Monday, February 19, 2007

Weighing on the mind

FORT TRAFFICJAMBURG, Fla. -- Everyone is concerned about Sidney Ponson’s weight. It’s become a phenomenon! I haven’t seen anything like it since Tony Batista. I checked with the training staff and was told Ponson hasn’t weighed in yet. Meanwhile, the skipper could care less how much Ponson weighs. “He’s a big guy,” Gardy said. “I really, honestly don’t worry about that with him. He looks fine.”
  • Heck, Ponson fits right in anyway. The Twins could have the, ahem, beefiest starting rotation in the majors with Ponson, Boof Bonser and Carlos Silva. “All I know is when I got in the clubhouse late today, there was still food left,” Gardy said. “No one’s killed the spread, so I think we’re doing fine with all of our weight in this clubhouse. I really, really don’t consume myself with guys’ weights. If they can move, they can move. If they can’t move, then obviously you make some adjustments.” Besides, there are several hefty pitchers who have had success. David Wells and Bartolo Colon come to mind. On the other hand, there's always Runelvys Hernandez.

  • Media favorite Rondell White reported today. He made it a point to tell me he’s a new man. I’m willing to bet all of my possessions and yours that Dell will hit his first homer before July 16 (barring injury, of course). That was the date of his first homer last season. In fact, I’m willing to bet your possessions that Dell hits at least seven homers by July 16. That was his total for 2006.

  • Joe Nathan has taken over Brad Radke’s old corner locker at Hammond Stadium.

  • Gardy on blogging: “I know what a blog is. No, I don’t have a blog. I feel blog when I get up in the morning a lot, but I don’t have a blog.” Just thought I'd ask, 'cause the skip's always got his laptop in tow.

  • Have I mentioned how brutal the traffic is here? There is a certain giant franchise coffee chain store two miles from the training complex. Nonetheless, it’s a 40-minute venture just to get a cup of coffee. Ridiculous.

  • I was having fun on the Web today and decided to type in You’d be surprised what comes up. (And, no, it’s nothing distasteful.)

Feeling the love

FORT TRAFFICJAMBURG, Fla. -- It seems to me like the Twins are ascending toward the popularity the franchise experienced during and around the years of the World Series championship teams ('87 and '91 ).

There must have been 300 people here this morning by the time pitchers and catchers were an hour into their camp-opening workout. Fans lined up three deep on both sides of the ropes along the walkway from the field to the clubhouse. Joe Mauer signed autographs for 45 minutes. Someone asked Gardy if this is the most love he's seen for the team during his almost two-decade tenure with the organization. He said it's hard to compare to the love shown toward the '91 team.

Various players have told me stories about how they've noticed the popularity reaching an all-time high during their respective tenures with the club. Nick Punto told me a story at TwinsFest about some fan he encountered this winter in Arizona, where Nick lives in the offseason. As Nick was driving away from a gas station, the fan ran up alongside the car, pecked on the window and asked for an autograph. Punto said no fans had noticed him in previous offseasons.

"It's just wild," Punto said.

Job shortage

FORT TRAFFICJAMBURG, Fla. -- This is Gardy’s sixth spring training as manager. And he’s more than pleased to trumpet the fact that for the first time entering camp, he has all of his position players set. He’s particularly pleased to say he has a starting third baseman in Nick Punto. I’m not sure anyone was more frustrated with the Tony Batista signing last year than Gardy.

Nonetheless, there is a DH role still up for grabs and some backup jobs to be won. Newly acquired third baseman Jeff Cirillo and catcher Mike Redmond are locks for backup roles. Figuring none of the minor league free agent lefty relievers will make the club and the Twins will keep 11 pitchers, that leaves four open bench spots. Figure Lew Ford is a lock, since for some head-scratching reason the Twins tendered him a contract and are paying him almost $1 million this season. (WHY!? WHY!? WHY!?)

My predictions for the other spots: OF Jason Tyner, OF Jason Kubel and SS/2B Alejandro Machado.

Look for Cirillo and Kubel to split DH at-bats. Makes sense: Cirillo bats right handed; Kubel left handed. Minor league free agent Ken Harvey will get a look in camp as a potential DH.

