Sunday, February 21, 2010

Twins Off-Season

The Twins 2 most productive off-seasons were before the 1987 and 1991 seasons. After a dismal finish in 1986, the Twins needed a quality lead-off hitter and a reliable closer in order to become a contender. Those needs were met by trading for outfielder Dan Gladden and All-Star closer Jeff Reardon. Months later Jeff Reardon was on the mound to record the final out of the Twins first World Championship.

After finishing last in their division in 1990, the Twins needed an elite pitcher to anchor their young pitching staff and run producing DH. After trying and failing to sign Kirk Gibson the Twins signed veteran hitter Chili Davis to be their new DH and thensigned veteran pitcher and Minnesota native Jack Morris to anchor their pitching staff. A few months later Jack Morris pitched a 10 inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series to give the Twins their 2nd World Championship.

I believe this off-season has been similarly productive. Will it result in a World Championship? Who knows, but what I do know is this off-season the Twins addressed many of their needs.

I cannot believe the Twins had to only give Carlos Gomez in order to get shortstop J.J. Hardy from Milwaukee. Gomez is a great defensive outfielder who cannot hit. As long as he remained in Minnesota Gomez would have felt the pressure of being the key to the Johan Santana trade and tried to hard to a superstar. Hardy is a strong fielding, power hitting shortstop. The Twins have not had a good shortstop since Greg Gagne left after the1992 season. They likely have one now in Hardy.

The Twins wanted a veteran pitcher who could lead by example and eat up some innings. Re-signing Carl Pavano works because Pavano understands how the Twins work and what they want of him. He is not a #1 starter, but he will provide stability and veteran presence on this mostly young pitching staff.

The Twins have not had a real pinch hitting threat off the bench in 20 years. They have one now in Jim Thome. Thome may not be the player he was even 5 years ago, but he can still draw walks and hit for power. Thome’s veteran presence and quality character will likely rub off on the young players. The fact Thome signed for only 1.5 million plus incentives makes this deal all the better.

The Twins last good 2nd baseman was Chuck Knoblauch who departed a decade ago. Since then things have been mostly bad at this position. With the signing of All-Star and Gold Glove 2nd baseman Orlando Hudson that changes. Defensively Hudson is good and now helps give the Twins a strong defensive infield. As a hitter Hudson has the batting average and on-base % to hold down the critical #2 spot in the batting order behind high on base guy Denard Span and ahead of the league’s best hitter in Joe Mauer. Better yet Hudson presence frees up Nick Punto to go back to his utility infielder role which he has excelled in.

Now all the Twins have left to do this off-season is sign Joe Mauer to a long-term contract extension.

Buzz about the Twins might be at an all-time high. They have new stadium everyone wants to see in Target Field, they have the game’s best player in Joe Mauer, and with a great off-season featuring several key additions the Twins might have their best team “on paper” since 1991.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Twinsfest 2010

Twinsfest 2010 was held last weekend and I was in attendance on Friday and Saturday. One of my goals this year was to get Joe Mauer to autograph one of his Allen & Ginter cards. Another goal was to get new Twin Jim Thome to sign an Allen & Ginter card as well.

Friday is usually the best day to get player autographs because it is the least attended day. I got there 2 ½ hours before the event started and waited in the bitter cold wearing three layers of cloths. Upon getting into the event I ran so hard I almost fainted from exhaustion, and I still did not get a spot in line that would enable me to get an autograph from Joe Mauer.

One problem was that the people ahead of me outside the event held places in line for others. Therefore the 40 people ahead of me grew to be 100 people. There are two gates that they let people into the event which are both equal distances from the spot on the concourse where Joe Mauer was going to sign. Well, they opened the other gate up first meaning some of those folks had the jump on me.

This was frustrating but I have I learned over the years of attending these events that where one door closes another opens. There would be no Joe Mauer autograph this year (the line on Saturday was even worse), but there would be some surprise successes.

With a Mauer autograph out of the question, I moved down to field level where the vendors were and where also some of the other players were signing autographs. I found Brian Dunesing, along with coaches Rick Anderson, Rick Stelmaszek, and Scott Ullger signing with virtually no line. I needed Dunesing, Ullger, and Stelmaszek for my collection so I went through their line. I even had the chance to have a brief discussion with Dunesing about the quality of Allen & Ginter cards. For the record he thinks they are great cards too.

