"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

Friday, March 31, 2006

Liriano Arrested for Drunk Driving

On the one hand: Stupid, stupid, STUPID!!!
On the other: He admits it, and he's not trying to excuse it or otherwise weasel out of the penalties, either social or legal.

Twins' Liriano charged with DUI:
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Twins lefthander Francisco Liriano was arrested by the Cape Coral Police Department early Thursday and charged with driving under the influence.

Liriano was pulled over at 1:58 a.m. after leaving a Cape Coral bar. He was driving alone at the time. The Web site of the Lee County Sheriff's office said he was booked at 5:33 a.m. and was released at 10:01 a.m. on a $500 bond. He's scheduled to appear in county court at 1 p.m. on Apr. 17.

"I feel like I made a mistake and I have to pay for it," a nervous Liriano said. "I have to be responsible for what I did. I'm really sorry for what happened...I made a big mistake."

Twins general manager Terry Ryan said the club will stand behind Liriano but hopes he and other players understand how serious the matter is and learn from it. Liriano will not be suspended or fined and it will not affect his on-field status with the club.

"This is serious and we are obviously embarrassed about it, as is he," Ryan said. "We're going to let the letter of the law take effect here and see what the consequences are and so forth."

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Oh, For the Love Of...

Editor's note: TBL was not at all cranky prior to reading this article online. It is not "that time of the month", her cubicle is no more soul-sucking than usual, she did not bark her shin on the coffee table this morning. She just REALLY hates cheaters.

Barry Bonds Says 'My Life Is in Shambles':
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Seven home runs shy of passing Babe Ruth, this should be a time of unbridled joy and excitement for Barry Bonds. Not so, he says. 'My life is in shambles. It is crazy,' Bonds said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press. 'It couldn't get any crazier. I'm just trying to stay sane.'
Then, clearly joking, he went for shock value: 'Go to the Empire State Building and jump off, commit suicide and people can say, 'Barry Bonds is finally dead.' Except for in San Francisco,' he said. 'I'll leave something for them.'
Despite those pronouncements, the 41-year-old Bonds has been upbeat and approachable - by his standards - this spring despite the recent release of 'Game of Shadows,' the book detailing his alleged longtime regimen for taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Hey, Barry. You see this thing occupying the minute space between my thumb and my forefinger? Yeah, that's the world's tiniest violin, and it's playing just for you.

See, I'm having a lot of difficulty drumming up any sympathy for you because it's all your own damn fault. You used all that crap, you said you didn't, and then you come over all more-arrogantly-prickish-than-thou for the last year. A little contrition early on might have helped, but NO. The Magnificent Barry takes a page from certain other public figures and plays the "if I repeat it often enough, it will magically become true" game.

News flash--that only works on unusually stupid people. And baseball is the "thinking man's game". You do the math.

So sit on your ill-gotted millions and cry me a river, Barry, you unutterable putz.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

And Then There Were Three

With the release of Darrell May, the battle for the two openings in the Twins bullpen narrows to three players.

Francisco Liriano, the young phenom, Santana Jr., he who shall lead us to our rightful championship...someday. On the spring, he is 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in 4 innings of work.

Denys Reyes, the veteran, the man who's seen it all and (let's be honest) given up hits to most of it. And yet he's 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 3.2 innings of spring training.

Willie Eyre, the rookie, scourge of batters across AAA and Venezuela. He's 0-0, 2.03 on the spring in 13 1/3 innings.

For my money, I'll take Eyre. He's young and promising, and has more than proven himself in the upper minors and in winter ball. I'm concerned that Liriano is being rushed, and while Reyes is a known quantity, he's not exactly impressive in the normal course of things.

Mind you, the Twins will no doubt take Liriano because everyone is salivating for him (and yours truly does love to watch him pitch) and Reyes precisely because he's a known quantity. Which, should things fall out that way, would really suck for Eyre, who deserves this chance.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Riders on the Storm Pine

Okay, so once you've got yourself a rotation, a bullpen, a catcher, an infield and an outfield, all you need is a designated hitter and a bench.

The Twins normally carry 11 pitchers. Add in the starting position players and you've got 6 roster spots left, and some of those spots aren't exactly up for grabs.