As for the backup IF situation, the Twins are looking for someone who can backup shortstop Jason Bartlett and has speed. Rule 5er Machado has a vacuum glove and speed. Machado, 24, can play second base, too. Gardy still likes Luis Rodriguez, but his lack of speed and range at shortstop make him a long shot. Ideally, second baseman of the future Alexi Casilla will start the season in the minors.

Ortiz update

FORT TRAFFICJAMBURG, Fla. -- Gardy says Ramon Ortiz could report to camp by Thursday, although the veteran pitcher’s arrival still remains uncertain because of visa issues in the Dominican Republic.

“I’m not worried about him,” Gardy said. “He knows what it takes to get himself ready. I’m anxious to get a chance to meet him. I hear he’s a really classy kid.”

And a snappy dresser, too, our sources tell us. Hear the suits are quite flashy and colorful. More important, the very lean Ortiz needs to get to camp ASAP to bring down the average weight of the starting rotation.

Camp opens

FORT TRAFFICJAMBURG, Fla. -- Camp has started. Team got on the field around 9:15 a.m. EST after manager Gardy gave his annual, brief pep talk in the clubhouse. Sun is shining. Clear blue skies. Really chilly. Cool to hear the "click-clack" of spikes hitting the pavement as the players strolled to the field.

  • Ramon Ortiz is the only pitcher not here yet. He's having visa problems in the Dominican Republic. Not sure when he'll be here. It's not uncommon for this to happen, especially when a team signs a guy late. The Twins didn't sign Ortiz until late January. I believe he had a similar issue a few years back with Cincinnati.

  • Radio voice told me it was 39 degrees on my drive to the Lee County Sports Complex at around 8 a.m. EST. Shortstop Jason Bartlett, who lives here in the offseason, said it's the coldest day all year. Veteran scribe from "Across the River" says it's the coldest day he's experienced in 10 years of spring training here. I know you guys up north feel sooooo sorry for us.

  • There were about 60 fans waiting to watch pitchers and catchers walk onto the field. Spotted a Daunte Culpepper Vikings jersey in the crowd. Vintage. Some crazy fans are wearing shorts, sandals and short sleeves. But that's not as nuts as the one guy I saw swimming in the Gulf on Saturday. Canadian, no doubt.

  • Pitching coach Rick Anderson and new pet project Sidney Ponson were among the last guys to walk out of the clubhouse. Andy was doing the talking; Sidney was listening. Let the tutoring begin.

  • Johan Santana jogged onto the field, flashing his million-dollar, er, discounted $40 million smile as he breezed by the fans.

  • Talked to Carlos Silva again this morning. Boy, is he glad not to be heading to the World Baseball Classic this spring.

  • Santana, Silva and Ponson stretched together. Could that be 1,2,3 in the rotation this year? Well, we know one of them is a lock.

  • Nice to see Matty LeCroy back with the club. He's his usual jovial self. He's a little thinner and less gray. He's dyed his hair and goatee black. He doesn't have a snowball's chance in a 550-degree oven of making the club, but I could see him sticking around the organization as a coach if he decides this is it for playing. LeCroy's good buddy Michael Cuddyer tells me LeCroy's goal is to become a big-league manager.

  • Position players don't have to report until Friday, but per the "Twins Way," most of the key guys are already in camp. Torii, Rondell and Castillo haven't arrived yet. I'll reiterate a point I made to my fellow scribes yesterday, I'm impressed that Justin Morneau is here. Shows that MVP thing hasn't gone to his head. He was out in the batting cages working one-on-one with hitting coach Joe Vavra this morning.

  • The Twins have unveiled this year's media guide. Cover looks cool, with action photos of Morneau, Mauer, Santana and Torii. Kind of a retro look and the photos aren't conventional. Hard to explain, but trust me, it looks cool. Props to media relations staffers Mike Herman, Dustin Morse and Molly Gallatin. You probably don't know these folks, but they do a great job in making the Twins a very fan-friendly organization. By the way, media guides will be available to the public at pro shops and the Dome this season.

  • Always good to see player-favorite and long-time clubhouse "security guard" Dominic Jamella. Great man. Antagonistic, in a fun way. Thick New England dialect. Loves people. I could only hope to be that passionate about life when I'm in my 80s. (He's 86.) Of course, with my high-strung personality and poor dieting habits, I could only hope to be alive at that age.