FORT MYERS, FLA. – Twins manager Paul Molitor wanted to inspire his club on Sunday before the first full squad workout of spring training.
“I try to be thoughtful,” Molitor said. “I try to have an idea of the direction I want to take it and hopefully a tone to be set.
“Last year, I didn’t do very good.”
And that’s why Molitor could have said anything on Sunday and his team would have been motivated.
The Twins lost a club-record 103 games in 2016, and they will have to wear that mark like a scarlet letter. There are 28 new players and coaches in camp this year, but many of the culprits responsible for last season were staring back at Molitor in the clubhouse at Hammond Stadium as he presented the objectives for 2017.
“There are certain principles about the game and opportunity,” he said. “We touched on a number of things this morning. Last year we had a pretty good vibe and feel to challenge the guys to get to the next level, but we saw how that worked out. But the people who went through it, that’s where growth occurs.
“You try to blend in the new faces with the returning faces and try to give a message of vision. What our responsibilities are as a staff and their responsibilities as players to be accountable to. Getting ready to go to work.”
Here’s a condensed version of what Molitor said: Try not to stink again. Hit cutoff men. Keep the double play in order. Convert run-scoring opportunities. Throw quality strikes. Finish off hitters.
But Twins players already knew that. Molitor has felt the pulse of his team in recent days during five-minute meetings with each player. It’s a different approach hatched by Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey. Several players remain bitter about last season, which helped shape Molitor’s tone on Sunday.
“It’s one of those things where different people will choose different paths,” Molitor said. “I think some guys will carry big chips. We’ve had some guys come into our morning session who clearly stated that what they went through last year, they never want to go through again. So it’s on some guys’ minds. I think to have it in there is not a bad thing.
“Everyone talks about turning the page and a new season, but some guys are motivated by it. It could be a huge motivation for some guys.”
Some things never change about spring training. Players look around the clubhouse and see who is in noticeably great shape (Phil Hughes) or showing more personality (Max Kepler) or is a man on a mission (Kyle Gibson). But this particular team has to wear that 103 into the season. Winning is the only way to get away from it.
“I want to let everyone know that nobody thinks we are going to be very good, and that should motivate you,’’ second baseman Brian Dozier said, “I like proving people wrong.”
The Twins took their first steps toward doing that on Sunday in a occasionally spirited but mostly businesslike workout. Pitchers often have the upper hand during live batting practice as hitters work on timing. Joe Mauer didn’t even swing the bat against Hughes and Michael Tonkin, opting to work on tracking the ball.
“Tonk’s last pitch looked like 110 miles an hour,” Mauer said.
Sunday also was the first day with former Twins players Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins and Michael Cuddyer on the field as special instructors. Not surprisingly, Hunter injected energy, making players on one field gather at the end of drills to chant, “1-2-3 Twins!”
On a neighboring field, extra coach Javier Valentin was working with the catchers when he heard the noise and looked up.
“That’s gotta be ‘T,’ ” said Valentin, a former catcher who played for the Twins from 1997 to ’99 and 2002.
Some things never change — but the Twins sure want their win total to.
“It was an embarrassment last year,” Dozier said. “I’m a realist. But failure can be the best path to success. You can learn so much from last year.”
There’s one other reason to succeed: Because nobody thinks you will.
“If that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what can,” Dozier said.