Your 2006 designated hitter will be Rondell White. Honestly, did anyone really think Ruben Sierra was there as anything more than a thinly veiled attempt to create artificial competition inside Rondell's head? The man's had more than 400 at-bats in a season once since 1996. Besides, White is tearing it up in spring training. Baseball gods willing, he will defy every known norm of Twins baseball and continue into the regular season.

Reprising his role as backup catcher, everybody give Mike Redmond a hand. There isn't even a pretense of competition here.

Your fourth outfielder this year will be either Lew Ford or Michael Cuddyer, whichever doesn't get the starting right fielder role. I'm sort of assuming it'll be Lew.

Once again, your utility infielders will be Nick Punto and Juan Castro. But wait! Castro is injured. Could this open a door for Luis Rodriguez? Damn, but I hope so. I love to watch that guy play.

And last but not least, the 25th guy who will hardly ever play unless someone much more important gets injured could be just about anybody. Sierra might make a reappearance as a left-handed pinch hitter. Rodriguez could worm his way onto the roster in this role. The much-neglected but often useful Terry Tiffee could claw his way to Minnesota there. Jason Kubel will probably get his post-rehab innings in at Rochester, but you never know--this team always needs good hitters. Glenn Williams and Jason Tyner both performed well for the Twins in limited action last season and are back this spring, fighting for a chance. Garrett Jones looks ready for the majors to me, but the poor boy is a first baseman and, well, we have Justin "Gonna Need a Longer Tape Measure For That One" Morneau, don't we? And last but certainly not least we have Rule V draftee Jason Pridie, who has to get on the roster, go back to the Devil Rays organization, or become part of some sort of deal between the two teams. The Twins seem to like him, but they'll cough up a minor league pitcher or two before they'll put Pridie on the major-league roster.

And now, a question back to you, dear reader(s): Who should it be? Who do you most want to have lurking on the far end of that bench, ready to dash out and open a can of whoop-ass on our enemies, especially the Whine Sox?

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Monday, March 13, 2006

And Rightly So

Although the days when the Twins could field a nine just with their ML-ready outfielders are now past, we still have a three-way contest for the right field starting spot vacated by Jacque Jones.

Michael Cuddyer, the organizational golden boy for reasons which continue to elude this blogger, must be assumed to be the favorite if only because of the creepy, slavish love the management lavishes upon him. His career ML BA/OBP/OPS, compiled over two full seasons and parts of three others, is .260/.330/.758. In 993 major league at-bats he has hit 32 homers, driven in 109 runs, taken 100 walks, struck out 222 times and stolen 12 bases, while being caught stealing 10 times. He also grounds into a lot of double plays.

He has a real gun for an arm, which is great except on those occasions when he lobs a throw into the stands. This was more of a problem when he was at third base, but he can (and has been known to) reach the stands even from the outfield. He's no speedster, and should probably just give up on the whole idea of base-stealing, but he does hit for power.

Lew Ford, on the flip side, is a fan favorite but not so much an organizational one. His career ML BA/OBP/OPS, compiled over two full seasons and part of one other, is .285/.363/.787. In 1164 major league at-bats he has hit 25 homers, driven in 140 runs, taken 120 walks, struck out 169 times and stolen 35 bases, while being caught stealing 8 times. He's definitely not a power hitter, but he drives in runs at a nice clip and is one of the Twins' best base-stealing threats...believe it, or not. I love to watch Lew steal bases because he runs like a duck. You're just convinced that there's no way he's going to get there and then, ta-da! He gets there.

Lew's biggest problem, and it can affect all aspects of his game, is an unfortunate tendency to lose his focus at awkward moments. Most of his few caught-stealings were obviously the result of what we at Casa TBL call a "brain-fart"--a moment of idiocy that bursts from an otherwise rational person without warning and really stinks up the joint. Lew is solid in the field but has aquired a few memorable errors in the same manner.

