Sunday, March 25, 2012

Catching Up on My Filing

It's been a while since I've kept up with the Twins news. I figured I'd go back and see what I missed and file the info away as needed.

File under: Recognizing a Good Thing While You Have It
Glen Perkins signed a 3-year, $10.3 million extension with an option for 2016. Twins fans remember that things weren't always so rosy between the Twins and Perkins, dating back to 2009 and 2010. In fact, I'm guilty of losing my fandom of him, too -- regrettably. He's matured and proven himself. The Twins have allowed the ugly past to stay there. And I've changed my mind. Everyone's cool now.

File under: I Didn't Really Think They Would
The Twins optioned Tsyoshi Nishioka to AAA Rochester. Last fall, I asked that the Twins admit their mistake regarding Nishioka, but I kind of figured they wouldn't listen to little ol' me. He's been in the MLB for a year now; the adjustment period has been more than generous. While it's true that he had a tough go with a new country and a broken leg and all, it's alarming that during his second spring training with the Twins he still didn't know fundamental stuff such as where to position himself to be the cut-off man. According to several writers and baseball analysts, he's been lost and the plate and lost-er in the field -- literally out of his league. He has bigger baseball problems to solve than some culture shock and a (should be healed by now) fractured fibula.

File under: On The L Back To Chicago
The Twins sent Rule 5 draftee, RHP Terry Doyle back to the White Sox. The deal with Rule 5 drafts is that if the drafted player can't make the 25-man roster for the whole season, the drafting team must return the player to the original team or work out a trade. The Twins claim that they couldn't find common ground with the White Sox, so they sent him packing. He made a memorable first impression with me -- memorable for all the wrong reasons. He was largely responsible for a 10-run first inning for the Pirates. Doyle couldn't find the strike zone, and when he did, he grooved the ball in the heart of the plate.

File under: Better Luck Next Year, Kid
The Twins are beginning to cull their Spring Training roster. They've optioned several players to the minor leagues:
  • Arcia, Oswaldo (OF)
  • Diamond, Scott (LHP)
  • Guerra, Deolis (RHP) 
  • Gutierrez, Carlos (RHP) 
  • Mastrionni, Darin (LF) 
  • Nishioka, Tsuyoshi  (IF)
  • Oliveros, Lester (RHP)
  • Robertson, Tyler (LHP)
  • Tosoni, Rene (OF)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How Brad Radke Crosses Generations Through Spring Training

You may have noticed that every time I talk about attending Spring Training games, I mention that I like to visit with the other fans, especially the retirees. I like the retirees because they always seem so happy. Since the game doesn't matter so much, it's pretty easy to develop a great, interesting conversation.

Such was the case on Thursday the 15th, during that 15-7 debacle against the Pirates. My husband and I, along with our friends Mr. and Mrs. P, sat in the shade down the third-base line, while our kids sat in another section. Behind us was a pair of retired couples who clearly lived in Florida (they were happy and tan). As we took our seats, always the goofballs, Mr. P and Hubby started apologizing ahead of time for the other's behavior, and our game-neighbors laughed and the guys' lame joke. The four of us had hit it off with the four of them right away.

We got the small talk stuff out of the way -- "are you from Minnesota?" "yeah, you?" "yeah, where abouts?"...etc. After a very short time of this, one of the fellows noticed my Radke jersey and asked if I was a fan of his. I confirmed that he's my favorite all-time player, and my new friend dug out a piece of paper and a pencil and asked me to write down my address. He wanted to send me a Brad Radke bobblehead. I tried to politely decline; I couldn't accept such a nice gift. He insisted, and eventually his wife plead with me because it would really be doing her a favor. Well, in that case...

I did, however, have to earn my prize. I had to demonstrate some Twins knowledge. His first question was "Who's #8?" I knew who he meant, but I wanted to play along. Jamey Carroll just happened to be running sprints in front of us, so I pointed to him. He said, "No, before that." "Nick Punto" I said with a wink. "No...Before that." Of course he meant Gary Gaetti; I was just showing off.

