"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Thursday, March 31, 2005

So Long, and Thanks For All the Hits

Today, the Twins placed outfielder Michael Restovich on waivers, where he was promptly claimed by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who need good players like fish need H20. Lefty reliever CJ Nitkowski, who until very recently appeared to be a lock for the Twins bullpen, was released. (He may have jinxed himself by taking Corey Koskie's #47. Those were some big Canadian shoes to fill.)

But why, oh why, must we bid these fine young men farewell?

Resto, simply put, failed to make himself indispensable to a contending team overflowing with talented outfielders. It doesn't reflect badly on him, really--he'll be an excellent addition to Tampa's lineup, and Tampa fans will no doubt spend the next few years chortling about snatching this prize from under Minnesota's nose. Fair enough.

Nitkowski's case is murkier. He had a couple of awkward outings lately, sure, but overall his spring has been excellent. The Twins' radio broadcast team mentioned that he appeared extremely and obviously frustrated on the mound during at least one of those bad outings, and hinted that such behavior may have carried into the dugout and even the clubhouse. Is threatening to disrupt the "chemistry" of a team that relies so heavily on that ephemeral trait a cardinal sin for a non-roster invitee, even if he is lefthanded, breathing and fairly productive? Perhaps it is. This is one of those situations I doubt the fans will ever be privy to the full story on. But being, as mentioned, lefthanded and breathing while coming off of a mostly good spring, he'll no doubt catch on with another club in short order.

Me, I'm just glad Resto didn't end up with New Yord or Chicago.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

That's It, We're Moving To Canada

An excerpt from To Pakistan, With Thanks By Joshua Kucera:

The United States imposed weapons sanctions in the 1990s after it found out about Pakistan's secret nuclear bomb program. But then came Sept. 11 and the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan became our new best friend, and the sanctions were lifted. And although Pakistan's military is still overwhelmingly oriented toward India--hardly a major front in the 'war on terror'--Washington has opened up its pocketbooks again. Over the next five years, Pakistan will get at least $1.5 billion in defense aid from the United States.

An announcement made at IDEAS 2004 suggests where some of that money is going to be spent: Pakistani officials revealed that the United States is ready to reverse its longtime opposition to selling new F-16 fighter jets to Islamabad. The chief of the Pakistan Air Force told me Washington wants to provide the F-16s, in part, to help Pakistan fight Islamist extremists in the tribal areas in the northwestern part of the country.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has deftly played the United States since Sept. 11, and Washington has let him get away with it. Shortly before IDEAS 2004 opened, he announced that he will not step down as chief of the army, as he had promised. The United States barely let out a peep. The operations against the insurgents in the northwest are centered in Waziristan, not around Quetta or Peshawar, where intelligence officials and analysts believe most Taliban and al-Qaida operatives are based. One analyst told me the Pakistanis are attacking Waziristan because it's an easy target, and because tribal forces humiliated Pakistani army troops there earlier this year, and now the military establishment wants revenge. Yet U.S. officials praise the operations as an important battle in the "war on terror."

Even if Pakistan were serious about fighting the Taliban, it could certainly find a better way to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars the F-16s will cost. But the Pakistanis gave a clue as to what they really want with the planes: They are requesting that the F-16s be armed with top-of-the-line air-to-air missiles that would be of little use against targets like the Islamists it's fighting on the ground. Other equipment Pakistan is getting from the United States—navy surveillance planes, for example—is similarly useless against a guerrilla insurgency. They would, of course, be useful in a war against India.

Where to begin?

First of all, how is it that I heard of this only because a passing reference on Air America Radio (bless them) aroused my husband's curiosity, which he passed on to me, and I promptly Googled? This should be headline news. It should at least be news! But no, all I see on TV news and read in the paper is something on the order of "Terry Schaivo, school shooting, Terry Schaivo, Michael Jackson, school shooting, Robert Blake, and did we mention Terry Schaivo?".

Second of all, what the hell were they thinking? No, wait, scratch that, it's been over four years and I'm still waiting for the first lucid brainwave out of this administration. Is it too much to hope for, though, that mounting deficits, runaway war expenses, a sinking economy, record unemployment, a burgeoning fuel-cost crisis, and the need to spend our defense resources on actual threats might at least give these folks pause before throwing a $1.5 billion match onto the India/Pakistan fuse?

I love my country, but I fear my government. And frankly, the love's wearing a little thin these days.

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Monday, March 28, 2005

Restovich Redux

Well, well, well.

The Twins released Eric Munson on Saturday. Not just assigned to AAA, but released: poof!, out of the organization. Quite a turnaround.

Now, Munson's spring was terrible, but on paper he's shown enough promise in the past to at least be worth keeping in the organization. Makes you wonder what the Twins staff saw that we're not privy to, doesn't it? Left-hitting outfielder Michael Ryan, whose spring hasn't been anything to write home about either, was optioned to AAA Rochester at the same time.

This, of course, moves Michael Restovich one step closer to staying with the Twins. His big competition now? Switch-hitting corner infielder Terry Tiffee.

