Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

All About Potential

Kevin Slowey is a Twin for another season.

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When Slowey first debuted with the Twins, I thought he would be the next coming of Brad Radke, as they both share pinpoint control and a wide variety of off-speed pitches.

Unfortunately, Slowey has never realized that potential due to inconsistent performance and injuries.  At times (like throwing a no-hitter for seven innings in 2010), Slowey looks like he could be the ace of the staff.  But then, either something flares up on him or he mysteriously has 2-3 horrific, short outings in a row and fans lose confidence in him all over again.

Yet, this is a good re-up for the Twins, if only to give Slowey one more season to realize that potential and maybe stay healthy for an entire campaign.  Plus, we have no other go-to guys to take his place in the rotation. 

Pavano & Punto

Item #1:

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Our veteran leader returns for two more seasons. Don’t expect the next coming of Johan Santana or anything, but Pavano can save a bullpen and give you quality starts when healthy.

Item #2:

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Nick Punto is a St. Louis Cardinal.  The end of an era, for sure.  I’ll always remember Punto for his hustle (especially those head-first dives into first base), even if it did lead to more jammed fingers and other body parts than probably necessary.  Could he hit a lick?  Besides 2006…no.  But he played spectacular defense and could fill in at any position as the heir to Dennis Hocking.  Who will be next in the chain?  I’m betting Matt Tolbert.

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Some Twins signing news from this week:

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Glen Perkins gets a 1-year deal. This surprised me, as I thought he was on the outs with the Twins organization.  I guess being a lefty on a team that hoardes pitching has its benefits.

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Alexi Casilla is also back for another year, and being given his umpteenth chance to win a starting role.

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One more year of Matt Capps (that sound you hear is me getting down on my knees to pray that Joe Nathan comes back strong).  He’s not that bad…but not that good, either.

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Jon Rauch is now a Blue Jay.  Perhaps he will thrive again as more of a setup option, like his 2009 role.  He lucked into some gimme saves here last April, and held the job for far too long.  If only his repetoire and velocity were as intimidated as, well, him!

The Big Guy’s Back!

101882810_crop_340x234.jpgYes!  Finally, some truly good news in what (at least so far) has been an offseason of personnel losses.

Big Jim fills a huge hole of ours coming off the bench, and is also the best teammate/gentleman you could ask for.  Despite his age and inability to play the field, he is still a premiere power hitter.

As Jim Croce once crooned (and could be echoed by AL pitchers everywhere)…

 

Minnesota Twins 2010: A Season Review

After going through some of my blog posts recently, I realized that I hadn’t penned a “season review” of the 2010 Twins season.  Maybe the quick (again) exit from the playoffs contributed to my apathy, or perhaps it was the Vikings’ season going very bizarre very quickly and giving me plenty of other blogging material.  Either way, I do want ot quickly run down my standout moments of ’10…

To me, 2010 will always be remembered as the “Year of Target Field”:

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At first, I was as skeptical as anyone at the new outdoor ballpark.  Fortunately, that all changed the first time I walked through the gates.  Besides some of the parks (like Wrigley or Fenway) that keep their charm primarily due to history, I can definitively say that Target Field is the best new home we could have possibly asked for (at least when the weather cooperates, which it did in spades last summer…heck, the Vikings in the Dome had more postponements in ’10 than the Twins!).  Also helping to broaden the experience was the fact that our family moved closer to the Twin Cities metro area this year, so I was able to go to more games than ever before.

I’ll just say this: At the end of 2009, I was missing the Dome.  By the end of ’10, I can’t imagine playing anywhere other than Target Field.

Some other memories include…

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-Much like Brett Favre did to the Vikings in 2009, Jim Thome gave the ’10 Twins a bit of a swagger.  He can’t run or play the field, but it doesn’t matter in the least…he proved that (out of the DH spot) he can still be the most prolific power hitter in the game, bar none.  When Justin Morneau went down with his concussion, Big Jim stepped into the cleanup role and did exactly that…clean up.  Perhaps the most memorable Thome moment was his walkoff home run against the Chicago White Sox in extra innings.

