Monday, January 28, 2008
Twins Fest 2008
Good Monday morning!! I probably should have taken the day off of work to help recover from a very full weekend at Twins Fest. And I really enjoyed every minute of it. Today I would like to share some of my thoughts on the event as well as share a few stories. I would certainly invite those of you who were in attendance to share your stories with the other readers by using the Comments below. All told, I was there Friday night, all day Saturday and for a little less than three hours on Sunday. I had a great time, met many great people and just had a very enjoyable experience even if the Twins made me feel old by having Joe Mays signing as a Twins alumni player. There were several of you who saw the SethSpeaks.net hat and came up and said hi, which was really pretty cool, so thank you! I hope you enjoy...
I left work at 3:00 on Friday afternoon, but right after noon is when we heard about the contract extensions of Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau. That made working even just two more hours very difficult. But I did it! My sister met me and we headed in to the Dome shortly after four. We knew the gates open at 5:30, but we didn't know how long our drive in would take. Last year, it took well over an hour. This year, it took about a half hour. So, we parked and walked over to the Dome. Of course, I didn't want to wear my jacket while in the Dome, so I left it in the car. Wearing a Twins pull-over was nice while inside the Dome. Wearing the Twins pull-over only while standing outside in sub-freezing temperatures? Well, that's just stupid! It is Monday morning and on some level, I am still cold! But anyway...
When we got inside, we did our usual once around the Dome to see what was there, who had booths and such. As we came back around to the KSTP radio section, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer were about to be interviewed so we sat in on that. Of course, the conversation led to Morneau being asked about his $80 million contract. He was asked if his fiance was with him here at Twins Fest and if she was excited about the contract. Morneau said that she is in town. Yes, she is excited about the contract and that she was actually out shopping. They congratulated him on his engagement and asked him to tell the crowd about how he proposed. Morneau wasn't going to give that up, only telling us that it was in Hawaii. Mauer chimed in by saying, "It is a really cute story." That caused the radio guys to see if they could get the story out of Mauer who of course wouldn't. That, of course, led to the standard, "Joe, are you seeing anyone these days?" question. To which he responded, "Right now, I am only concerned about the 2008 season and helping this Twins team win a championship." I just thought it was a funny exchange.
After that, a couple of the new Twins players, Craig Monroe and Brendan Harris, were interviewed, so we listened to that too.
Of course, the first place I went after the walk around was the Down on the Farm area. That is a very nice display on the Twins minor league system and each of their affiliates. It is also where the Twins minor leaguers sign autographs for free. Coming into the weekend, I was really excited to see this group as I have done Q&As with eight of the 15 minor leaguers. Also, four of my top five Twins prospects were there. It really was a great group.
The Minor Leaguers
In Group One was Toby Gardenhire, David Shinskie, Matt Macri, Cole DeVries and Mark Hamburger. I thanked both Gardenhire and Hamburger for their participation in Q&As and all five were personable. But Hamburger especially really looked like he was enjoying himself. I can imagine that would be a great experience.
Group Two contained Denard Span, Jeff Manship, Mark Dolenc, Brian Duensing and Korey Feiner. I have to admit that I was a little nervous going into this group. That was made even more obvious when I noticed that Josh Johnson of Josh's Thoughts was in front of me in the line. If you recall, Josh did a Q&A with Denard Span last October, and one of his final questions was, "What is something people would be shocked to know about you?" Span's response was, "That I read Twins blogs. I read about people saying I'm not ready and that I suck..etc. But I read it to get motivated." Now I have gone back in my Archives, and I have never said that Denard Span sucks. I have said that he probably needs at least another half season at AAA, but that isn't too bad. Is it? So anyway, I got to the front of the line, and I said, "Denard, I am one of those hated Twins bloggers you don't like, but would you still be willing to sign my card?" Denard looked at me and said, "Which one?" I had my SethSpeaks.net hat on which he seemed to notice just after he asked the question. I just said, "Seth... from SethSpeaks." He said, "I suppose, but you guys are tough on me!!" A few other sentences were uttered, and it really was nice. As I was moving to the next person in line, Denard looked over and said, "Hey Seth, I really do like your site. You do a really good job." That hit me, and all I could say was Thank you very much! That meant a lot. I mean, do I think that Span's minor league resume screams ALL-STAR? Not at all. Can he be a solid fourth outfielder in the major leagues? Absolutely! And now after this exchange, I hope that he can become a regular (whether with the Twins or elsewhere). Hey, Juan Pierre got that huge $50+ million contract from the Dodgers, and I am pretty sure that Denard Span is better than him!
