Twins players, manager make Austin visit

Published 7:12 am Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Before they settle into the new Target Field in a few months, a few members of the Minnesota Twins stopped in Austin Tuesday as part of their annual winter caravan.

Manager Ron Gardenhire, pitcher Pat Neshek, infielder Matt Tolbert, hitting coach Joe Vavra and TV announcer Dick Bremer all visited local radio station KAUS — a Twins affiliate — to talk baseball and meet with staff.

And the two words that best describe those who stopped in Austin as they ready for the season to begin in April: excited and optimistic.

The excitement comes in large part because the state-of-the art Target Field in downtown Minneapolis will be hosting its first regular season game ever on April 12 against the Boston Red Sox.

“Twins fans will be absolutely thrilled,” Bremer said. “It’s a return to the game the way it was meant to be played.”

That, of course, is a reference to being outdoors, somewhere the Twins haven’t been since they moved into the Metrodome in 1982.

Target Field is an “open” park, Bremer said, that will hold 40,000 fans. The veteran announcer, who joined the team in 1983, said there won’t be a bad seat in the house.

“The worst seat (at Target Field) is better than the best seat at the Dome,” Bremer said.

Gardenhire, who is entering his ninth season as the team’s manager, said he too is excited for the move outdoors.

“It’s gorgeous,” Gardenhire said. “Inside and out.”

The manager said he likes that the park pays homage to the Minnesota community, including on its food menu, which will include a number of items on sticks.

“That’s been the basis for the stadium,” Gardenhire said. “It’s about the area.”

Neshek, a reliever who graduated from Park Center High School in the metro area, said he’s looking forward to having a new park in Minnesota. But he’s also looking forward to simply being on the mound at any park this season — Neshek hurt his arm during the 2008 season and sat out all of 2009 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery.

“It’s been a constant rehab,” the pitcher said. “(My arm) feels good. I’ve been throwing full speed.”

Neshek said he is eager to work his way back into the bullpen mix for what he thinks will be a productive year for the Twins. With the talent in the pen, as well as on the pitching staff and in the starting lineup, the sidewinder said he thinks his team should be the favorite in the American League Central, a division they dramatically won last year and have dominated since 2002.

And if the Twins can win the Central, Neshek said he thinks they can make a deep postseason run.

“Honestly, I think we can contend for a World Series,” he said.

Bremer too likes the team’s chances.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a team to challenge the Twins in the Central,” the announcer said. “They have a nice collection of talent.”

Gardenhire said he likes the roster that’s beginning to shape up. He sees a few players, like Delmon Young, building on strong finishes last season. He also sees a possible late free agent signing or two to address holes in the infield.

“There are a few guys out there,” the manager said.

But most of all, Gardenhire said the key to the team’s success is keeping everyone on the field. Former American League Most Valuable Player Justin Morneau missed significant time last year, as did starting pitcher Kevin Slowey.

“It all gets back to health,” Gardenhire said.

Important upcoming Twins dates

Feb. 21- Pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training

March 4- First Spring Training game, versus Boston

April 2- First exhibition game at Target Field, versus St. Louis

April 5- Regular-season opener, at Los Angeles

April 12- First regular-season game at Target Field, versus Boston