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Hammer can pound the ball

  

By Gordy Jones

 

Lately I’ve had several Twins fans errantly ask me, “What about this guy we got for Cuddyer? Is he any good?” They are referring to Josh Willingham.

First of all, we didn’t trade Michael Cuddyer. He left of his own free will for a change of scenery, and for money he felt was adequate to compensate him for his talent.

Michael is a great ballplayer. He’ll do anything he is asked, and he is a great person and family man. He has won many awards for his charity work, he’s a great spokesman to the media, and a great clubhouse guy, too. He gave Minnesota the best years of his career.

But this is 21st century pro baseball, and guys don’t stay put too long. Compounding the situation was last year’s disastrous season. And money is always a factor in one’s decision to leave, with the Twins offering Michael a contract that was actually a cut in pay.

He told me he’d love to play out East, where he could have easy access to his home in Virginia. But when it got down to the bottom line, he took the inconvenience of a four-hour flight home to be well compensated in a town that wants him there. He’s going to be a great addition to the Rockies and to the city of Denver.   

With Cuddyer gone, the Twins needed an outfielder, so they signed Josh Willingham, a free agent who hit 29 home runs for the A’s last year. After playing part of the spring in right, it was decided he’ll be the Twins everyday left fielder. He has made some nice grabs, but has also played a few fly balls awkwardly. That could be the result of trying to learn to play in right, and then readjusting to his old position in left. But it was only spring, and those games are played to work the bugs out.

I recently caught up with Josh, and he said, “Hopefully I got all of the cobwebs out in spring training.”

I asked him what his thoughts were about playing in Minnesota. “I have good thoughts! Obviously, I chose Minnesota. The free agency process can be a long one, so I took this opportunity and I feel I’ve made a good decision. I played in a college wooden-bat league in Minnesota, so I’m very familiar with the Twin Cities.”

I told him even though it’s not fair; fans might compare him to Cuddyer; because of all the charitable work Michael was involved in, the community got to know him personally. Josh said: “That’s something my wife (Ginger) and I take great pride in, too. We get involved in the community, and we have a Willingham Foundation back home (Florence, Ala.). Obviously Cuddyer meant a lot to this organization; he played here his whole career. But I feel we’ll get involved in the Twin Cities community. Our foundation was started to help needy children. Then last year the tornadoes ripped through Alabama in April, and the foundation helped out, but it’s mostly geared towards kids.”   

Josh Willingham’s nickname from the bench is “The Hammer.” Let’s hope he can hammer out 29 home runs for the Twins in 2012!

Total Frustration!

It’s a lot more fun being around a team that is winning than one on a losing streak, and when they are losing, you need to watch what you say. In the Twins’ recent skid, I could notice the frustration in several usually very friendly voices. One night as Gardy greeted me before a game, I casually asked him, “How are you doing?” I meant this generically as a greeting. He looked at me sadly, and said slowly, “Doing the best that we can.”

Shortly after seeing Gardy, I saw GM Terry Ryan, and out of habit used the same greeting. He looked at me and said quickly: “Not good! We’re losing.”

I moved along, trying to not to offend anyone else. I saw hitting coach Joe Vavra and he said hello to me. I thought I’d offer something positive this time. I said, “Have a good game, put plenty of hits into the guy’s bats.” He stopped and pointed to a bat he was carrying. “Gordy, there’s been plenty of hits in our bats. If we didn’t give up so many runs we’d have a better chance.” This was a few days before the Angel no-hitter against the Twins. Joe walked away obviously frustrated.

Joe was right at that point, but bad pitching on a team leads to frustration by the offense, which can foster hitting slumps – especially when you’re facing good pitching. That seems to have been the Twin’s next crossroad. 

From now on, if the Twins keep losing, I’ll keep my mouth shut at the park, and only nod.  

 

Nice Threads!

I recently heard on a sports talk show that Danny Valencia was coming out with a line of clothing, so I thought I’d ask Danny if it’s true. He replied, “No, but someone has talked to me about the possibility of starting one, and I do like nice clothes.”

He is very stylish in his dress, and I remember last year hearing him and Joe Pohlad, who is a Twins executive and the grandson of late owner Carl Pohlad – and a fine dresser in his own right – discussing what brands they were wearing and talking clothing stores.

I reminded him of how he was dressed during Twins Fest. I saw him bundled up for warmth, but not style. He laughed and said, “I’m a warm-climate Florida guy. If I do this, maybe I’ll only have summer clothes in my line.”

 

TK Live

Tom Kelly has been occasionally filling in for Bert Blyleven in the FSN coverage of the Twins games. I asked partner Dick Bremer what it was like to work with Tom. “I enjoy it. He has an interesting perspective of the game and unique way of explaining it.” 

One of the unusual aspects of Tom Kelly doing the TV broadcast is seeing him on the field pre-game in a sport coat. I asked him if he enjoys filling in for Bert. “It’s alright once in a while. I sneak in there and do a game or two and try to help out – give a little back to the Upper Midwest. The people here mean a lot to me. But that’s about my limit. A couple days every month or so – I’ll do a game or two and give a little back.”

I asked him if he ever misses managing. “No!” he said adamantly. But he softly added, “We miss the competition of the game and the camaraderie of the game, but that’s about it.”

 

More Hair Talk

Trevor Plouffe was talking with me about my recent column where I suggested because of his long, thick hair, he endorse a shampoo and do commercials with his mom like Joe Mauer does. Trevor laughed and said, “I always pull off my hat in front of Joe and say, ‘Hey Joe, where’s my Head and Shoulders?’ But now I’m going to say: ‘Hey Joe! Where’s my Head and Shoulders commercial deal?’ That would be great. I could get my mom involved.”

He then walked away with an ear-to-ear smile and his big hair bouncing.  

  

Check out Gordy’s book at baseballguy.org. Gordy can be reached at gejones1@aol.com.

Check out Gordy’s book at www.baseballguy.org. Gordy can be reached at gejones1@aol.com.