Rocco Baldelli says he feels “fulfilled” as his first Opening Day as a manager approaches. “We haven’t even begun, but there are a lot of people who have put a lot of time and effort and work and preparing to get to this point.”
Willians Astudillo is proud that he’s part of it. “As a baseball player, you work so much to make these dreams come true,” the 27-year-old catcher said. “I put in the work, and it became reality.”
And Tommy Watkins, who never experienced a big-league Opening Day as a player, said he believes taking part in one as a first-base coach will be just as great. “I’m just really blessed,” Watkins said. “I’m going to try to keep the tears to a minimum, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
The fanfare and pageantry surrounding the first game of the season might seem corny to some and overwrought to a few. But for the players and coaches — and in the Twins’ case this year, the manager — who have never before lined up on the baseline before a packed stadium and heard their names called out during introductions, the experience is a bit spine-tingling.
“Have I ever dreamed about this?” outfielder Jake Cave said incredulously. “Every day of my life, you kidding me? It’s awesome.”
The Twins fielded ground balls and hit long fly balls at Target Field on Wednesday, shortly after moving into their new lockers in the clubhouse. Even for the veterans, the reality of taking the first step in a 162-game journey brought back memories and stirred anticipation.
“It’s so exciting to be at home. I’m ready to see my fans in left field call me ‘Ed-die, Ed-die,’ ” said Eddie Rosario, the team’s best hitter a year ago. “I feel happy for this team this year. If we play together, this team can go to another level.”
That would make Baldelli quite an instant success, given that the Twins haven’t won a playoff game in almost 15 years. And while the 37-year-old manager is totally immersed in his new job — “There’s no time to be nervous,” he said — he sounded reflective when asked whether his first Opening Day as a manager is a family event.
“There will be some Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the crowd. I’m going to leave about nine tickets for my parents, my girlfriend Allie [Genoa] and her family. It’ll be really nice to have everyone here,” Baldelli said. “Every person in that room, player, coach, staff member, has a lot of people who support them and are there for them and realize that in this life, as a part of baseball, you dedicate your life to the game, and to doing a good job. To be able to share this with them is very special.”
Sure, Ryne Harper’s 30th birthday was about as great as it gets. But best ever? There’s some competition.
“I hit my first home run on my 10th birthday,” the rookie righthander said with a smile. “That was pretty big.”
But even if Wednesday was a runner-up, it was still pretty great. Harper, who came to camp on a minor-league contract and only long-shot visions of coming north with the Twins, spent his birthday as a major leaguer in a major-league ballpark, ready to make his debut sometime soon. His parents, fiancée, brother and brother’s fiancée will all fly to Minneapolis on Thursday morning, thrilled to take an unexpected vacation.
“They’re all excited. They know how hard I worked to get back here, how much dedication it took [over eight minor-league seasons] to never give up on it,” Harper said. “I know deep down they’re thrilled for me and really proud.”
So is his boss, actually.
“Ryne’s a great example of a guy who, no matter his age and experience level, continued to be open to new ideas. He has a great feel for his curveball, can manipulate it and do some things not all guys can,” said Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey. The Twins suggested some changes to his breaking pitch, and “He wasn’t afraid of trying something new. … He’s got to go earn it, he’s got to go prove it, but it’s a special moment for a guy.”
Harper, who struck out 14 hitters and didn’t walk a batter in 11 spring innings, posting a 0.00 ERA, became the first nonroster player in memory to start spring training with a temporary locker in the middle of the clubhouse, the territory of long shots, and make the Opening Day roster.
• Jorge Polanco said he felt great after working out Wednesday, his upper-arm fatigue no longer a problem. So the Twins optioned infielder Ronald Torreyes to Class AAA Rochester after the workout; the utility infielder will fly back to Fort Myers, Fla., and break camp with the minor leaguers next week.
• The stitches in Miguel Sano’s right foot were removed on Tuesday, and he flew to Minneapolis with the team, ready to begin working toward a return in another month or so. Sano will remain with the team until he’s ready to play in games and then will be sent on a rehab assignment.
• Sano, righthanders Addison Reed and Matt Magill and lefthander Gabriel Moya were all put on the injured list. Magill and Moya, each sidelined with shoulder tightness, have begun throwing again in Florida, Falvey said, and could begin a rehab stint soon. “With Addison we’ll see how it goes. We want to make sure his [sprained left] thumb is in a better spot for a little while before we fully ramp him back up,” Falvey said.
• Jose Berrios, who will make his first Opening Day start on Thursday, said fellow righthander Michael Pineda was particularly enthused to fly north on Wednesday, his 21-month recovery from elbow surgery nearly complete. “He told me when we took the bus to airport, he said, ‘Wow, I don’t fly with the team, I don’t do this for 16-18 months,’ ” Berrios said. “So he’s so excited, so happy to be here again.”
• Thursday’s game, expected to be played in 50-degree weather, officially sold out on Wednesday.