On the heels of Munson's abrupt departure, Restovich argued his own case (finally) with a grand slam in the first inning of Sunday's game against Baltimore's LHP Eric DuBose. He actually had two hits on the day, raising his spring training average to .261. I'd post his OBP, too, but the stupid spring training stats don't include walks. He's slugging a .457, though, which is high for his BA.

Terry Tiffee is still the frontrunner for the "left-handed bat off the bench" spot, mostly because he can hit lefthanded. But amid rumors of carrying a third catcher (LeCroy doesn't count), I began to wonder how many spots really are up for grabs. Assuming they carry eleven pitchers, they'll have 14 position players on the roster when they break camp.

1. C - Joe Mauer
2. C - Mike Redmond
3. DH/1B/C - Matthew LeCroy
4. 1B - Justin Morneau
5. 2B - Luis Rivas (may break camp as a backup)
6. SS - Jason Bartlett
7. 3B - Michael Cuddyer
8. LF - Shannon Stewart
9. CF - Torii Hunter
10. RF - Jacque Jones
11. OF/DH - Lew Ford
12. UT - Nick Punto (may break camp as starting 2B)
13. UT - Juan Castro

So yes, one spot remains, and it probably belongs to Tiffee. Which isn't to say we're out of options. We could release Castro, that's my favorite. We could trade LeCroy to a team that would actually use him. We could trade Rivas (would anyone take him?) and pray Punto stays healthy, knowing we have Augie Ojeda and Luis Rodriguez at AAA if needed.

All of the above are unlikely, though not impossible, and it still doesn't look very good for Resto.

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Sunday, March 27, 2005

Bob Casey, R.I.P.

Minnesota Twins : News:
One of the truly distinct voices in the game of baseball was silenced early Sunday, when Twins public-address announcer Bob Casey died at the age of 79 as a result of complications of liver cancer and pneumonia.
A PA man for 44 seasons and the only one in Twins history, Casey passed away at 12:30 a.m. at the Veterans' Medical Center in Minneapolis.
The Twins said Sunday that they would dedicate the 2005 season to Casey's memory.

And remember, folks: "Do not throw anything--or anybody--onto the playing field!"

Vade in pace, Mr. Casey. It won't be the same without you. (Especially when Frank Catalanotto comes to town.)

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Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Restovich Conundrum

If I worked for the Twins' marketing department, I'd be tearing my hair out over Michael Restovich right about now. "Resto" is a ready-made fan favorite, a handsome Minnesota boy with an aw-shucks grin and a power swing. That power swing, coupled with a good glove in the outfield, have made him a bright light in the organization for several years.

Back in the bad ol' days when the Twins routinely sucked, he would have become our everyday right fielder as soon as he proved he could hack it in AA. But these last three years, bountiful with division championships and talented outfielders, have seen him stalled in AAA, waiting for a chance and steadily whittling down his store of options.

Now he's out of options, slowly recovering from an offseason injury to his throwing shoulder and having an unimpressive spring for a team that probably only has room for a left-handed bat on the bench (Resto bats right). If put on waivers for yet another stint in AAA, he will surely be claimed by another organization less rife with right-handed outfielders and in need of a young, inexpensive power threat in their lineup.

He's done nothing this spring to make himself indispensable to the Twins, and after a lousy showing at Rochester last year (fueled no doubt by the futility and boredom of a third season at AAA) the Twins will have a hard time justifying keeping him on the roster over other players with such advantages as a good spring or a left-handed swing.

On the other hand, the left-handed hitter most likely to make the team in his place, Eric Munson, is batting a horrifying .184 on the spring, nearly a hundred points below Resto's spring average. There's also switch-hitting Terry Tiffee in the mix; while no outfielder, he hits well and can play first and third. Tiffee's chances would be better if the Twins didn't already have two utility infielders and a spare first baseman/catcher.

Now, I'm one of those people who thinks the signing of Juan Castro was a big mistake best rectified by putting him on waivers and hoping someone bites, thereby allowing Resto and either Munson or Tiffee to make the team. But we all know that's about as likely as a hurricane on Lake Minnetonka.

I believe we'll be bidding Restovich farewell in a week or two, for I simply cannot conceive of a baseball universe in which a 26-year-old power-hitting outfielder with a made-for-TV face and a cannon for an arm could actually clear waivers. And it might be the best thing for him, to go somewhere with fewer established outfielders where he'll have a real chance to carve out an everyday place for himself. But I'll be sad to see him go; the Twins overcome their tiny payroll by hoarding cheap talent, and that instinct toward miserliness trickles down to us fans as well, making us loath to see such promise slip away with no return on our investment. We get all twitchy and weird.

Just please, please, don't let him go to the Damn Yankees or the Whine Sox. Please. Anything but that.

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Twins vs Yankees, 03/26/2005

It was a playoff replay at Hammond Stadium today: Twins vs Yankees, Santana vs Mussina. Santana pitched well early, but tired late. Mussina was hittable, but not very. The Twins lost 5-3.

I hate losing to the Yankees. Even in spring training. Even when it's a close game, when Morneau is starting to look like his old self and Hunter hits a beauty of a homer. I hate losing to the Yankees because the Yankees are capital-E Evil. The Yankees are everything that is wrong with baseball and a perversion of everything that's right with it. Steinbrenner is an ass, a trait emulated by most of his players. Their misbegotten sense of entitlement is shared and amplified by their legions of clueless, obnoxious fans. I have met hundreds of Yankee fans in my life, and could count on one hand those who actually comprehended even the most basic subtleties of the game. Most Yankee "fans" actually think Derek Jeter is handsome--this gives you and idea of the depths of their delusion.