Anyway, the next person in line was Jeff Manship who, of course, has been wonderful to me and this site. He has done a couple of Q&As and participated in the NFL "Expert" picks this last year. It was nice to shake hands with him and chat if only for 30 seconds. As I moved forward, he asked where my little girl was. Simple question, but that also says something about Jeff Manship, doesn't it? It was nice to meet him.
Finally, I mentioned awhile back that I can't help but wonder if I am related to Brian Duensing. My great-grandmother's maiden name was Duensing and that side of my family is all from the Northeast Kansas region. I have relatives in Marysville, Kansas, which is where Duensing was originally from. My sister and I did kind of put him on the spot and through a couple names out there to him. But, we are going to figure this out somehow! Very nice guy (must be a relative, right?).
And then Group three was comprised of Matt Tolbert, David Winfree, Tyler Robertson, Joe Benson and Trevor Plouffe. This was also a fun group. I had a Bowman Sterling rookie card of Tolbert that he thought was pretty cool. He was much more talkative this year. As I stepped toward Winfree, I said, "Ah, I don't need anything from this guy. I've got enough autographs of him." He looked up with a surprised look, and then saw that it was me. He said, "Ha! Hey Seth, how are you doing?" We talked for a little while. Winfree has been one of my favorite Twins minor leaguers since the first time I chatted with him two years ago at Twins Fest. Next was Tyler Robertson who was my choice for the Twins Top Prospect. Robertson is tall. I thought he would be more lanky, but he looked strong. He also has about as much hair as I do, so he is a little intimidating. Next was Joe Benson. When I introduced myself, he shook my hand and I just told him that I had heard a lot of great comments here to his Q&A from last Friday. He didn't bring his computer with him so hadn't had a chance to see it yet. Another nice guy. The last guy at the table was Trevor Plouffe who I had talked with at last year's Twins Fest for awhile. He just seemed very happy. He also called me by name and shook my hand. I told him that I had ranked him #3 after his excellent year and that I hoped this coming year was even better.
So that was this year's cast of Twins minor leaguers and it was a fun group to walk through and meet and talk to. In between one of the sessions, I was just walking through the displays on the different affiliates and Twins Vice President of Player Personnel, Mike Radcliff walked by and said, "Seth, how are you doing?" Surprised that he remembered me (although he clearly did read my cap before saying it), I simply said, "How are you Mike? Good to see you again, and congratulations on your promotion." We talked for only a couple of minutes. I told him that I was really excited about the Cuddyer and Morneau signings earlier in the day. He said it was a good day for the Twins. They got those two deals done. He did follow that up with, "But we aren't going to be able to get anything done with the lefty."
After one of the autograph sessions, my sister and I just kept walking. When we walked by the Photo area, we noticed that the line was rather short as the time was nearly up. That is when I noticed that Pat Neshek was there taking pictures with fans. My sister asked if I wanted my picture taken with Pat and I said Sure, that would be good. So, we walked up there and I walked right up and shook his hand and we talked for a minute as my sister took a picture. He didn't like the first one and said to take a second one. He asked if I saw his wife and his dad just outside, and I said Yes, I was going to chat with them for a minute. I walked outside the photo area and both Neshek's dad and wife said Hi to me. They both are terrific and a joy to spend a couple of minutes talking too. In fact, I asked them if they had read my posting the other day when I wrote that the Twins should sign Pat to a six year, $11.2 million contract this offseason. The following conversation showed that not only had they read it, but they had all talked about it among each other to some degree. I certainly was not expecting that. Anyway, Pat finished his photo session and came out by us. The security guard with him wanted him to go one way. He said that he would just hang out for a few minutes and would be fine getting back to the clubhouse. We must have chatted nearly another ten minutes and it was just a nice conversation. Pat and Stephanee (his wife) were flying down to Atlanta after Pat's Saturday afternoon obligations to attend the NHL All-Star game. They were both pretty excited about that. I won't get into every detail of that conversation, but when my sister and I walked away, she said something that was pretty neat. Ten steps after we left, she just said, "We just talked for ten minutes with a real Major Leaguer." I smiled and said, "Yup." During the conversation, it was very much just natural and it was only later that you really realize how cool that was. I think it is a great testament to Pat but also to his whole family.
