A New Season is Born

Photos from the following Twins games can be found here:

Link: Spring Training 2011: Twins vs. Blue Jays, March 10, 2011

Link: Spring Training 2011: Twins vs. Red Sox, March 11, 2011

For this baseball fan, there are only two seasons each year: winter and baseball season. And up here in the upper midwest the winters are cruel, so there are no better words to hear during the cold, dark winter than “spring training has begun”. It’s the first indication that the sun will return, the snow will melt, and warm summer evenings spent outside at the ballpark are almost here again. For now it’s only a dream, but last week I lived a tiny piece of that dream as I took my first real trip down to spring training to get a taste of what’s to come this baseball season. More specifically that means flying down to Ft. Myers, Florida where the grass is green, the sun is warm, and palm trees provide the shade. It’s where the Minnesota Twins are preparing to defend their AL Central Division title this season.

Hammond Stadium, Home of the Minnesota Twins Spring Training. Photo taken March 11, 2011.

The first time I saw Hammond Stadium, where the Twins play their home games during spring training, was about 15 years ago when I was a kid. So I was looking forward to taking a real trip to spring training after all these years. After attending 59 Twins games last season and suddenly being cut off cold turkey when the Twins were swept out of the playoffs by the Yankees again, I couldn’t wait to get a taste of Twins baseball again. I was able to attend two games on the trip: the first was against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 10th and the second was against the Boston Red Sox on March 11th.

Unfortunately, the first game against the Blue Jays was delayed an hour because of light rain. However, it was refreshing to finally see again that water falling from the sky really can come down in a liquid form after watching its snow variant pile up in our yards for the last 4 months. The rain stopped eventually and the game got underway. This game was my first chance to witness Joe Nathan pitch in person since the end of the 2009 season. It was great to see him on the mound again after undergoing Tommy John surgery a year ago and I have to say he looked to be in great form. I have a feeling it won’t be long until we finally hear “Stand up and shouuut!” in Target Field for the first time as Joe Nathan comes in to close down a game. It’s going to be very exciting to see how well he can contribute this season.

Joe Nathan is pitching again after missing the entire 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery. Photo March 10, 2011

Unfortunately for the Twins, Nick Blackburn struggled in his start giving up 5 runs in the first 3 innings. The Twins were unable to make a come back, but that didn’t take away from being outside finally watching my favorite team again. Although they didn’t play in the game, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and Michael Cuddyer all made appearances in the dugout along with Twins’ greats Paul Molitor, Rod Carew, and Tony Oliva.

The second game was a picture perfect day in paradise. Not a cloud in the sky and mid-70’s for a high temperature! The game against the Red Sox was an especially exciting day because it was the first official Grapefruit League game that Justin Morneau would play in since suffering a concussion July 7, 2010. Seeing his name in the lineup and take the field was a great relief as a Twins fan since his presence was greatly missed the second half of last season. Hopefully this is the beginning of a full, healthy season for Justin.

Justin Morneau plays in an official game for the first time since suffering a concussion July 7, 2010. Photo March 11, 2011

It was also exciting to finally witness the Twins new Japanese 2nd baseman, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, play in person. If the amount of Japanese media coverage during pre-game warmups is any indication of what the regular season is going to be like, then get ready to hear a lot of Japanese speaking fans and media at Target Field this year. There must have been 20 members of the Japanese media all watching Nishioka before the game started! It’s going to be very interesting watching him develop this season and I think he’s going to add a lot of excitement. He’s got great potential to be an important addition to this Twins team.

Twins new Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Photo March 11, 2011

So all in all it was a great trip to get that taste of Twins baseball a little early this year and almost just as good was feeling that warm Florida sunshine while spring is still struggling to take hold back in Minnesota. I need to mention that if you go to Ft. Myers and you like pizza you definitely need to seek out Grimaldi’s Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria. It’s located in the Bell Tower Shops. It’s authentic New York-style pizza and they actually originated in New York City. I ate at their Long Island, New York location last summer and was shocked to see they also had a location across the street from our hotel in Ft. Myers! It’s probably my favorite pizza in the world and I know my pizza, so check it out if you get the chance. I highly recommend the caesar salad to start out with and definitely finish the meal off with either the tiramisu or a cannoli. Great stuff!

So for baseball fans, especially those in climates that get a true winter experience, there are few things better than taking a trip for spring training. Not only do you get to finally see baseball again, but it’s a chance to remember what summer feels like and to know that it’s just around the corner. As I write this it’s exactly 3 weeks until I’ll once again be outside at Target Field taking in another Twins game and I can’t wait! For now I hope you take a look at the galleries of photos I took at both of the games. The galleries are linked at the beginning of this post and of course you can find them by also following the Galleries link located at the top of every page.

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