While waiting in that line I heard an announcement over the P.A. system that Hall of Famers Ferguson Jenkins, Rollie Fingers, former Twin Jim “Mudcat” Grant, former NL MVP George Foster, and former MVP and CY Young winner Vida Blue were there signing autographs for $20 each with the money going to charity. Jim “Mudcat” Grant has eluded me for years, so I was more than willing to donate $20 for him to sign a card for me. He even signed it Jim “Mudcat” Grant. While there I also got Rollie Fingers and Ferguson Jenkins to sign baseballs for me.

With these surprise successes under my belt, I moved to the J.J. Hardy, Nick Blackburn, and Jose Mijares line. One thing I always try to remember about Twinsfest is that just because the schedule says a player will be there does not mean he will be. Sure enough Blackburn was stranded in Oklahoma because a snowstorm and Mijares is was stuck in his native Venezuela with a visa issue. Luckily the person I really wanted (Hardy) was there and he signed an Allen & Ginter card for me.

I moved back up to concourse and got a baseball signed by Rod Carew which I got certified by Major League Baseball. Now when my heirs try to sell the ball the autograph will be guaranteed authentic making it more valuable.

I went and check out the Jim Thome line, and it was as bad as the Mauer line had been. My 2 goals were now out of reach. I decided not to fret the situation and was able to get a ball signed by Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire, a photo signed by Joe Nathan, a ball signed by Michael Cuddyer (the man has one of the nicest signatures), and a card by Jon Rauch (another player I needed).

I must admit I was exhausted, but on the drive home I got another surprise when I realized my route home let me see the Twins new stadium Target Field which was all lit up. I pulled over and take a brief look at what looks like a beautiful stadium.

I did not sleep well that night, it was bitterly cold Saturday morning, and the lines outside to get in were really long. I decided Mauer and Thome, who were signing in the first autograph sessions, were unobtainable. I waited to get in and went down to the field where Denard Span was signing. I got him to sign a ball for me. With that I moved back up to the concourse where Dan Gladden was going be signing. I needed to get him to sign a poster I have showing the 1991 World Series Game 7 winning hit. I already have the poster signed by the guy who got the hit (Gene Larkin), now I was wanted to get the guy who scored the run (Gladden).

Gladden was going to be signing at the station where Thome was still signing. I arrived to find the Thome line still going and it seemed short enough for me to have a shot at getting him. I hustled to the end of the line and found some of those people were already waiting for Gladden. I was able to move past them and with roughly 3-4 minutes left in his signing time, I got Jim Thome to sign an Allen & Ginter card for me. What luck!

On rare occasions in the past I have been able to arrive at the end of a signing period and get a popular player unexpectedly. In fact that is how I got a Joe Mauer signed baseball. Of course that was back when Mauer drew only 400 people in his line unlike the 1000 – 1500 people he draws now.

I did get Dan Gladden to sign my poster. Roy Smalley (did not need him, but he was signing with Gladden and I feel it would be rude to not have something for him to sign) signed a card for me.

Most the other lines were now insanely long as Saturday is busiest of the three days. Worse was the fact that up in the concourse it was unbearably hot due to the large crowds there.

One line down on the field was not busy at all. Former Tim Laudner, current coach Jerry White, and Jeff Manship were not exactly drawing big crowds. I had a photo for Launder, a card for White, but nothing for Manship who I needed for my collection. Luckily I found a vendor who had a Jeff Manship card. I now have signed cards from 213 different current or former Twins.

I had a ticket for Sunday too, but I was pretty sore from standing in line and running up and down the Metrodome steps all day. Also there was really no one signing on Sunday that I needed, so I decided to use Sunday to sleep and rest. Turned out to be wise decision was I was more sore and tired than I knew.

In all I got 20 different current and former players to sign for me which is 3 short of my record achieved at Twinsfest 2009 in which I attended all three days. I read that this year’s Twinsfest was the 2nd most attended ever. I could believe that.

I find that sometimes during an event you don’t realized how good of time it really was. This was such an event. I was not sure it was as successful as I was hoping while the event was going on, but after looking at my successes I realized it turned out to be successful venture.