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-Carl Pavano, predicted to fail miserably, provides the veteran leadership the staff desperatley needed, and even became a folk hero due to his mustachioed upper lip.

delmon-young.jpg -Delmon Young’s torrid dog-days-of-summer performance, almost single-handedly keeping us in the division race with a hitting surge unlike anything I had ever seen.

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-Some young kid named Danny Valencia coming up from the minors to lock down third base and provide some spectacular clutch hitting, all the while winning the hearts of the yound ladies in Twins Territory with his megawatt smile.

Other memories would include the torrid second half of Joe Mauer’s bat, as well as Francisco Liriano finally returning to his dominant pre-Tommy John surgery form.

So yes, even though the season ended in disappointment once again…

 
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…I choose to remember the good moments that seemed to last all summer long.

Perhaps the one memory above all that will stick with me is sitting in Target Field on a cold, wet September night but loving every minute of it as the Twins clinched the Central Division Championship.  I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

Watch Out Hall…Here Comes Bert!

First off, congratulations to Roberto Alomar…

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…a very deserving HOF inductee. Alomar was the top second baseman for almost the entire 1990s decade, and could do it all (defense, speed, average, some power).

But, being a Twins fan, I was much more excited to see that this guy…

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…finally got in!!  After years of circling others, Bert Blyleven finally got circled himself where it counted…on the Hall of Fame ballot!

In other posts, I’ve recounted why Bert should be in the Hall (many obvious reasons…just look at the stats, really).  So for now, I would just like to bask in the moment.

A few years ago, while writing for the University Register campus newspaper of the University of Minnesota-Morris, I penned a little tribute for Bert that I would like to share here.  It’s a bit long, yes, but I think it really sums up my feelings about Bert and why I think he deserves to be enshrined.

Heck, this might even mean a trip to Cooperstown this summer…you never know!

The article:

Circle Me Bert

            …the accounts and descriptions of this game may not be disseminated without the expressed written consent of the Minnesota Twins.  During his eleven-year tenure as TV broadcaster for the Minnesota Twins, Bert Blyleven has almost become more famous for that statement than for his prowess as a former All-Star pitcher.  For Twins fans of the current generation, his first name might as well be “Circle Me.”  Injecting his passion for baseball and knowledge of the game into every broadcast, Bert has created a sort of cult following in Minnesota. 

Yet, Bert’s career is somewhat of an enigma.  He has Hall of Fame stats, but is not in the Hall of Fame.  His crazy antics labeled him as a goofball, but he has an extraordinary knowledge of the game.  It begs the question: Who is the real Bert Blyleven?  For younger fans, prepare to learn a little more about your birthday-celebrating, telestrator-hogging broadcaster.  For the seasoned viewers, you can reminisce about that knee-buckling curveball and tongue curling up at the edge of his mouth…

In 1951, Jenny and Johannes Blijleven emigrated from the Netherlands (Holland, to be exact) to the United States with their son Rik Aalbert.  Living in Garden Grove, CA, with his four sisters and two brothers, young “Bert” was introduced to the game of baseball by his father, who took Bert to see Sandy Koufax pitch for the Dodgers.  Enamored with baseball, Bert starred on the Santiago High School baseball team, also running cross country to build up his stamina and leg strength.  In 1969, he was drafted straight out of high school by the Minnesota Twins, where after only 21 minor league starts he found himself called up to the majors at age 19.  Prophetically, the first batter he faced, Lee May, hit a home run.

Blyleven recovered nicely from that first batter, though, and won at least ten games from 1970-1975 with the Twins.  In 1973 he was 20-17, pitching a remarkable 325 innings, 25 complete games, nine shutouts, and posting a 2.52 ERA.  It was with the Twins that Bert perfected his master weapon…the curveball.  Taught to him by Twins scout Jesse Flores and former pitcher Ed Roebuck, Blyleven’s curve was widely regarded as the best in baseball.  Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson once said, “It (his curveball) was nasty, I’ll tell you that. Enough to make your knees buckle.”  Blyleven himself claims his curveball was the result of abnormally long fingers.  Blyleven’s personal catcher in Minnesota, Phil Roof, recalls that Bert spun his curve so hard you could hear his fingers snap together when he released it.

