AUSTIN, Minn. – Jake Cave and Tyler Austin had never been a part of a winter caravan, so they are getting a lesson on the expansive Twins offseason outreach program.
And on Wednesday, as they made a scheduled stop in the home of the Hormel Foods factory, they also learned about Spam.
“I have been made pretty aware that this is where the Spam history is,” said Austin, the player, while nodding his head.
Austin, from Conyers, Ga., and Cave, from Hampton, Va., both were drafted by the Yankees. They were acquired by the Twins in separate trades last year, so their Spam knowledge was understandably lacking.
They visited Riverland Community College, where they engaged a small group of fans in a classroom.
The two sampled Spam during dinner Tuesday night in Iowa Falls at the behest of Fox Sports North broadcaster Dick Bremer. Once it became known Cave and Austin had eaten Spam for the first time, questions about the Twins’ outlook for next season turned into curiosity about their impressions of the canned meat(s).
“Everyone around me was bashing it and telling me how gross it was before it got to the table,” Cave said. “That was weird to me. So when it arrived I didn’t want to try it, but when I took a bite of it, it was all right.”
Austin was not a fan.
“It was like bologna,” he said. “I never like bologna growing up.”
Cave and Austin signed numerous autographs and took pictures with fans while answering a few questions. Fans wanted to know what type of impact free agent Nelson Cruz might make and potential other personnel moves.
There were no tough questions on this particular day.
“People are itching for baseball and people are excited about this team,” Austin said.
Austin himself is itching to get to training camp in Florida — pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers on Feb. 13 — to fight for a roster spot. He appeared to be replacing the retired Joe Mauer at first base until the Twins claimed C.J. Cron off waivers from the Rays. That meant Austin might move to designated hitter and play a few games at first. Then the Twins signed Cruz to be the primary DH.
So Austin, who hit .236 with nine home runs and 24 RBI in 35 games last year, is now blocked at two positions. But he plans to impress someone in camp. After battling a back injury during the final few weeks of last season, Austin cut his weight from 231 pounds to 220.
“I’ve never been given anything in this game, and I don’t expect to be given anything now,” Austin said. “I’ve had to battle for spots before, so this is nothing new to me. I have to come to camp, do what I have to do to get better every single day and whatever happens, happens.”
Cave looks to be the fourth outfielder because he can play all three positions and bring some pop off the bench. The Twins said they’ll plan to start Byron Buxton in center field, flanked by Eddie Rosario in left and Max Kepler in right.
“I’m excited to see how it is going,” Cave said. “The front office is trying to put together a winning team, which is always fun to come into.”
The winter caravan, which runs through Jan. 24 with four groups traveling in the Upper Midwest, is one of the final checkpoints of the offseason. The Twins have scheduled stops at more than 40 locations in five states before TwinsFest at Target Field from Jan. 25-27.
While the Twins encounter smiles at most of their stops, there will be the occasional zinger of a question. At the first stop last year, an elderly woman wanted to know if Brian Dozier would be traded. Dozier, as it turned out, was dealt before the July 31 deadline.
On Monday in Rochester, Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey was asked by a young fan why Paul Molitor was removed as manager.
Falvey chuckled as he retold the story Wednesday, and also mentioned that other fans wanted to know if there was interest in bringing back Dozier before he signed with Washington, or if Falvey could give righthanded starter Ervin Santana another shot.
“It’s amazing how many questions there are about former players,” Falvey said. “I find that interesting in this market. It’s very consistent.”