Saturday (ALL DAY)
Having learned my lesson about standing outside in the cold to get in, I got to the Dome shortly after 10:00 so that I could just walk in (the gates opened at 9:30). I was meeting Mike Brasel (a great high school - and current - friend and participant in the NFL "Expert" Picks) and his wife and their two kids and his parents. When I got there, I went to the minor league area again, and they apparently had just gone through there and where in line for the dugout/clubhouse/press box tour (which I enjoyed last year when I went on it). While walking around, I was stopped by Brandon Warne who writes the Twins portion of The Hardball Review. He noticed the hat and wanted to say hi. He was in line waiting to get Mike Lamb's autograph. He said, "Most people are probably waiting in this line to get Francisco Liriano's autograph, and although I'm interested in shaking his had and asking how he is doing, I really want to meet Mike Lamb." We chatted quite a bit while he was walking in line one his way into the actual line. (the lines wrapped around and around. He also is a big fan of Ryan Church and a potential Santana deal that might bring him to the Twins. Anyway, it was a very nice chat.
I met up with the Brasel family and walked through different areas. At one point, I was walking around and saw a taller, bald guy by the kids hitting area, just walking away from there. Upon further look, it was Corey Koskie and he was there with his kids. After the hitting thing, the kids wanted to get their faces painted, so they did that. Koskie has not yet retired despite missing all of 2007 suffering from post-concussion issues. He is hoping to latch on with another big league team and as of now, he has not officially retired. On a side note, someone within the organization did tell me that the Twins really have no interest in bringing back Koskie, even on a minor league deal.
When Joe Benson's autograph session was complete, I was going to try to talk to him a little bit. When we went behind the signing area, he was with five or six others, and when he walked away from there, he went to do an interview or something with the people at that Rochester Red Wings booth. However, a couple of hours later, we happened to be waiting for Mike's mom, who thoroughly enjoyed walking through the minor league lines to get autographs. Benson came back onto the Dome's surface and he came right over to me and shook my hand. I said told him that I was going to come talk to him, but I didn't want to bother him when he was surrounded by his entourage. He told me that several members of his family were in town and had to partake in the Mall of America for a little while too. Again, I won't get into too much detail on the whole conversation, but one story I thought was great and wanted to tell. When Joe landed, he was picked up from the airport by a Twins intern, along with Nick Punto and Darnell McDonald, and taken to the hotel. When he checked in to the hotel, he asked who his roommate would be. The receptionist asked, "Are you supposed to have a roommate?" Joe said he didn't know. Only then did he find out that he would have a room to himself, with a king sized bed. Welcome to the big leagues, Joe!! He said that with Beloit, it is at least one roommate and staying at hotels that aren't quite the five-star variety. Maybe this is part of the reason for bringing such top prospects in, to provide a visual of some of that 'big league life' to give a little extra motivation and incentive to continue to work hard.
He also told me that several people came through the line and told him that they saw the Q&A and thanked him. That was pretty neat to hear. After a bit, Benson called over Cole DeVries and introduced me to him. DeVries is a small guy, but he had a very good 2007 season in Beloit after a solid career at the University of Minnesota. After the Benson/Hotel story, I said to DeVries, "You're from Eden Prairie, right? I suppose you just get to stay at home, huh?" He said yes, and when talking about where about he lives, found out that we probably live about a mile from each other.
Later, while walking around, I was in close proximity of Jose Morales who was walking around with someone I assumed to be his dad. Looked like he was really just enjoying this all. So did Morales. I mention this paragraph because I did notice that he is still walking with a bit of a limp. Hopefully he will be able to practice at full speed when training camp begins in three weeks.
