When the Twins were last together, their key hitters were starting to appear in more spring training games, the pitching staff was beginning to sort itself out and the 2020 team was getting closer to showing how dangerous it could be.
All of this took place following manager Rocco Baldelli’s opening remarks that encouraged them to think World Series thoughts several months after a 101-win season. The stakes were raised.
That was three months ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic forced baseball to shut down.
“Obviously I think that was the hardest part for all of us, postponing the season. … We had a heck of a club — well, we have a heck of a club,” closer Taylor Rogers said, “and the excitement, watching Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson in the same lineup. How excited were all of us in spring training to see that?
“And I think that was the toughest part during this time was waiting to see that and finally we can have that happen. It’ll be so much fun.”
So it might seem like that year is starting over next week when the Twins meet at Target Field on Wednesday to start a second training camp, this one three weeks long. Their optimism about building off last year is unchanged. It’s just accompanied by myriad other emotions.
They are thrilled to be back.
They are concerned about the virus.
They are relieved the monotony of isolated workouts is over.
They have trepidation about cramming a training camp into a three-week window, then playing a 60-game season.
“Everyone is going to be excited to see each other,” catcher Mitch Garver said, “ but things are definitely going to be different this year.”
At the top of the list is the coronavirus. Training camp 2.0 will commence as cases spike in Florida, Texas and Arizona — all states with Major League Baseball teams. It’s safe to say that players are focused on the health and safety protocols the league has in place.
The plan initially was 67 pages long. Then it grew to 101 pages. On Friday, a Major League Baseball official confirmed the document had grown to 113 pages.
Some players may think that’s still a little light.
Rogers, the Twins’ union representative, said there is no clear information about what will happen to a player who tests positive during a road trip. For instance, can he drive home or does he quarantine in that town?
Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey announced on Thursday that a few players in the organization, major league and minor, have recently tested positive for the virus. If some Twins aren’t paying attention to the dangers of the virus, they are now. And many have been concerned for a while.
“One thing a lot of us aren’t thinking about, especially in the media, is when guys get sick — and they plan on getting sick — how many go down and who is it,” Garver said. “If one of our bullpen guys gets sick and he hangs out with bullpen guys, now three other guys get sick. Now we are in a bad spot because we are losing guys who are in the same position who have the same opportunities to throw. That kind of puts us at a disadvantage.
“First of all, there are guys taking care of themselves, staying safe and staying healthy. At the same time there’s a lot of luck because who knows who gets sick? Who knows what happens when one guy gets sick and then two more and what positions do they play, how do we rebound from that.
“It’s going to be interesting how teams and management are able to work on that.”
Despite his concerns, Garver is ready to play. He’s been working out with Max Kepler. He recently caught Trevor May, who wanted to get on a mound. Sergio Romo has been around, too.
“You can’t shut him up, though,” Garver joked about Romo, “that’s the problem.”
Garver described his routine as “super monotonous.” He said he felt stuck in an offseason mode — until the season was announced. Now he must accelerate into a shortened spring training.
“The real preparation for a season comes during spring training when you have six weeks at one place,” Garver said, “and you gradually progress to small baseball activities to actual games and playing full games and getting a large amount of reps at one time. So that’s going to be very condensed. I don’t want to say I’m concerned, but I know guys will respond differently to that.”
Rogers said the club knew that a restart could be sudden.
“It’s a little unfortunate and not a perfect world,” he said, “but since we knew this was the case, I think everybody’s going to be OK. Obviously with the setup of our ballclub, I think we have a lot of confidence, and that certainly helps.”
Falvey was asked if going through it all for just a 60-game season is worth it.
“Our guys want to get back on the field and Major League Baseball, the players, the players association and everybody in the group wants to see if we can find a way to get there,” Falvey said.
“Our fans want it back. There’s a lot of conversations about how we do this respectfully and thoughtfully in light of what we’re dealing with across the country, and I think that right now, the way it’s outlined and the way we’re doing it, I think we’ll figure out a way to navigate that together.”