In 1998, the Lee County Sports Complex didn't include housing for minor leaguers, a performance hill or an expansive weight training center.
Hammond Stadium had one elevator that was used for humans and freight. And it broke down regularly.
There were no berms, no bars in the outfield or drink rails.
The area behind the outfield wall was one big pasture that was patrolled by cows. A helicopter once parked there and waited for Pudge Rodriguez to get his five innings in before he was whisked away to an event in Miami.
There was an alligator in the pond next to the stadium. Jayhawk Owens, in camp in 1998, was riding a bike to the stadium when he saw the gator sunning itself on the side of the pond and freaked out.
Sometimes, inhabitants of a nearby correctional facility would get out of a bus and clean up up the roadside along Hammond Stadium.
The Twins, in 1998, were headed into transition. Mike Morgan, Bob Tewksbury, Otis Nixon, Rich Aguilera , Ron Coomer, Greg Swindell, Terry Steinbach and a DH named Paul Molitor were part of a club that scared no one. Yet they all were interesting people to a certain scribe in his first season on the Twins beat.
I'm looking at spring training stats from that year and reading the names. Cletus Davidson, Ryan Radmanovich, Gary Rath, Keith LeGree, Jon Shave, Chris Latham, Dan Perkins. Wow.
That team went on to lose 92 games that season, but there was a lot to learn from a group of savvy players who tried every night to not embarrass themselves. They took their lumps, but they took the post. Tom Kelly was as demanding of the media as he was of his players, and one learned to be prepared before engaging T.K.
A lot of things have happened in Fort Myers since 1998. Cow pastures have been victimized by sprawl. The housing market has sailed, failed and sailed again. The Twins have built their complex up from solid to one of the best in Florida. And it's now called the CenturyLink Sports Complex.
The team has come full circle. Tewksbury and his buddies were moved out for younger players in 1999 and 2000. It was ugly for a couple years, but the club was rewarded with six division titles in the 2000's - although they won one playoff series during that stretch. Since 2010, the Twins have had just one winning season, fired Ron Gardenhire after 2014 and dismissed Terry Ryan midway through 2016.
What should be looked at as a tactical blunder, the Twins never admitted during this stretch that they were rebuilding. They maintained they were out to win, and have floundered under unrealistic expectations.
As pitchers and catchers report to camp today, the Twins are trying to get up off the floor. They have a promising young core of Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Jose Berrios. The outfield of Rosario, Buxton and Kepler will save pitchers' ERAs with their range and arms. The key for Sano is to not give up a run with his glove for every run he produces at the plate. I'll be watching the outfield and the left side of the infield closely this spring,
Any rebuild - or should we use, reboot - won't be complete until the pitching is figured out. Ryan figured it out early in the 2000's, and the Twins won. He failed to figure it out during his second stint at GM - and is now a special assistant with the Phillies. It will be up to CBO Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine (Falvine) to make tough and critical decisions about which arms - starters and relievers - to go with in the near future. With some hard -throwing prospects nearly ready, Falvine's work with the rotation will determine how quickly things can turn around here.
This team reminds me a little bit of the 2000 Twins, a team that, as the year went on, began to realize its potential. It led to 2001, when the Twins went 50-31 in first half before collapsing in the second half. Then they were ready to win in 2002. 
Brian Dozier, coming off of a 42 homer season, is the face of the franchise. Ervin Santana is rock solid as a starter. Phil Hughes can boost the rotation if he pitches like it's 2014. Brandon Kintzler will likely open the season as closer and will get a chance to prove last year wasn't a fluke.
But I'll be paying the most attention to how the youngsters are developing in this camp - my 20th camp on the Twins beat.

Older Post

When does spring training start? Even Twins players aren't certain

Newer Post

Twins open training camp with a notable absence on Tom Kelly Field