So when I think of my honest, hardworking, good-hearted Twins losing so much as an exhibition game to these pinstriped spawns of Satan, I just

[The remainder of this post has been forcibly censored by the FCC, on the grounds of extreme profanity.]

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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Musical Middle Infielders

The latest buzz coming out of the Twins spring training camp has Jason Bartlett penciled in as our 2005 starting shortstop, with Nick Punto (the early favorite at SS) suddenly in the mix at second as perennial second baseman Luis Rivas tacks a pretty sucky spring training onto the end of four underwhelming seasons.

I threw my support behind Bartlett after seeing him play in two early spring training games. He just looked ready, and nothing he's done since has altered that impression a whit. But Punto at second? Intriguing...

Rivas is a .262 career hitter, and I think it was early last season when I stopped expecting that someday he'd do better than that. He hasn't improved in any significant sense in any significant offensive category since 2001. You can expect that in any given season he'll hit around .260, get a few homers and a few doubles, and steal four or five bases per hundred at-bats. If he were a better bunter, the above would be less disappointing; he is better than most of the team, but since most of the team bunts like angry howler monkeys, it's a pale compliment at best.

Punto, on the other hand, has less than 200 major-league at-bats over four seasons, which makes his entire career at the plate statistically insignificant. My impression from last season is that he hits fairly well when given regular playing time, but he'll need to get 300+ at-bats in a season to prove that out. He can bunt, though, and I do love a good bunt. He can squeeze that baby down the first-base line and pass it in three steps.

Did I mention he's fast? Well, he is. So is Rivas. Rivas steals bases; Punto steals bases. Rivas has a good glove and is consistent; Punto has a good glove and is fearless. If you could give Rivas some of Punto's nerve and Punto some of Rivas's caution, they'd both be greatly improved.

It looks to me that Punto would probably hit about as well as Rivas, and be as good or slightly better in the field...if he could stay healthy. That's our big question mark: will Punto continue to mangle himself attempting impossible plays?

On the other hand, he costs about 25% of what we're paying Rivas, and he's a switch hitter. He might hit for high average if played everyday, he's never had the opportunity to find out. Frankly, I'm ready to give him a chance just because he hasn't spent the last three years slowly disappointing all who behold him. Rivas has had his chances. Maybe he should spend some time sitting on the bench watching someone else play his position. And if Punto gets injured (again), we have an experienced Plan B waiting in the wings.

So hey, why not? We know what we'd get out of Rivas. Let's give the unknown a whirl.

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Spring Cleaning

It's tempting Fate to put the winter clothes in storage before the mercury hits 70 around here. I did it anyway. Blame for any future blizzards may be laid firmly on my doorstep, but I just couldn't wait any longer. I needed to see and touch all those lovely shorts and sleeveless shirts. I needed to believe that yes, Virginia, there is a summer, and it is coming soon.

A lot of what I uncovered was a surprise, items purchased late in the summer in celebration of dropping a size and worn only once or twice before being packed away in favor of sweaters and long underwear.

Much of it is shortly going to be a nice surprise for someone at the Goodwill store. Some recently-acquired wisdom: don't buy new clothes near the end of a season while dieting. Those size ten cargo capris look fabulous in August when you're getting out of a twelve for the first time in two years, but next March when you're wearing a six they look more like limp potato sacks with belt loops.

So, who wants to go shopping? I need some new pants!

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Every once in a while, someone will ask me why I carry a backpack. After all, I'm over thirty (though I don't generally look it--thanks for the genes, Mom!). The reason is twofold.

First, I usually take my lunch to work. I challenge any of you who believe that a professional woman should restrict herself to a purse to fit a frozen dinner, a Jello cup, a tangerine and a yogurt into a purse which already contains pens, pencils, sunscreen, chapstick, a PDA, a cellphone, an MP3 player, a journal and two books. Can't be done. (Well, not without a purse the size of a beach bag, and at that point, why NOT wear a backpack?)

The second reason, of course, is the books. I love books. I collect books. On any given day I have a stack of no less than two dozen unread books patiently awaiting my whim. Whenever I come home with a new book (approximately twice a week) my husband rolls his eyes, sighs loudly, and walks slowly away shaking his head, shoulders hunched in despair.

I "manage" the discrepancy between the staggering amount of stuff I want to read and the time I have available to read it by having three books going at a time: the bus book, the work book, and the home book.

The work book is read on breaks at work. The home book is read at home. The bus book is the book I read elsewhere--on the bus, waiting in lines or lobbies, and while walking. Reading while walking is a handy skill I developed in college, and nets me a good half-hour of extra reading time most days when the weather is nice. Of course, it goes without saying that any new Harry Potter book supercedes the three-book minimum and is the only book in the universe until it has been read. Twice.

Let's check the backpack and coffee table today...