Another person walking the Dome's surface was Jim Pohlad, the guy who just approved the Twins guaranteeing over $100 million to Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer. I couldn't help but notice that 1.) he looks a lot like his dad, and 2.) he looked incredibly smug while walking. They went in to the area where you could view video or a replica of the new stadium. Dave St. Peter, President of the Twins, spent a lot of time talking to fans in that area throughout the weekend. Earlier in the day, we saw Carl Pohlad going through the crowd on a golf cart.
Howard Sinker, the writer of the Strib's Twins blog called A Fan's View from Section 220, mentioned last week that he would be at the Star-Tribune's booth on Saturday from one until three, so I did spend a little time talking with him about several topics and blogging and such. While I was there, Scott from Coffeyville Whirlwind came over and said hi. Howard told him that he really enjoyed reading some of his old newspaper stuff. See, at Coffeyville Whirlwind, he has been recapping game stories. He finished the 1987 season (the last year that Howard was a beat writer for the Twins) and is now working through the 1988 season.
I spent the latter part of the day just hanging out by the minor league, Down on the Farm, area. Brad Steil was promoted to Director of Baseball Operations when Terry Ryan resigned in September. He had graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, in 1999, two years after I had. So, I introduced myself (we had exchanged e-mails at that time) and we had a nice chat about his progression through the Twins organization and about times at Concordia. He is stepping into a very important job in the organization, but in his time with the Twins, he has been involved in every facet of administration and is ready and excited for the challenge. I did have to ask him about Paul Kelly and Drew Thompson. Kelly missed nearly all of the 2007 season with cartilage damage in his knee. He came back only to hurt it more. Thompson's problems are with his back. He is a small guy, very thin, but he is also a maximum torque type of hitter, so you can understand where back problems could occur and why it might take a long time for it to come back. I also asked about the glut of infielders who could potentially be at Rochester. He said that it will all play itself out. Some may have to be released after camp. There could be injuries. You'd rather have too many good options than not enough.
Mike Radcliff came back from doing his time on the KSTP radio stage and said to me that he just doesn't know how to answer the Santana questions any differently. I think I spent the next 45 minutes or more talking to Mike. Just really a nice, down to earth guy. And yes, I did ask him quite a bit about several Twins prospects and such, which I will touch on later. Shortly thereafter, Twins Hall of Famer Jim Rantz and Twins GM Bill Smith came over and were all talking in a sort-of circle. Now, I didn't introduce myself to those two, but was included in their chat. No, I didn't get any scoop on the Santana situation, although the frequency with which Radcliff and Smith were either checking messages or taking calls always makes you wonder!
At one point, a man walked by in full Twins uniform. I commented to Radcliff that the man looked so much like Rod Carew from a distance that I had done several double-takes already. I had seen him doing free youth baseball clinics. Radcliff asked Jim Rantz who is was and he said it was Julio Becquer. He came up with the Senators in 1955 and played with them through 1960. He went to the Angels in 1961 in the expansion draft, but after being purchased by the Phillies in May, the Twins purchased his contract in June. He played in 57 games for the Twins in their inaugural 1961 season, then not at all in 1962. In 1963, he pinch ran in one game and scored a run. That was it. He was born in Cuba in 1931 was a great friend of Tony Oliva and really helped him through his career. At 76 years old, he is still going strong. That led to a conversation about Tony Oliva which was fun and interesting as well.
I met my brother at 9:45. I had a couple of extra tickets, so he brought along a friend of his, and his son. There is a great area for kids within Twins Fest with photo opportunities with TC Bear and plenty of activities. My brother and I went to the radio areas and just sat down and enjoyed listening to several interviews. First up, we heard Justin Morneau. Then Michael Cuddyer was on. Ron Gardenhire was then on with Bill Smith for a segment before he was joined by Craig Monroe. As that segment was coming toward an end, Gardy commented, "I've noticed that our audience is getting bigger and that most are young and female... Joe Mauer must be on here next." That was in fact true, so we listened to that as well.