Not only did Blyleven posses a nasty curveball, but hitters couldn’t knock him out of a game very often.  From 1971-1976, he never pitched fewer than 275 innings a season and averaged over eight innings per start.  As one of the last work-horse pitchers in baseball history, his philosophy towards each start was as follows: “These pitch counts,” he once said, “Everybody’s counting to 100. I’m still waiting for that first guy to blow up when he throws that 101st pitch.”

However, those Twins teams of the early 1970s were nothing more than aging remnants of past pennants, going 488-471 during Bert’s first six seasons.  Struggling with terrible run support, Blyleven’s career record to that point was 108-101.  He was averaging 18 wins a season, but because he played on “.500 at best” teams he was also averaging 17 losses.  After years of constant frustration, Bert was traded to the Texas Rangers in 1976.

From 1976 until 1985, Bert spent time with the Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Cleveland Indians.  He won a World Series championship with Pittsburgh in 1979, but was once again mostly relegated to sub-par teams, skewing his statistics even further, though he threw a no-hitter in 1977 and was a Cy-Young contender in 1984.  In 1986, as part of the first four-team trade in baseball history, Bert was sent back to Minnesota.

By this time, after spending 15 seasons in the major leagues, Blyleven had gained a reputation for something other than his curveball…his clubhouse pranks.  Known as a player willing to stop at nothing for a practical joke, Bert’s most popular trick was crawling under the dugout bench (braving the years of tobacco stains and gum wads) to light teammates’ shoelaces on fire (only after tying them together, of course).  On one occasion at Seattle’s Kingdom, Blyleven found a crawlspace under the bleachers and used it to set fire to the opposing bullpen via some alcohol and a match.  Another time, Bert had a little fun with Twins trainer Dick Martin.  Bert took Martin’s toothbrush, rubbed it over his own posterior region a few times, and put it back.  When Martin went to brush his teeth, he couldn’t understand why the entire clubhouse was cracking up.  While those pranks (along with the obligatory shaving cream pie during a TV interview, mooning the photographer during the team picture, or stealing pairs of pants from random lockers) may have been considered crude to the outside world, in the jocular major league baseball clubhouse they were an excellent way to break the tension of a long, 162-game season and have a little fun.

Blyleven started his second tenure with the Twins in 1986 with a rather dubious distinction: giving up 50 home runs in a single season, the most in history.  The next year, 1987, he did a little better, giving up only 46.  “The year I gave up 50, I think 42 were solo,” Blyleven later recalled to his defense, “One time I gave up five in one game, but we won, 11-7!”  Of course, the Twins did win the World Series in 1987, so Bert was exonerated.

After a final season with the Twins, Bert closed out his career with the California Angels.  He put together a final solid season in 1989 (winning the Comeback Player of the Year Award after a terrible ’88), but had his career screech to a halt by a torn rotator cuff in 1991.

Upon his retirement, Bert Blyleven had put together an impressive resume of career achievements: 287 wins (25th all-time)…3.31 career ERA…4,970 innings pitched (13th all-time)…3,701 strikeouts (5th all-time)…242 complete games…60 shutouts (9th all-time)…one of only three MLB pitchers to win a game before his 20th birthday and after his 40th birthday.  While those numbers would suggest a ready-punched ticket to Cooperstown, the Hall has not called.  Whether it be Bert’s lack of an impressive winning percentage, appearances on sub-par teams, or inability to stick with one team for a prolonged period of time (none of which he could control), Hall of Fame voters have kept him out.

In 1996, Bert Blyleven became the full-time “color man” of the Twins’ TV broadcasting crew, paired with Dick Bremer’s play-by-play.  While at first the duo struggled with adapting to each other’s strong opinions about baseball strategy, they have now managed to create the exciting chemistry you tune in each night.

The last few years, Bert has become famous for his circles.  It is my hope that the sports writers of America will do the same, by circling his name on the Hall of Fame ballot.  I would…and not just because I value my shoelaces, either.

