Twins Talk, February 6 06 Feb 17

Story and Photos by Gordy Jones

New Friends – and a Few from the Past!

To most folks, April is the beginning of a baseball season. In my life, because of all of the banquets and Twins Fest, it begins in January and lasts until November.

Every November, Joe Mauer hosts a bowling tournament that benefits the Highland Friendship Club, and Justin Morneau and his wife, Minnesota native Krista, return to Minneapolis to host their Casino Night. Together the Morneaus have raised hundreds of thousands to help children with childhood arthritis, and to help find a cure. The Highland Friendship Club sponsors activities for older teens and young adults who have been challenged in life. Joe’s teenage best friend, former Gopher Tony Liesman, has brother of this sort. It is easier for young, because they go to school and there are an array of activities. But a bit later in life, they can be forgotten, and can put even more of a burden on family and friends. That is where the Friendship Club comes in, sponsoring outings and activities.

Although neither event is baseball-related, every November the guys formerly known as the M & M Boys remind me of days past, when the Twins were winning and every season brought new excitement that maybe this could be the year. This year, no one knows what to expect. Many people were shocked to see general manager Terry Ryan fired last year, because everyone loved Terry Ryan. Now Thad Levine is the GM, and the Twins signed on a new executive VP of operations, Derek Falvey. What the heck is that job? We’ve never had that position before in our beloved Twins organization. But I’m here to let you know that these guys are the cream of the crop. I had a chance to hang out with them a bit during banquet week. We were at the Hot Stove dinner, the Diamond Awards, and Twins Fest. They are both really decent guys: very down-to-earth, baseball bright…and funny, too. They feed well off each other. More importantly, they both have a passion for what they do. Even their predecessor likes them. Terry Ryan was in town to receive an award at the Diamond Awards, and it looked as though he had a very nice time visiting with them. The three of them are class acts.

Rumors were recently flying that Justin Morneau might return to his original team, the Twins. When I sat down with Thad Levine in his Target Field office the other day, I came right out and asked him. He explained to me that he really likes Justin, and Justin would probably love to come back. But with Joe Mauer at first base, and a number of roster players who are already DH candidates, it would be a tough fit. He feels that signing Justin, and then having him sit on the bench would be disrespectful to the veteran first baseman. It seems funny to call him a vet; it seems like yesterday he was a rookie kid.

The same with Michael Cuddyer, LaTroy Hawkins, and Torii Hunter. I knew them when they were minor- leaguers, and now, in 2017, they’ll return as advisors. I love that move; they are valuable resources.

Speaking of rookies, I recently spent some with Max Kepler. I asked him what he’s been up to this winter. “I’ve been in the Bay area. But I spent the holidays in Texas with my family.”

“Have you been working out?” I asked. Max looked stunned, almost offended. “Of course!” he quickly replied as he pulled his arms back to show his well-developed muscles.

He explained, “Right after the season I take a few weeks off to let the body recover. Then I get right back at it. Usually lifting weights, getting the muscles back to where they used to be. Then I gradually pick up the baseball bat, and soon after that I begin throwing. But I do everything gradually.”

Max was on fire in the early part of 2016, but he gradually cooled off. I asked him why that happened, because I know he has the talent. He said: “I’ll be honest, a lot of my rough patches are on the mental side of my game. I really have to work on that. As a young player, it’s tough dealing with failure. You really get exposed here if someone finds a flaw. I have to learn how to deal with it mentally, and go out there with the same mindset every day. I can’t let it faze me. I’m still learning, and I’m looking forward to 2017.” 

At one of the banquets, I said to Twin’s manager Paul Molitor, “We were here a year ago, it seems like just a few months ago.” He shook his head and said, “Yeah, and at that time, I sure didn’t see the 2016 season coming as it did. It took me by surprise.” 

I think we all are looking forward to the new season. It has to be better than last year. Right? Since no one knows what to expect with our new front office, it will be a season full of surprises, hopefully all positive. And on day one of the new season, we’ll be tied for first!