The bus book at the moment is The Catcher by Rob Trucks. It's in the nature of research for me (I'm working on a novel starring a catcher), but I highly recommend it to any serious fan of the game. It's a short book written in an engaging, conversational style. It would make a great audio book, come to think of it.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis is the work book. I'm only ten pages into it, so I don't have much to say except that the preface was very interesting.

At home I'm reading In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip. This is another one I've barely started, but I've read several other McKillip books and have never been disappointed. I find the adult fantasy market these days overcroweded with two kinds of stories: 600-page-long overpopulated, overcomplicated epics and supernatural softcore porn. Neither is to my taste, which is why I read young adult fantasy novels and the rare authors like McKillip who can spin a thoughtful, magical story with a reasonably-sized cast of characters.

On deck:

When I finish The Catcher, I'm moving on to Blood Rites by Jim Butcher, the sixth in the Harry Dresden series. This series is fast-paced, captivating and absolutely hysterical. Magic, supernatural creatures and rampant sarcasm are a brilliant combination. (The series starts with Storm Front.)

You Have the Power by Howard Dean has sat on my bookshelf since the week after the election. Now that the local political scene is starting to gear up for the mayoral, senatorial and gubernatorial races of 2006, it's time to wake up and get ready to pitch in. Wetterling for Senate, anyone?

Baked to Death by Dean James isn't out yet, but it's due next week and I've already pre-ordered my copy from Borders. I expect Moneyball will be briefly set aside so that I can immediately soak up the fourth adventure of Simon Kirby-Jones, that urbane and witty gay vampire from the American South, now "living" and solving mysteries in the cozy English village of Snupperton Mumsley. (The series began with Posted to Death.)

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Monday, March 21, 2005

Winning! Streak?

Wow--two wins in a row! Sure, spring training games don't "matter", but when I have to put up with John Gordon's ramblings, I'd prefer not just a win but an ass-whoopin'. I'll take today's 3-2 victory over the Phillies, however, with copious gratitude that Jim "Twin-Killer" Thome sat this one out. Tomorrow the boys get a day off to rest and relax...or (more likely) get a dose of TK's brand of spring training TLC. Hope they've got extra BenGay.

Highly regarded prospect Scott Baker continues to impress the organization and the fans. Today he started for the Twins, pitching three innings and giving up only one earned run. Fireballing reliever Jesse Crain, who has struggled this spring, helped his own cause doubly by pitching two scoreless innings, allowing only one hit, and knocking in the game-winning run when given the chance to bat. Several fans fainted from shock when JC Romero actually threw a hitless inning, and AAA workhorse Dave Gassner lobbied for a spot atop the callup list with two scoreless innings of his own, though uncharacteristic control problems led to two walks during the outing.

After a fourteen-hit Sunday, the offense subsided to its more usual aenemic level today. None of our boys got more than one hit, and they combined for a paltry five. It was enough to get the job done, but with so many regulars in the lineup there really ought to have been a bit more action to the whole business.

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Transit Options

Quiz time, boys and girls!

Today's puzzle is a logic problem.

A metropolitan region has overcrowded streets and highways, high-traffic area parking shortages, increasing pollution levels and problems maintaining drivable conditions on existing roads. Meanwhile, the public transit system is facing a catastrophic budget shortfall because a large portion of its funding comes from a motor vehicle sales tax, and fewer people are buying vehicles in this depressed and unstable economy. A proposed 25-cent fare increase on most rides would offset only a small percentage of the shortfall.

The logical solution is:

A) Eliminate 28 routes entirely and reduce service on 3/4 of the remaining routes, reducing overall public transit ridership by an estimated 4 million rides per year and forcing thousands to abandon transit altogether, adding to the burden of single-occupant vehicles on the local infrastructure and environment.

B) Find new funding sources such as a sales tax and/or gasoline tax increase and not only fund public transit at current levels but increase route frequency and coverage, thereby alleviating congestion, parking woes, fossil-fuel pollution and wear and tear on area roads.

Extra credit (and a nice cold beer) for anyone who can answer the following question to my satisfaction:

Why is this even up for debate?

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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Whole Lotta Losin' Goin' On

I'm having flashbacks to last season. And not the good part of last season. No, I'm visited by visions of May and June and the vast quantities of sucking which made that period so memorable.

Perhaps watching/hearing the two teams I follow (Gophers hockey and Twins baseball) combine to lose five games in 48 hours has made me pessimistic. In fact, it's quite likely. But the Twins' hitting foibles today were eerily reminiscent of last season's early flaws.

Considering that no one scored until the seventh inning, it would be easy to assume that the game against the Reds was a pitcher's duel. It wasn't. Granted, Mays gave an excellent performance for the Twins, and the Reds pitchers certainly didn't suck, but before either team scored the Twins loaded the bases not once but twice with one out, in the third and sixth innings. Both times, they failed to score.

Allow me to repeat: twice the bases were loaded with only one out, and both times the Twins utterly failed to plate so much as one measly run. The bastards.

They lost by three runs after leaving ten runners on--five in scoring position. I have a message for the Twins. Are any of you out there? Okay, lean in close, I want to make sure you hear this. Everyone listening?


How often do we hear, "so-and-so's job here is to move the runners over"? Hey, guess what? When the bases are loaded, moving the runners over makes them score! Who knew?

