in their careers where they believe that they had choices, I guess, in a sense of where they pitch, particularly Bailey and Hill. Maeda came here in a trade, but then really was at the epicenter of baseball pitching for the Dodgers in the World Series the past couple of years.
“We feel really good about what those guys bring, not only just throughout the regular season but if we’re fortunate enough to get back to playing October baseball, I think those guys will help us create a competitive advantage.”
Still, St. Peter and everyone around baseball knows that the real story of this Twins squad is the lineup.
“It should be exciting. It’s hard to imagine a lineup that will be more successful than we had a year ago in 2019, but on paper this year’s club looks to be just that,” St. Peter said. “It looks to be better. Obviously the addition of Josh Donaldson is huge for our club. Having Nelson Cruz back, along with the rest of the Bomba Squad, it should be an incredibly fun club to watch and a team that’s going to score a ton of runs. … For now it’s just talk, but I’m highly optimistic that this team is going to have success led by the offensive group of players that we have.”
Opener without fans
St. Peter has been with the club for 31 seasons, and he knows this Opening Day will be unique, especially without fans. But the club is going to do all it can to make Friday’s season opener and Tuesday’s home opener special.
“I think it will be a historic Opening Day, understanding what our country and what our region has been through,” he said. “I think the return of baseball is a big deal. It is certainly important for our industry, but more importantly I think it’s important for our broader community. There are so many of our fans that count on these games and are excited to follow Twins baseball. I think that’s probably the most important thing that I reflect on as we get ready to open the season is the fan base and how important they are to us and how much they love the Twins.”
Fans are not allowed in the stadium for now, but St. Peter said the club is working to get fans into Target Field this season.
“The No. 1 driver on whether or not fans will come back to the ballpark will be the local government leaders,” he said. “So certainly Gov. [Tim] Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health are going to have to sign off on any plan that returns fans to Target Field. We’re working closely with the governor’s office and the department of health to try to formulate a plan that meets all of the safety requirements that you would expect.
“We have more work to do on the front. We will open the 2020 season without fans. But we do have hopes that over time a plan will be signed off on and we will be able to reintroduce some substantive fans to the ballpark, even on a limited basis.”