Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Although having four outfielders capable of being starters is a luxury problem for the Twins, I hope manager Ron Gardenhire usually starts -- from left to right: Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, and Michael Cuddyer. We have high hopes for some pop in Delmon Young's bat-but his fielding is just adequate, and watching him chase a ball hit to his right can be painful. It looks like he's not taking full strides as he runs. They are more like baby steps. Meantime, speedy Carlos Gomez can run all the way from deep center field, catch up with Delmon, and be there for back-up if Young finally hauls it in. Both Carlos Gomez and Denard Span can fly around the outfield, and they play very aggressively. They are both very influenced by Torii Hunter. Carlos knows Torii, and told me that he watched Torii play ball on TV as a child. He wanted to play center field just like him. He's still learning to do so ... but what a great student! Denard Span told me that when he was very young, Torii took him under his wing and mentored him on the game and the life around it. To this day he stays in contact with his friend, who is now an Angel. In right field, a healthy Michael Cuddyer is a reliable glove. He gets a jump on the ball and runs well, and has a killer arm-strong and accurate. All four outfielders have the potential to hit with power. After Gomez hit several balls over the fence during batting practice the other day, I asked him if he had changed his swing over the winter. He replied: "I just try to play. I played a little ball to get ready for this season. I was in the Dominican. Only took 40 at-bats. You know, I don't change anything. I try to do the same thing. But every year I play, every year I get better." Carlos is a complex fellow. He can be quiet with anticipation in the pregame clubhouse. But as he walks through the tunnel and down the stairs that lead to the field, you can see him getting excited. Sometimes he may start dancing or singing. As he steps onto the field he laughs and tells funny stories to his teammates in a childlike voice which is natural, but almost cartoon-like. When he gives an interview, his voice reverts to a more serious tone. He loves to laugh and loves to joke with the fans. I asked him about his extreme happiness on the field. "You know, baseball is a game that you have to be happy to play it. Baseball can be up and down, but you have to take it on this level all of the time. I come here every day and have fun." I mentioned how he seems to bring joy to those around him, too. "You know, that's the kind of person I am. When I get here, sometimes I see that some teammates don't look happy. So I start playing around here, and start laughing and make them happy. The Twins know how to have fun. My manager just says: 'Play ball and have fun!'" One thing that is not fun is getting hit by a pitch. And that was one of the few times I saw Carlos frown last season. He was hit by a pitch and took first base. The next batter popped up for the third out. Carlos walked slowly towards the dugout to retrieve his glove, and as he did, he looked as if he were a child ready to cry. He looked at the photographers' well at the edge of the dugout where I sat and said in a very sad voice: "Carlos does not like getting hit by pitch." Seconds later he had his glove on his hand and a smile back on his face, and was running like lightning to center field. Last season Carlos was always full of surprises. I think he surprised his manager at times, too. I asked Carlos if we can expect more of the same this year. He just grinned, saying: "Many more surprises this year. I gotta give surprises! And this year we win championship!"