Oh, and someone might want to mention to Gardy that perhaps Guerrier isn't the best choice to pitch late in a close game. Just a thought.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Outfield Surplus

It's the same thing every year, isn't it? So many outfielders, only one opening. We've got four outfielders already--Jones in right, Hunter in center, Stewart in left, and Ford as designated hitter and day-off-guy. Mind you, the last two really ought to be switched, given Stewart's history of injury and the vast quantities of cash he's being paid, but that's just not going to happen, so I'll rant about it another day.

So we come to the elusive "fifth outfielder", who is really more of a pinch hitter/insurance policy combo. Jason Kubel, after a short but brilliant callup last season, was a shoe-in before he blew his knee out in the Arizona Fall League. Look for Jason to reappear on the roster in 2005. For this year, the contenders are:

Michael Restovich
After three seasons in AAA, it's fish-or-cut-line time for both Resto and the organization. His lousy numbers last year show that he is not being challenged in the minor leagues, and unless he's brought up and given an opportunity soon, all that lovely talent will likely wither on the vine.
Advantages: Young, inexpensive power hitter. Solid defense. Native Minnesotan; that puts butts in the seats, which the Twins desperately need. Out of options, will have to go through waivers to be sent back to the minors, and if that happens another team will pick him up.
Disadvantages: Strikes out a ton; not unusual in power hitters, but not desireable in rookies of any sort. Has difficulties with certain offspeed pitches (I want to say the curve is his biggest problem, but it's been so long since I saw him face major-league pitching I'm not entirely sure I'm remembering correctly).

Michael Ryan
Ryan made the club out of spring training last year, but had his season with the Twins cut short by injury and finished the year in AAA, where he underperformed. He's another one who has been up and down the last few years and needs to find himself a role soon.
Advantages: Left-swinging clutch hitter. Good bat off the bench. Good fielder with a wide range. Speedy for his size, can steal a few bases and cover ground in the field. Will run out of options soon. Wears his socks like a ballplayer should.
Disadvantages: Seems slow to recover from injury. Shows promise of being a high-average hitter in the majors but unlikely to see enough regular playing time to realize that promise with the Twins. May serve the organization better as trade bait?

Armando Rios
The journeyman outfielder signed a minor-league contract with the Twins in the offseason, including an invite to spring training.
Advantages: Experienced and inexpensive. Bats from the left. His career numbers indicate he's a good enough hitter and fielder for a backup role. One also assumes the Twins wouldn't be looking at him if he didn't have a history of hitting well off the bench.
Disadvantages: He's 33 years old, vying for a spot on a team built largely on younger talent. He doesn't bring much to the table that Ryan and/or Restovich can't offer.

Todd Dunwoody
Dunwoody looks a lot like Rios, except younger (29).
Advantages: Left-handed hitter, good fielding numbers.
Disadvantages: Career .233 hitter who hasn't seen the majors since 2002.

Jason Tyner
Another minor-league signing, Tyner is as much a longshot as Dunwoody.
Advantages: Left-handed hitter, good fielding numbers. Stole 31 bases in 105 games for Tampa in 2001.
Disadvantages: No home runs in 778 career major-league at-bats.

If Restovich can emerge from spring training batting over the Mendoza line with a decrease (however small) in his strikeout rate, I can't imagine him not making the cut, simply because he's out of options. Ryan would then find himself in AAA or packaged in a trade for an ML-ready reliever who could provide another layer of security against the vicissitudes of Balfour's injuries and Romero's meltdowns.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Jason Bartlett Show

Jason Bartlett. Can you believe this kid? I mean, wow. Just...wow.

Last season, we got our first look at the organization's hottest shortstop prospect. We knew what to expect: good bat, good runner, no glove. What we got was a matching bat and glove set in solid lead. He stood at the plate like a deer in the headlights, a syndrome common to first-time callups, and watching him field was like watching the proverbial train wreck--you just can't take your eyes off the twisted, smoking ruin of it all. I mean, it was painful. It was worse than watching Cuddyer field third, and that's saying something. (To be fair, Cuddy has been surprisingly above average fielding-wise this spring, though he's hitting like an AL relief pitcher so far.)

Bartlett was no doubt given the reward of an invitation to the big-league spring training more in response to his performance in the minor leagues last year than his first "cup of coffee" in Minnesota. I don't know anyone who was seriously considering him as a possible replacement for the departed Guzman this year, though of course he is intended for the position eventually. But with early favorite Nick Punto, veteran Juan Castro, and defensive wizard Augie Ojeda in the mix for the starting shortstop job, young Bartlett and his fielding foibles looked like a longshot even for a backup role. Halfway through the exhibition season, Punto is injured and out of favor, Castro apparently has seizures every time the ball gets within ten feet of him, and poor Augie still can't hit. Suddenly, Bartlett is the front-runner.

After reportedly working his butt off after returning to the minor leagues, in the prestigious Arizona Fall League and during the offseason, he looks like a completely different player. He has had a couple of questionable fielding moments which are more than outweighed by dozens of solid plays and a handful of mind-blowing ones. He's hitting pretty much anything in the strike zone, and he's stealing bases. I was lucky enough to see him for myself in two spring training games in person and one on television, and of course it is occasionally possible to pry nuggets of relevant information from John Gordon's radio calls of the games. Everything I've seen and heard has been impressive.