 

Praying For A Legend

HarmonKillebrew34.jpgI think that every state has their own, special sporting legends that seem to transcend the field of play and mean something just a bit more. In Minnesota, that figure was/is Harmon Killebrew.

Now, by the time I became interested in baseball, “The Killer” was already enshrined in Cooperstown, so I don’t have any first-hand insight into the matter, but sometimes you can just tell by the way a guy is talked about.  I haven’t found a person yet who watched Twins baseball in the 1960s-early 70s and DIDN’T idolize Harm.  As a child, my dad rooted for him at the old Met, got his autograph coming out of the stadium (which promptly got stuck in the bicycle spokes, of course…no pristine collector’s cases back then!), and emulated his batting stance and swing on the Little League diamonds.

Thus, I was very saddened to hear that Killebrew has contracted esophogeal cancer.  This may be a tough nut to crack, but (in typical Harmon fashion) he is resolute on beating the diesease.  Pretty mundane stuff for the guy who stared down the likes of Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale, right?

My thoughts and prayers are with the Killebrew family during this rough time.  Having him around as a Twins ambassador reminds me that my elder generation (like my dad) once had heroes too, idolizing the same sort of “mythic” sports heroes I once (and still do) today.

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Good luck Harm!

From The Land Of The Rising Sun…

4TWIN121910.jpgWith JJ Hardy gone to Baltimore and O-Dawg recently signing with San Diego, the Twins needed to make a splash to shore up their middle infield. It doesn’t get a whole lot splashier than this.

For the first time in team history, the Twins organization reached into the Nippon Professional baseball league of Japan to nab Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

Last year, Nishioka hit .346 to lead the Pacific League of Japan, and is expected to either play shortstop or second base on the 2011 Twins.

Of course, as we all well know, transitioning from “east to west” is never a sure prospect.  For every Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui, there are two Kaz Sasaki’s or Kaz Matsui’s.

I like this move, though, as (if this guy can hit even close to as good as he did in Japan), then he could be a great #2 hole hitter, or even light a little fire under Span for the leadoff spot battle.

Crain-wreck

mlb-twins-orioles.jpgWow…Jesse Crain a White Sock!  My thoughts about one of the most polarizing figures in the Twins bullpen since 2004:

If you have read this blog the last few years (or even just scanning through would probably do the trick), you’ll know the emnity I have towards Crain runs quite deep.  I always thought he vultured his way (via an extraordinary ’04 campaign where he picked up a remarkable amount of late-inning W’s) into good standings with Ron Gardenhire to begin with.  Plus, I’ve never seen a reliever with quite the knack for giving up the same-winning hit.  I won’t do this right now (all Crain’s wrongs litter other posts of mine), but I could name multiple, multiple times where he came in a blew a game.  Had we released him halfway through last season, I would have been shouting on high:

 

However, in the last few months of 2010, a strange thing happened: Crain became absolutely unhittable.  As much as I hated to admit it, I actually WANTED to see him come into games in the later innings, as Guerrier was faltering and the rest of the pen couldn’t find their backside with thier collective arms.  Crain himself credited the change to a new type of snappy curveball he began throwing, but whatever the case he was “the man” for awhile.

That being said, I’m still glad to see that he’s moving on, as I have a troubling feeling (well, not so troubling anymore not that he’s a Pale Hose, I guess) that the old “Crain-wreck” is bound to crop up again in the near future (hopefully against us!).  Now that Bobby Jenks is out of Chicago, maybe the Twins can start a new tradition of owning a certain White Sox reliever…Crain!

Hudson Goes To Cali

twins-hudson-throws-against-white-sox-chicago.jpgOrlando Hudson is a Padre.

When healthy, O-Dawg was a force at the top of our lineup.  However, that healthy state eluded him time and time again.  Just when it seemed as if he had recovered from the previous injury and was getting his stroke back, a new malady would crop up.

Basically, O-Dawg was a one-year rental for a playoff push that never transpired.  Enjoy him, Cali…when he is in the lineup, that is.

Oh yeah, and his DP mate will be Jason Bartlett…

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Small world, huh?!

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