He asked me several other questions, mostly about the off-season moves, and I answered to his satisfaction. However, he did cheat -- he had a team roster that he printed off at home. But I did all right with the top of my head.

Throughout the rest of the game, we all chatted about all of life's important stuff -- baseball, Florida, Minnesota, food, beer, kids, knitting, Brian Dinkelman, etc. What a delightful distraction from the disaster on the field.

When we parted ways, I really didn't expect to receive the bobblehead. I wanted to give him the opportunity to change his mind (or not be able to find it, or forget) without being bummed out.

Silly me. Look what came in the mail today:
Amazing. He also included a very nice note that made me smile.

Yes. I put a handwritten thank you note in the mail -- thanking him not only for the bobblehead, but also for the happy memories.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

k-bro's Lame Spring Training Report: 2012

To be clear, the word "lame" in the title modifies "report" and not "Spring Training." Spring Training is always cool.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you may have noticed that I took a nice vacation in beautiful Fort Myers, Florida. It was an amazing trip, and I had a great time.

I was lucky enough to attend three Twins Spring Training games -- against the Yankee, the Blue Jays, and the Pirates.

And here's the lame part. I don't really have a scouting report for you. I didn't keep a scorebook. I'm not sure who pitched. I didn't even manage to get to the ballpark as early as I wanted to. I only accomplished to take a few crappy pictures with my phone.

But that's not to say that I didn't enjoy the baseball -- everything except that 10-run first inning by the Pirates on Thursday. I really enjoyed sitting in the Florida sun and visiting with other fans -- especially the retirees because they're all so happy.

The phrase of the games was "give me the book." As soon as the lineup started turning over to the rookies, I'd dig out Seth Stohs's MN Twins Prospect Handbook and look up the replacement guys. The fans around me wanted to borrow it and pretty soon, it was being passed around faster than a church basket.

Anyway, here are some of the pictures I took.


Hammond Stadium
Hammond Stadium is beautiful on the outside.

Twins game
The Twins take the field to face the Yankees. I think it's Nick Blackburn pitching, but I don't really remember.

The bullpen. I'm not really sure why the banner behind it is advertising MLB '11 The Show. MLB '12 The Show has been out for a couple of weeks now. Besides, the Twins should know that 2011 baseball season never really existed.*

*Delusional Twins fan talking.

A win over the Yankees
A win over the Yankees! Whee!


Twins Game
Nice seats for the Blue Jays game.

The Richard Simmons Burger
This is the "Richard Simmons Burger": a cheeseburger topped with a bratwurst, a chicken breast, and bacon. Probably could have fed the whole row. $10.50

TC being TC.

Twins Game
Francisco Liriano pitching.

Twins game
Joe Mauer batting.


Tony O working with Danny Valencia
Tony O working with Danny Valencia in the cage.

Alexi Casilla taking grounders from a pitching machine
It's hard to tell, but this is Alexi Casilla taking liners from the pitching machine.

A gaggle of pitchers
A gaggle of pitchers waiting their turns to do their pitchers' fielding practice drills.

Gardy taking a breather
I don't think Gardy liked what he saw.

Andrew McCutchen (of the Pirates) autograph
The kids couldn't get any Twins' autographs, but they did get Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates.

And with that, I didn't take any pictures of the game on Thursday. It's just as well; it wasn't really worth the pixels.

The baseball was fun, but I have to admit that I enjoyed this just as much:

Feet on the beach
I miss it already.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Empty the Bucket

If I think of my brain as a bucket, I sometimes imagine that it begins to overflow and I have to intentionally get some of my thoughts out of there before they just spill over and are gone forever.

Here are some baseball-related bucket thoughts:

Denard Falls Down
During Saturday's Spring Training game, Denard Span fell down twice while making fly-ball catches in the outfield. If this had been a year ago, everyone would be thinking "ha ha, at least he made the catch" and had gone on with the game.

This year, however, I have to admit, every time he falls down, crashes into a fence, or makes a diving catch, I worry. Why did he fall? Is he dizzy? Can he see alright? Did he bang his head? Did he whip his neck? Is he ok?