He got the call to the big leagues, and he was terrible. The coaches sat him down, told him what he was doing wrong, worked with him a little, and sent him back down. How many times have you seen players in that situation tank completely? It happens too often. But this guy kept doing what he did well and worked hard on what he didn't. Now, less than a year later, he's on the verge of becoming an everyday major-league shortstop.

In a spring full of talk about steriods and congressional hearings, it's nice to see someone earn their shot through simple hard work. So let's all wish Jason Bartlett good luck--this season or next he'll probably be a regular part of the Twins lineup, and when that day comes he'll have gotten there the right way. Bravo.

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Saturday, March 12, 2005

You Can Never Have Too Many Pirates

Yay, new nephew!

Well, actually, I'm an only child (can you tell?), so I claim my girlfriends' kids as nieces and nephews. All nephews, so far. Skiing Pirate, I'm relying on you to change that, okay? Anyhow, back to the point.

The crew of the Bloodwake has another member in the person of young Corbin "Cutthroat" Carlson (nickname subject to change without notice), who signed up during the breakfast hour this morning. He has been provisionally assigned the title and job of "Able Pirate", but I still think we need a cabin boy.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

Friday Afternoon Miscellany

Today's strip in the Dilbert-a-Day calendar is about estimating time to completion for a project. It went like so:

Dilbert: "In a perfect world the project would take eight months. But based on past projects in this company, I applied a 1.5 incompetence multiplier. And then I applied an LWF of 6.3."
Pointy-Haired Boss: "LWF?"
Alice: "Lying Weasel Factor."
I thought, "Hey, that's MY project!"

First baseman Justin Morneau, after battling appendicitis (October), chicken pox (January), pleurisy and pneumonia (February) this offseason, now has to have minor surgery to remove a cyst which has developed at the site of his appendectomy incision. What's next, scurvy? Arrrr!

In other news, the Twins lost to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 2-3 in exhibition action this afternoon. Apparently Santana pitched three scoreless innings, but since the game wasn't broadcast (@#*%!) I have no further detail to offer.

I just looked out the window, and the snow is falling sideways. Brrr.

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Joy of Spring Training Stats

Okay, so spring training numbers don't mean a thing, especially this early. But I love 'em. Why? It's like a weird alternate universe. Where else will you see futility infielders batting .600 while ace pitchers sport ERAs in the double digits? I like to look at spring training numbers and imagine what it would be like if they held through the regular season. Check out this starting lineup:


Aside from Mauer getting run out of town on a rail by August, that looks pretty good, doesn't it? Throw in five starting pitchers with ERAs under 2.00 and hello, championship!

Hey, I can dream.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Steroids and Other Special Treatments

Jim Litke has a really funny preview of the upcoming Congressional testimony on steroids in baseball. I'm sure the actual transcript won't be much different...

Speaking of steroids, the Giants have submitted a request to the commissioner's office that Barry Bonds be allowed to DH in spring training games against other National League teams. This so Bonds can be "eased into the exhibition season" after offseason knee surgery.

No. Correction: hell, no.

If he's not ready to play under the rules of his league, then put him on a rehab program. We do not change the rules for marquee players of suspicious size. We do not change the rules for anyone or anything save the betterment of the game as a whole.

Of course, the request will be granted. Commissioner Bud Selig has already set a (bad) precedent by granting a similar request to the Cincinnati Reds on behalf of the oft-injured Ken Griffey, Jr. I'm furious, but unsurprised.

When we first heard the story about Bonds, without knowing about the previously-approved Griffey petition, my husband opined that surely Selig would refuse this request for blatant favoritism.

My reply: "When was the last time Selig did what was right for the game of baseball?"

Looks like I nailed that one, huh?

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Monday, March 07, 2005

Last Out

Do you remember the last time it was 78 in Minneapolis? I don't. I assume it was in September. Maybe October. Too damn long ago, either way. What was it this afternoon--30? Also, there's no baseball in Minneapolis. There won't be for a month. So remind me--why am I waking up at the crack of hell tomorrow morning to board a plane that will take me away from sunny, basebally Fort Myers and drop me in the arctic tundra with no baseball save the three to five plays a game John Gordon deigns to call between longwinded stories about things I have zero interest in? Being homeless and unemployed in Florida sounds pretty darn good at the moment, I tell you.

Ah, but you didn't check in to hear me bitch. Well, the Skiing Pirate might have; you never can tell with those hypothermic buccaneers. But most of you are looking for baseball, I'm sure. So on to the game report, posthaste.

It got off to a less than promising start, as Luis "Base or Bench?" Rivas over-threw a standard putout throw to first, allowing the first batter to become a runner. Fortunately, Carlos "King Groundball" Silva was on the mound and up to the challenge, keeping the infielders on their toes and the Devil Rays off the bases. Only one flaw marred his outing: sometime during the offseason, he forgot how to wear his socks. If any of you happen to be in Fort Myers in the next couple of weeks and run into him, remind him that the pants should meet the socks just below the knees. Not at the ankles, Carlos--you know this!