Jason Kubel is a top prospect and, some say, the best pure hitter in the Twins system. I'm not yet convinced of that, but the kid is good. Really, really good. After a late-season callup in 2004 which was impressive enough to land him a spot on the postseason roster, he trundled off to the Arizona Fall League to work on a few things, and promptly blew out his knee. And when I say "blew out", I'm talking about the Hurricane Katrina of muscular devastation here. There were ligaments flapping in the breeze, folks.

The upshot is, he missed 2005. Didn't so much as get into a rehab assignment with the rookie league team. He says the knee is fine, and he's participating in spring training without a brace, but it's got to take some time to get back into the (ahem) swing of things after a year out of the game. The Twins just love this guy, but I'm betting he'll be eased along at Rochester for a while unless an injury to another leaves the team with a hole that desperately needs filling.

Frankly, any of these three guys could do a decent job in this position. Cuddyer's going to boot the ball around a little in the field, Ford's going to start thinking about D&D every so often and forget how many outs there are, and Kubel's going to need some time to get back in top form, but there are teams out there fielding guys much worse than any of these three.

I personally would rather see the job go to Lew, as I think he is the more complete player, and because he's proven himself to be a run-producer, which is something the Twins shouldn't take lightly after last year.

on deck: DH/bench

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Distant Heroes

In 1987, I was living in Texas, where there is no sport but football. And I don't like football. I knew baseball existed, having been raised by a fan, but I didn't care.

In 1991, I was living in Minnesota, buried up to my eyeballs in college studies and college life. I was only peripherally aware of the hubbub around the World Series.

In 1996, when glaucoma forced Kirby Puckett to retire from baseball at the age of 35, I saw his farewell speech on TV. I remember being impressed with his humility and positive attitude. I daresay I didn't give the whole business another thought until years later.

I came to baseball and the Twins much later, in 1998, when the glory of two World Series championships had faded into the obscurity of fifth place in the division. There was little if anything left of that team of champions in Minnesota, and if there were hints of what was to come in 2001-2004, I missed them. I was hooked, though, on the game and on my horrible, loveable, anonymous team.

But you don't follow the Twins without hearing about Kirby Puckett. The man, the myth, the legend. The Catch. The Homer. "Climb on my back." The Farewell.

Books, replays and restrospectives substitute for personal experience. Heroes are not heroes only when their deeds are witnessed firsthand; there is a cultural memory within every tribe of baseball fans, where their legends are recorded, polished and passed on to newcomers.

He played twelve major-league seasons, all with the Twins. He could have left for more money, much more, but he didn't. He refused millions with a lighthearted grin and said he was a Twin, and that was that.

Ten All-Star games. Six Gold Gloves. Two World Championships. A career batting average of .318. A smile that could light up the world. And a defective right eye that ended it all too soon.

In 2001, when Kirby was inducted into the Hall of Fame, I had been so steeped in his mythology that I celebrated as if I had witnessed him in his heyday. I was as convinced as any lifelong fan that few had ever deserved that honor more.

In 2002, the feet of clay were finally revealed. Nothing was proven in a court of law, but so much was said by so many people that it became impossible to believe it was all made up from whole cloth. It was also impossible not to wonder if the sudden loss of his playing career had somehow twisted him. His waistline expanded as his legend diminished, and it seemed certain that for all his trademark smiles he was an unhappy man.

He may have been picking up the pieces. Friends say he had lost weight and was taking better care of himself. He was engaged to be married early in the summer. He was 45 years old, with a lifetime yet to live, and he was felled by a stroke.

Kirby: going, going...gone. Too soon, too far.

I like to picture a baseball field, a vast green diamond under a cloudless sky, where the game never ends and the crowd is always cheering. And on this field there is no glaucoma, no scandal, no human frailty in mind or in body. There is only the crack of the bat and then loping across that verdant center field comes a man wearing #34. And he is laughing as he jumps, lifts his glove toward the cerulean sky and, easy as breathing, steals a home run.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Recovering Nicely

Pooie, back home where she belongs.

Thanks to everyone who sent their good wishes, and a special thanks to the VCA Animal Care Hospital in Bloomington, MN and Dr. Ralph Weichselbaum.

She's on heart medication temporarily, but if all goes well she'll be off the drugs and testing normal on her thyroid levels by May.

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Kirby Puckett, R.I.P.