True, I'm especially prone to worrying, and that's fine. It's no big deal if I sit here and think all these things. But, unfortunately, I'm not the only one; the media asked him about it all the time. And that has to be annoying for him.

It's not the writers' fault for asking him questions that everyone wants answers to, but it must be difficult to have to make the same assurances all the time. Yes, having to address the media comes with the territory, but I bet he's looking forward to when he can simply talk about the game and not his head.

I'm hoping, for both his and the fans' sake, that very soon, he won't have to address these issues every time he has a tiny stumble or makes a difficult play. I'm sure he hopes so too.

Your New Voice of Summer
I had a chance to listen to the Twins new play-by-play announcer Cory Provus a couple of time, and he made a very nice first impression.

His voice is rich, smooth, and easy to listen to, and he calls the game well. If he's telling a story or anecdote while the play is going on, he'll interrupt himself to call the play -- like he should. He's well prepared for the games, and he doesn't give the impression of being the new guy at all (not bad for calling Spring Training games when it's likely there'll be guys coming to bat that even Gardy doesn't know). He already sounds comfortable, as if he's always been here.

I'm not sure that it's really possible, but I think he even makes Dan Gladden better. Well done, Cory, well done.

The Zumaya Decision
After thinking about his situation a few days, Joel Zumaya decided to go ahead and have Tommy John surgery and attempt a comeback. Right after his elbow blew, it sounded like he was leaning heavily toward retiring.

I imagine this decision came with much thought, prayers, and even tears. This will be his sixth surgery, and the rehab that will come with it will most likely be the most difficult. Plus, there's no guarantee on the other side that he'll even be able to pitch again in the Major Leagues (he'll be a free agent when he's ready to come back, and he'll need to convince a team to sign him). No one would have blamed him if he had just wanted to forget it all and walk away.

Instead, he'll take a huge leap of faith and go for it. And I'm kind of happy for him.

I certainly wish him all the best.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Explaining Expanded Playoffs Using Spreadsheets With Pretty Colors

You may have heard that MLB has changed the playoff scheme starting with this season by adding an additional Wild Card team to each league. Some people like it; some people hate it. I really don't have an opinion of it yet, because, honestly, I don't really understand it. I've read a lot of stuff about it, and it all makes my head hurt. I figured I'd map it out on some spreadsheets to see if that helps.

Yes, I know, I'm supposed to be afraid of spreadsheets. I am. But if they have some pretty colors on them, they're not so bad.

Ok, so lets take the standings from the 2010 season and pretend that 2012 will be exactly the same (I chose 2010 because, as a Twins fan, I'm going to delusionally believe that 2011 didn't exist). Here they are:
The Rays, Phillies, Twins, Reds, Rangers, and Giants all won their divisions and the Yankees and the Braves won the Wild Card spots (with the Yankees settling for the Wild Card just so they could play the Twins -- they even admitted it).

Ok, so for 2012, there will be two Wild Card teams for each league, and they'll have a one-game play-in for the Divisional Series. Here's how that would look:
So the four Wild Card teams will battle on October 5th to get into the playoffs: the Yankees versus the Red Sox (which will probably last 5 and a half hours), and the Braves and the Padres (which would actually be the more interesting game to watch, but, of course, not the one that will be televised during prime time).

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the Yankees and the Braves win the games (sorry Padres) and move on to the LDS. Now the team with the best league record will play the Wild Card winner and the other two division winners will play each other.

In the past, the team with the best league record would face the Wild Card team, unless those teams were from the same division. In that case, they play the division leader with the worse record.

Now, they're doing away with all that. No more regard to who's in what division. Straight up, the first seeded team plays the Wild Card, and the second and third seeded teams play each other.
Well, that would turn out a little different, huh?

There's also discussion about where and when the LDS games will be played with regard to which team gets home games blah blah -- 2012 will be different than 2013 and beyond merely because the schedule was already set when they figured all this out. Honestly, though, I'm not really concerned about any of that because I'll be sitting on my recliner in front of the TV watching the games -- it doesn't really matter to me which park they're in.

So, is this better? I get it now.

