The Minnesota Twins spring training

Published 12:15 pm Saturday, April 3, 2010

We headed down Interstate 75 to Hammond Stadium located in Fort Myers, the Twins’ spring home.

It was easy to find — just a short jaunt off the highway. The parking was $5 a car. What impressed me was the number of parking lot attendants, all of whom seemed to be over 65, which is kind of a theme in coastal southwestern Florida.

We stopped at a grocery store in Sarasota and the guys behind the deli counter were over 65 and the carry-out boy? He was celebrating his 83rd birthday.

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We parked and walked to the stadium. There were a number of fans, a bit of a feeling of festival in the air and it looked like many had come to spend the day.

What most surprised me was the very serious demeanor of the players and coaches. We arrived at 4 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game and I expected some joking and lightheartedness. Not so, the Twins I saw practicing were serious and committed, perhaps taking their cue from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Neither one being life of the party types.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Some of these guys were fighting for their professional careers and big money was involved. So while no one will ever make the Hall of Fame for having a good spring, it’s important.

Manager Ron Gardenhire started what is considered his opening day lineup against Baltimore. Denard Span in center field, Orlando Hudson at second, Joe (set for life) Mauer catching, Morneau at first base, Michael Cuddyer in right field, Jason Kubel at DH, Delmon Young in left field, J.J. Hardy at shortstop and Nick Punto at third base with Scott Baker pitching.

The Twins scored five runs the first two innings and took command of the game. Mauer looked to be in mid-season form with two singles up the middle. Cuddyer also had two hits including a home run, the baseball sailing over the fence and disappearing into the dark night.

We expected the Twins to win and they did; it almost looking like the Orioles were overmatched.

The hitting star of the night was not Mauer, Morneau or Cuddyer, it was young training camp invitee, Juan Portes, who went 2-for-2 with a home run and a double. We wondered who he was and learned he hit two home runs in one game against the Yankees earlier this spring. Now he is not going to come close to making the Twins, but if he has a good year in the minors, and the Twins are playing the Yankees in the postseason, you can bet that his name will go through Gardenhire’s mind.

Defensively the Twins played well, although no spectacular plays were made. It’s a bit too early for the regulars to risk injury. A Rochester designee, Chris Parmelee, replaced Morneau at first and booted a ground ball. No matter, he was headed for Rochester anyway.

We particularly kept an eye on Hardy at shortstop and Hudson (O-Dog) at second. They both looked good, although it’s difficult to tell after just part of a game in spring training. Hardy went deep in the hole and threw the runner out at first. He fumbled another grounder, but still got the runner. Judging on just two plays, he looked to have range and a good arm. Hudson went after a ground ball between first and second, got it, did a 360 and threw out the runner. I’m not sure the 360 was necessary, but he looked good. O-Dog may be a bit of a hot dog.

The pitching looked good with Francisco Liriano completely in control, particularly with his slider during his three innings. “Filthy breaking pitches” according to Gardenhire. More about Liriano and Twins’ pitching in the future.

Our spring Twins looked good and on paper appear to be World Series contenders even without Nathan.