In the second inning, Bert Blyleven and his butterfly net managed to snare not one but two foul popups, thereby successfully handling more balls that inning than the entire Devil Rays defense.

Potential backup catcher Corky "Too New for a Nickname" Miller showed off his arm , firing a bullet to second and catching a runner who had one heck of a lead in his favor. Jason "Look at Me!" Bartlett continued to field well and shot a sweeeeeet double to left in his second at-bat. The Twins as a whole were pretty double-happy today, hitting four in the first six innings, after which the Devil Rays realized that they had brought some pitchers after all and let the utility infielders get off the mound.

Matt "I Can Start, Really" Guerrier bucked up and gave us three very good innings, with four strikeouts. Highly-touted prospect Francisco "Whoops" Liriano, on the other hand, let the first and only D-Rays run of the game score from second on two wild pitches in the ninth. Eric "At Least I'm Not in Detroit" Munson shortly thereafter saved Liriano's bacon with a beautiful play on a weird bouncer that could easily have turned into a hit. The Twins wrapped up the 5-1 win moments later.

And then, alas and alack, we bid farewell to the benevolent splendor of Hammond Stadium. We were somewhat cheered when we managed to get a metric ton of autographs on our way out, including Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart. If you take me with you, I'll show you where!

Please. Take me with you.


Oh, well. At least I'll always have the pictures...

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Sunday, March 06, 2005

Baseball Odyssey

For someone utterly un-used to being in any sort of motor vehicle for more than half an hour at a stretch, a two-hour drive is an arduous thing, especially twice in one day. And even more particularly when, by some strange twist of nature, one's right ear is exposed to constant, unavoidable and unfiltered sunshine both ways. (One's right ear is now approximately the color of the "Twins" script emblazoned upon one's jersey, thanks for asking.)

Interstate 75 wanders along the west coast of Florida through vast swaths of palm and cypress which occasionally part momentarily to reveal a fleeting glimpse of an RV dealership or an isolated trailer park. According to MapQuest, it is the fastest way to get from Fort Myers to Bradenton, spring home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The speed limit is 70, unless you're driving a Corvette, in which case it seems to be around 140. We and our rented Dodge Neon arrived in Bradenton, sans speeding ticket, in two hours and forked over the munificent sum of five dollars for the privilege of parking in front of the smallest auto repair shop on earth, two blocks from McKechnie Field.

If I hadn't been at Hammond Stadium already, McKechnie would have been much more impressive. It is the pearl to Hammond's jewel--a thing of beauty in its own right, but less sparkling. The facade is simple yet elegant, the field well-groomed and inviting, the low outfield wall ringed with palm trees. We were seated four rows up from the field close behind third base. Unlike the Dome, the box seats aren't raised above the field but begin at field level and slope gently upward from there.

The game itself was a delight. The Twins treated us to a perfect mixture of current, potentially current, and future players. Highly-regarded righthanded pitching prospect Scott Baker, a mere two years from his draft date and a 2004 veteran of high-A, AA and AAA assignments, took the mound for the Twins. His task for his two innings of play was, I believe, to practice grooving the ball in on the batters. Word of advice, Scott--just a titch less inside, 'k? You didn't hit anybody, but wow, did you get a load of the reflexes on those first-inning batters?

Boof Bonser followed Baker to the mound, giving a scoreless but unremarkable performance. Dave Gassner then pitched two impressive innings, working quickly, mixing pitches and getting outs. Yay, applied fundamentals! If this is how he usually performs (and his 2004 stats indicate that's a distinct possibility), I can see him being near or at the top of the list should someone in Minnesota fall to injury. Late in the game Scott Tyler came in and surrendered the first Pirates run on a long homer to right. But hey, this is a single-A player, and it was a solo homer. Willie Eyre (who, like Rivas, Ryan, Balfour, Bartlett and Silva, knows how a baseball player should set up his socks vis-a-vis his pants) emerged to wrap up the game for the Twins, coughing up another solo homer to right but, that one pitch aside, looking pretty darn good.

The position players went on a bit of a hitting spree, at least compared to their first two games. Toward this end, the Pirates pitching and defense were obligingly erratic. Mike "Lumpy" Ryan was seeing the ball well, waiting on his pitch and swinging smoothly. Joe Mauer remains the most patient hitter these weary eyes have ever beheld. Jacque Jones showed more patience than was his wont last season, which admittedly isn't saying a whole lot, but is still encouraging. Lew Ford continues to drill himself into the ground whenever he errs in thinking that he's got a fastball in his sights.

The fielders were in midseason form, plucking line drives out of thin air and pouncing on hot grounders with reckless abandon. Cuddyer, miracle of miracles, made not one but two nifty plays and didn't air-mail a single ball to his dear friends, the first-base-side fans. Good show, Mikey! Now keep doing that, and I may eventually forgive you for the last three years. Later in the game, he came on with two runners in scoring position and two outs, and I promised that I would take back every nasty thing I'd said about him in the last week--a full seven days of bad-mouthing!--if he'd just get a hit right now. He lofted a desultory popout to shallow second.

