Reporting Tracy Perlman
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Twins spent the past week warming up their fans with the 53rd Winter Caravan. Friday kicks off the annual TwinsFest at the Metrodome. During a stop in St. Paul, pitchers Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing told me the caravan is more than a chance to meet the fans.
“I enjoy connecting with the fans and showing we’re aware of them and that we appreciate them is just as important for them appreciating us,” Perkins explained.
These special meet and greets also serve a purpose for the players. They’re able to hear from the fans who motivate them when times are tough.
“True fans stick by you when things don’t go well. I think we’ve had so much success in the past that the last few two have seemed really, really bad. They have been,” Duensing admitted. “The fact the fans are still willing to come out and support you definitely gives you a little boost.”
2011 and 2012 were rough summers for the team. The Twins lost nearly 100 games each season and also found themselves in the bottom of the AL Central.
Perkins knows things have to change.
“We really weren’t even competitive last year or the year before. We want to try to get back to going out there and competing on a regular basis,” said Perkins.
Being competitive starts with pitching. The front office focused on bulking up the bullpen this offseason.
They’ve acquired and invited some 30 pitchers to training camp. The competition for a spot on the roster will hopefully springboard the team into a good start for the season.
This past week, the Twins agreed to a deal with Duensing to avoid arbitration. He’s looking to improve, no matter which role he’s in. Duensing was stronger coming out of the bullpen last season with a 3.47 ERA, compared to a 6.92 ERA as a starter.
“If there’s a way I can be consistent with both positions I’d be really happy with the season. Especially when we’re winning. If we’re losing I’m not going to be happy with it. For me personally, I’m looking to be more consistent,” he said.
Consistency isn’t only on the mind of Duensing. Perkins is hoping to improve on 16 saves in 20 opportunities as a closer.
“I’d like to improve obviously but I think if I can do what I’ve done the last few years and continue do to that, that’s what we’ll need as a team to be successful,” he said.
The losses from the last two years have come at cost. The team didn’t offer contracts to long-time bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, first-base coach Jerry White, third-base coach Steve Liddle or athletic trainer Rick McWane. Other managers got reassigned. Pitchers were let go. It’s an expected part of the game, but it affects the players who are still with the team.
Perkins said while he has a spot on the roster, it doesn’t mean he’s not worried about his teammates.
“We need to go out there and play. The guys that got let go after the year, I think that’s on us as players for not going out and playing better. You don’t like that because you know guys have families. It’s their livelihood and in a way, we cost them that.”
With all the new faces, whether coaches or players, the team will face its own challenges off the field. The better the players establish themselves as a team in the clubhouse, the more accountable they’ll be to one another when playing.
“For me personally, if your clubhouse meshes it transfers to the field,” explained Duensing. “With all the guys leaving that have been around for a while and new guys coming in, that’s going to be important an part of the piece. If that happens and we can mesh, I think we can do good things.”
We’ll see how well they can come together as a team when the Twins report for Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers will gear up for the first time in Ft. Myers in mid-February. You can meet your favorite Twins players, both past and present January 25-27 during TwinsFest at the Metrodome.