As for my opinion, I'm not a big fan of a one-game play-in. Way too stressful for fans of those teams and it really messes with the pitching alignments, giving an (unfair, in my opinion) advantage to the league leaders. Also, things will get really mucked up if divisions end in ties; there'll be more one-game play-ins just to get to the one-game play-in. But, there should be more motivation for winning and less intentional tanking towards the end of the season and settling for Wild Card berths, and that's kind of appealing. And, of course, it's just more baseball, which is never a bad thing.

I see both sides of the argument. I guess I'll just roll with it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Spring Training Games Fans' Guide

Twins 2012 Spring Training games start on Saturday! Isn't it wonderful that they figured out to have practice games in Florida right at the time when baseball fans can't stand not having baseball anymore and Minnesotans want to go somewhere warm?

If you've never been to Fort Myers for Spring Training, I highly encourage you to go. It's a great family vacation, whether you love baseball, the beach, or both.

I've been to Fort Myers once, and I'm going again this year. I know several fans who've gone many times. If you're one of those fans, you can probably go on to read the next blog on your list because you already know everything I have to say (probably much better than I do).

But, if you've never been, and would like some tips on the baseball part (the beach part you can figure out on your own), well then, read on.

First of all, I'll refer you to fellow blogger, Thrylos98. He's written up a very nice Spring Training Guide to Fort Myers and a Fort Myers Culinary Guide (with a curve). Be sure to check them out.

I will focus on what to do once you're at Lee County Sports Complex.

The complex is comprised of several practice fields and the main field, Hammond Stadium. Hammond Stadium is the home of the Fort Myers Miracle Single-A affiliate and it's where the Spring Training games are played. It's kind of funny because it has a beautiful exterior, with a fountain and nice landscaping, but then the inside is really boring.

As you would expect from a minor-league stadium, it's pretty small. Which means there's not really a bad seat in the house. Even up in the second level, you're still pretty close to the action. Keep in mind that most of the Spring Training games are day games, and that the seats near the field are in the sun (hot!) and the seats "up high" are in the shade. There is also a grassy area where you can sit on a blanket and have a baseball picnic -- perfect if you have little kids who would rather run around than sit and watch baseball.

If you go to the complex in the morning, you can catch the players doing their drills or hitting BP. The minor league affiliates have their Spring Training there too, so there are a lot of players. They usually have a table set up near the entrance with roster sheets. Each group of players wears different uniform combos -- blue and red tops, blue and gray tops, white pants, gray pants, etc. -- and the roster sheet will tell you who's who (there may be a total of four or five guys who wear #7 and there are no names on the jerseys, so you want to be sure). Get a new roster sheet every day because the groups change their uniforms every day. Also, you should probably bring Seth Stohs' Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook with you so you're armed with information about these guys.

The atmosphere around the complex is relaxed and casual. Fans can wander from station to station watching players do their thing or even take some pictures. However, you have to remember that they're doing their jobs, so they may not have time for chit chat. They don't want to get in trouble with their manager after all.

You may be able get some autographs before games or walking around the practice fields, and while a lot of players will be as accommodating as they can, it's not really an autograph signing event. Many players will limit their autograph signing for kids, and other guys prefer to wait until after the game to sign.

If you're lucky enough to get a player willing and able to sign, be sure to help him out by having your item and pen -- cap off, ink flowing, and handed to him properly -- ready to go. Use a blue ball-point pen for baseballs (ball-point won't bleed into the leather, and blue won't fade like black does) and a Sharpie for everything else. Be nice; if he can't sign, he can't sign. Also, know who you're asking -- just because a guy looks like Jason Kubel doesn't mean he is Jason Kubel (yes, this actually happens more than you'd think).

Don't be in a hurry to leave after a game, because if you hang out near the exit where the players park (it's a fenced-off lot), you might see a player who is willing to hang out in his car and sign autographs for a while. But don't expect premier players like Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau to be doing this -- there is just way too much demand for their autographs.

Above all, relax and have a good time. Don't worry about the score of the game -- no one else does. Visit with folks. Enjoy the sunshine. Notice how everyone is happy.