Puckett dies after massive stroke

Touch 'em all, Kirby.

Don't miss Batgirl's bittersweet eulogy.

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Twins Great Puckett Suffers Stroke

AP Wire | 03/06/2006 | Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett in critical condition after stroke

The thoughts and prayers of Twinsland are with you, Kirby.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

What A Relief

There are two spots open in the Twins bullpen: one lefty short reliever to replace JC Romero, and the non-specific reliever position formerly held by Terry Mulholland.

Show Me the Lefties

Francisco Liriano - the Dominican phenom is a fan favorite and a top prospect who did fairly well in his six appearances with the Twins last season.
However. He has only half a season of experience in AAA, and that's not much of a foundation. In his brief major league stint he also displayed a tendency to become over-excited on the mound.
While he's certainly in the mix, I'm guessing the Twins will have him getting regular innings as a starter in Rochester to begin the season.

Darrell May - this veteran lefty starter had a rough season last year, and in fact has had only one sub-5.00 ERA season in his career. On the other hand, he has a career 3.12 ERA at the Dome, and he's been here quite a bit. But can he make the transition to the bullpen?

Gabe White - after pitching only eight innings last season, the 34-year-old will be on a mission to prove he still has something to offer.

Dennys Reyes - younger than May and White, he has been a situational reliever specializing in getting lefty hitters out his entire major league career. That makes him sound like a natural to replace JC Romero, but he'll need to prove he's over the elbow injury that ended his 2005 season.

Dave Gassner - young, cheap, lefthanded and breathing. Also inexperienced and better suited for long relief (a role currently filled by Matt Guerrier). Gassner is in the mix, but only as a longshot.

TBL thinks Reyes has a slight edge going into camp, but the competition should be engagingly fierce.

Mr. Versatility

With Matt Guerrier having been sufficiently groomed to take over Mr. Mulholland's long-relief/pinch-starter role, what the Twins will need out of this final bullpen spot is versatility. If we need a long reliever a day or two after Guerrier pitches 5 innings, this will be the guy. If we need someone to eat an inning between the starter and the Rincón/Nathan double punch, this will be the guy. If Gardy needs a shoeshine, this will be the guy.

Presumably, everyone left over after the lefty reliever spot is filled will be in the running for this one, too. Let's take a gander at the righties...

Willie Eyre - after posting a 2.72 ERA over 82+ relief innings in Rochester, Eyre headed for his second stint with Aragua of the Venezuelan Winter League, where he impressed with a 1.96 ERA over 36.2 innings.

Pat Neshek - lights-out for most of his minor league career, his 2005 ERA limboed into the books at 2.19, just under his career total 2.25. Add to that the fact that he consistently averages well above one strikeout per inning pitched and it's enough to make any Twins fan a little weak in the knees.
Alas for Neshek and his native Minnesota, he has a combined zero innings of experience between AAA and the major leagues. Unless the more experienced candidates fail utterly, expect him to be moved up to Rochester, whence he should pitch his way to Minnesota during the season.

J.D. Durbin - though posting only so-so numbers in 2005 and missing six weeks of the season with a shoulder injury, he seems to be well-regarded by the organization and should be one of the few receiving serious consideration from the coaching staff.

Boof Bonser - covered in yesterday's post as a longshot fifth starter candidate, he has a better chance at this spot, but the Twins are probably going to want someone with more experience or better stats to start the season. This could easily be Boof's year to break into the majors, but it's most likely to come as a result of an injury to or a trade of another reliever.

Ryan Glynn - had a decent season in 2004 but his career has otherwise been well above the 5.00 mark. He'll have to give the performance of his life in spring training to beat out the younger, cheaper native talent.

Pete Munro - released outright from Rochester in June of 2004, Munro has returned to the Twins as a non-roster invitee. He has bounced around between the majors and AAA since then, and has not pitched in the big leagues since 2004. He's the kind of guy you'd like to have waiting for you in AAA--good enough to fill in for a short-term injury.

TBL thinks that Eyre, Neshek, Durbin and Bonser will be in the hunt until late in spring training, but that it will eventually (barring injuries) come down to a choice between Eyre and Durbin.

On deck: right field.

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