The star of the whole show, in my vaguely humble opinon, was Jason Bartlett. He was composed at the plate, recording two hits and reminding us all that Guzman isn't the only shortstop around who can break the sound barrier on his way to first. But we all knew he could hit, we all knew he was fast. His fielding, footwork and positioning in particular, has been the wall between him and a major-league career. In this game he was nearly flawless. He showed range and good judgement, positioning himself well and reacting correctly to plays that happened too fast to allow for deliberation. And if he still struggles somewhat with a tendency to over-throw, his worst lob was still within reasonable stretching distance for the first baseman, and no outs were ever in jeopardy. In sum, he looked like a major-league shortstop, though he was far from it mere months ago. But he, like Cuddyer, will need to repeat performances like this many times over before we truly believe.

The drive tomorrow is far too long, so we're sticking close to Fort Myers, seeing the sights and taking in a minor-league hockey game. Baseball reporting will resume in response to Monday's game at Hammond Stadium versus the Devil Rays, the morning after which I will be dragged kicking and screaming from my tropical paradise onto a plane bound for Minne-snow-ta. Sigh.

Oh, and if you ever get the chance to eat pineapple sorbet while watching baseball on a sunny day just shy of being too warm, do take it. It's divine.

Look! Photos!

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Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Arrival and the Reunion

We flew through the teeth-rattling turbulence of a spring storm into Fort Myers, Florida, early Thursday evening. You know you're on vacation when you see palm trees, even if you are lugging a suitcase toward the rental car shuttle bus at the time. Being able to walk around without a coat was worth every second of attempting to keep the plane airborne through sheer willpower, though. Not that I'm a nervous flyer or anything...

Friday morning dawned cloudy but rapidly cleared, and we donned our rube gear and zipped across town to the Twins spring training facility. The facade of Hammond Stadium is simply gorgeous, cool and airy and graced with an elaborate waterfall of a fountain. Morning drills were already underway on a field next to the stadium when we arrived. We hung out around the fences for about half an hour, soaking up sunshine and baseball, picking familiar faces out of the clumps of players on the field and loitering by the batting cage. Finally hearing a real bat hit a real ball after the long drought of a winter without even the lesser distraction of hockey was practially a religious experience. I felt like I'd been holding my breath since October and had suddenly been given oxygen.

The crowds in the gift shop were insane. Of course I was tempted to buy (at least) one of everything, but escaped with only two shirts, a hat and some souvenirs for friends and family. However, I refuse to promise that I won't go back! Can you have too much Twins gear? I don't think so.

As gametime approached, we braved an immense line for the privilege of consuming quite possibly the best brats (flame-grilled, no less) on earth. Diet? What diet? Food in Florida has no calories. Having escaped from the line with our precious kraut-topped cargo, we entered the stadium proper. The inside more than matched the outside. There isn't a vast amount of seating, but the aisles are wide and the steps shallow. The field is perfectly groomed, the grass lush and thick, the diamond set in precise angles and arcs, white chalk lines stark against the russet clay. It's sad when your single-A team has a better field than your major league club, but there you have it. Our boys should play on a field like this all year.

Corey Koskie did not start, or play at all, for the Blue Jays. A murmur of disappointment rippled through the stands when another player was announced as the visitors' third baseman; it seems I wasn't the only broken-hearted Koskie devotee hoping to see him.

Joe Mays started for the Twins, and he did okay. He had some trouble locating the strike zone, a problem fortunately shared by many of the batters he faced. He'll have to be much better come April, but it wasn't anywhere near as bad as it could have been after what amounts to a year and a half out of the game. JC Romero, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly where the strike zone was. Why he decided to avoid it entirely, only he knows. He walked four, followed by two hits, allowing 4 runs in one inning of work. Ouch. Joe Nathan later strode to the mound to mow down two innings' worth of hapless Jays, and Matt Guerrier gave a fair performance over two innings of his own. CJ Nitkowski, wearing Koskie's #47, finished out the game for the Twins and took a strong early lead in the race to win the Kenny Rogers Human Rain Delay Cup.

Behind the pitchers, the defense looked good. No fielding blunders, official or otherwise, were committed, and (hallelujiah!) Cudderror's four innings in the field passed without a fielding chance at third. Will we be so lucky in the regular season? Providing additional entertainment for the attentive fan, color commentator Bert Blyleven was spotted leaning out of an unused press box trying to catch balls bouncing off the protective netting over the center sections of the stands with a butterfly net. No, he didn't actually get one. Yet.

On the hitting side of things the Twins, well, weren't doing a whole lot of hitting. Joe Mauer was his usual patient self, a newly-slender Rivas hit a double, and Lew Ford also looked very good, especially when he smacked a triple to right. The rest of the boys appeared rusty, by and large. They lost 5-2, but they did it outside under a clear blue sky in heavenly seventy-degree weather. Forgive me if I fail to weep over this defeat; I've decided that there's nothing better than baking my pasty white Minnesota-winter flesh under the Florida sun, watching a parade of present and future Twins play on an argyle-mowed real grass field.

Today we're heading up the coast to Bradenton to deepen our sunburns as a split squad of Twins visit the Pirates. It should be a minor-league-heavy game, as the Twins' big guns will no doubt be staying in Fort Myers to play the Red Sox.

I've posted some pictures from yesterday's adventure here. Enjoy!

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