I made my final trip to Hammond Stadium today and I had kind of an empty and sad feeling as I drove into the stadium parking area knowing this was my last trip here this season. Empty in more ways than one as it turns out because the fan parking area had very few cars and because many of the fields were sitting empty, void of the normal sights and sounds of baseball being played. Most of the Minnesota Twins had left for Port Charlotte to take on the Tampa Rays and the Rochester and New Britain teams had packed their stuff and headed out for the airport bright and early this morning to fly to their home cities to start their 2012 seasons. It is kind of weird to see the minor league teams break camp before the parent club does. The Beloit team will break camp on Tuesday morning and our own household will check out on Wednesday morning and begin the trek back to Minnesota. It has been a great spring here in southwest Florida and we have been blessed with great weather and the temperatures have been in mid 80′s for the past month and we have had hardly no rain, sure we had a few stray showers now and then, but that is about it. But all good things come to an end and Spring Training 2012 is just about history.
What did I see at the park today? I was lucky enough to be able to watch two games, on field 2 Beloit took on the Fort Myers club and on field 1 the extended players had another inner squad game. Before the Beloit/Fort Myers game both managers met with their respective clubs in the dugout and explained to their players what their expectations were this season both on the field and off the field. It was fun to eavesdrop on the two meetings and listen to Jake Mauer as he explained his signals and how the players should respond to a signal to let the coach know that they received it. It was also interesting to listen to Nelson Prada as he told his Beloit players exactly what their schedule was for the next two days and some housekeeping details like that he expected them to make sure their incidentals were paid up before they checked out and what kind of clothing they were expected to wear when they traveled. Once the games started, they were entertaining and fun to watch. The Beloit and Fort Myers game drew the most fans and maybe that was because Joe Mauer hit for his brothers Fort Myers club while Trevor Plouffe used his stick to help the Beloit team. Both Mauer and Plouffe batted each inning and both had their share of hits, Mauer in particular was really stinging the ball, on one at bat he almost took the pitchers head off.
On the other field I enjoyed watching Max Kepler and his friends do battle as they continue learning the game and fight to move to the next level. I am particularly interested in following Max’s career because Max is from Germany, the same country that I was born in. I first saw Max out on the back fields early in February, long before spring training started and he and a small band of players have been out on the field day in and day out working to improve their skills. We all look at the players in the big leagues and see how much money they make and how easy their life appears to us. We forget the blood, sweat, and hard work that it takes to get there and how many players never achieve that final step to the major leagues. The Twins have some nice young players and I will enjoy following them as their careers move forward.
I am not exactly shy and one of the things I enjoy doing is talking to the players when I can and even more so with the fans that are there to watch these young athletes as they do their best to learn and master the game of baseball the Twins way. Today I had a chance to talk to some wonderful folks from Illinois who were there to see Corey Kimes pitch. Corey must have a boat load of relatives following his career because I have run into some of Corey’s other relatives last week too. How cool is that to watch a member of your family work his butt off to reach the major leagues? I talked to a family of transplanted Minnesotan’s that now reside in South Carolina and still visit Fort Myers each spring to follow the Minnesota Twins. Then I saw a person talking on a cell phone that I recognized as future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. I took his picture of course and had a chance to ask Pudge if he would still play if someone came calling and he told me “no, I am done playing baseball, I am retired now”. Pudge was recognized by a handful of fans who asked and received autographs from this former All-Star catcher. Rodriguez was there to watch his son Dereck, a Twins 6th round pick in 2011 play in the extended game. Dereck is a 6’1″ 160 pound outfielder but if Dereck goes 160, it must be soaking wet with 10 pounds of rocks in each pocket. Pudge was watching both of the games and it was kind of funny listening to some of the fans as they talked amongst themselves and assumed that Beloit catcher Jairo Rodriguez was Pudge’s son. As Dereck batted, I tried to watch his Dad for a reaction to each pitch but I saw no reaction from Pudge what-so-ever, even after this swing and a miss for strike three.
I also had an opportunity to run into JC from Knuckleballs.com and it was nice to chat with another Twins blogger far from home. It was sad though to think that I won’t see any more spring training until next year and I will miss that and the friends and acquaintances I have made at Hammond Stadium. See you again next year I hope! The 2012 baseball season is just about here, PLAY BALL!
As always I enjoy taking pictures and I have posted the ones I took today in my 2012 Spring Training pictures folder on the right hand side of this page. I will try to get the players identified tomorrow. There are over 700 pictures out there that I took this spring.