I spent some time in the Down on the Farm area. I picked up our complementary tickets that we receive with the purchase of the Twins Fest ticket. I saw that Jesse Crain and Kevin Slowey were at the radio section awhile later, so I sat and listened to that. Awhile later, I saw that Mike Radcliff and Rob Antony were to be interviewed, so I sat down to hear that. As the interview was just getting started, someone sitting down the aisle from me said, "Are you Seth from SethSpeaks.net, do you write that?" I said, "Yeah" He said, "Come down here." So I moved down and I talked to him (his name was Sammy) and another lady. We talked about many Twins topics and it was good. He is involved in the 25th Annual Hot Stove League Banquet and Charity Auction which will be held next Saturday night in downtown Minneapolis. Tony Oliva, Bill "Spaceman" Lee and Mike Veeck will all be there for the evening, so it really should be a good time! If you are at all interested, please click here for more details.
As I was leaving there to go find my brother and get ready to go, I was walking along side Craig Monroe (who was with security). After a bit, I finally just turned and said, "Welcome to the Twins, Mr. Monroe." He turned and shook my hand, and we talked for literally 20 seconds. I said that it'll be nice to have a Twins killer on the Twins roster.
As we were about to leave, another gentleman stopped us and asked if I was Seth from SethSpeaks.net. It was Phil Miller, a relatively new Twins writer for the Pioneer Press. He said several really nice things about the site and we had a good chat for several minutes.
With that, we walked out and my Twins Fest 2008 was complete. It truly was a good time. I am filled with stories of the three days there. Some of them were shared here. Others, I'll just keep with me. With that, I will just share some of the discussion that I had with Mike Radcliff who was very generous with his time and complements to me.
I mentioned that I had Tyler Robertson as my #1 Twins prospect. Although he wouldn't say that Robertson was necessarily their top guy (or if they even really rank them quite like that), he said that it would not be far off.
Chris Parmelee - The still remain very high on him because he has incredible power. He is a power hitter and with that comes the strikeouts. He will likely never not strike out a lot. I said, "Kind of like Adam Dunn then?" and he said that would be a good comparison in terms of potential.
There was a picture behind the minor league signing area of Deibinson Romero in his batting stance, and I thought he looked like a young Torii Hunter in terms of build. I said that I thought Romero was a bigger guy than that. He said that he is a big, strong guy and that he can become a great player down the line. He has that kind of bat and glove and arm.
I told him that although I knew he (Romero) wasn't as big as Rene Leveret, I expected that he would be bigger. He again reiterated that Romero is definitely considered a prospect, Leveret is not. That surprised me at first, but Leveret is very big and he is older for his level of competition. Radcliff was quick to say that it doesn't mean that he won't be able to continue to move up the system as long as he works and produced and once you reach the big leagues, age is of no matter.
He loves Rene Tosoni's bat! Says he can play either corner well enough but that his bat is legit.
I said that I've read great things about Estarlin de los Santos, and he likes him too. Says that he just does everything right. Great glove and arm, and although he doesn't have the power, he has the speed and ability to get on base and wreak havoc on the base paths.
I also asked about the Beloit outfield in spring. Making it even more confusing is that Joe Benson and Chris Parmelee could both go back there to start the season. Tosoni will be there, and Ozzie Lewis and Mark Dolenc are in the picture too. But don't just assume that Ben Revere will be there right away.
Mike McCardell may have been a little bit old for the Appalachian League, but he is young in terms of pitching. Throughout his college career, he played 3B and was the team's closer. E-Town's manager Rick Knapp decided that with his height and frame that he could certainly be a starter and it was a decision that the Twins are very happy with.
I asked about the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues. The Twins teams in those leagues are comprised of players from those teams. They are under contract with the Twins and play a regular schedule. The Venezuelan league is really in flux right now because of the political situation under Hugo Chavez.
The Twins definitely do not think that Nick Blackburn is their #1 prospect either.
David Winfree is 100% physically.
There was more, much more, I'm sure, but it's late and I have a busy week ahead of me. Please feel free to ask me any questions about Twins Fest or Twins prospects. I will try my best. Be sure to check back tomorrow for what I think you will find a very interesting Q&A.