2021 Spring Training Challenge: Building Relationships
Image courtesy of Brace Hemmelgarn, Minnesota TwinsPitchers and catchers reported to Twins spring training on Thursday and held their first official workout on Friday. Things at CenturyLink Sports Complex are a little different this year due to COVID restrictions and limitations.
Normally at this time of year, big league spring training is taking place in the stadium, on Tom Kelly Field and on the adjacent Rick Stelmaszek Field. At the same time, back fields are often occupied by minor leaguers who have arrived at camp early. This year, minor league spring training is not set to start until April 1st.
There will be up to 75 players at Twins spring training. While some are yet to arrive for various reasons from travel issues, visa issues or COVID issues, the team is utilizing all of the fields and the bullpens. Things are very spread out.
In previous years, all spring training participants crammed into the clubhouse at Hammond Stadium. This year, only the hitters will be in the Hammond Stadium clubhouse while the pitchers are in the minor league clubhouse across the parking lot.
Rocco Baldelli noted, “This has been one of the most difficult parts of COVID, being at the ballpark and preparing for games. Just the personal aspect of what we do. Spending time with your fellow players and fellow coaches. We want our guys in the same space, but we can’t have our pitchers and our catchers in the same space right now. It’s a very difficult thing.”
It is different, and it has to be. Early days of spring training are not only about getting players ready physically, but about getting to know each other, especially new teammates. It can be especially important for pitchers and catchers.
On Saturday, Mitch Garver talked about watching a lot of video this offseason on his swing. But did he watch any video, especially his at bats against some of his new teammates like Hansel Robles, Alex Colome and J.A. Happ?
“Yes, I have watched all of my at-bats against all of them already. That was like the first thing I did when we signed them. I was trying to reinforce some of the things I remembered.”
That’s part of ‘getting to know’ the new pitchers that he will be working with this year. The other is just building a relationship, a friendship, a trust with each other. A lot of that can happen when they are in the same clubhouse, eating breakfast together or just sitting at their lockers.
Garver noted, “This year’s different. The pitchers’ locker room is across on the minor league side so it’s really hard for us to build relationships with them.”
The only time that the pitchers and catchers are able to talk to each other is if and when they work bullpens.
“I caught Colome’s flatground today, and we just introduced ourselves for a second. But if you’re not catching their bullpen, you don’t see those guys and you won’t see them for I don’t know how long. I haven’t met Happ yet. Robles has been busy every time I’ve walked by so it’s not like I can walk up to their locker and say, ‘Hey, what’s up? How’s it going?’ I have to be around them and interact with them just in order to meet them.”
Baldelli acknowledged that it is a topic that was often discussed as spring training plans were being made. “This was something we had specifically talked about. We know that we are going to have to make some adjustments and do some things that we don’t think are ideal. We want our pitchers and catchers to spend as much time with each other as they can.”
Over the course of spring training, the team will make adjustments to the arrangements and some of those introductions and conversations will be able to happen.
Until then, the players will have to make the best of their opportunities to talk.
Garver said, “Maybe it’ll just slow down the process a little bit and you have to be a little bit more cognizant of who you’re around and when you do see them around, just go introduce yourself, kind of talk some things over but yeah, it’s definitely been different for sure.”
The manager certainly understands. “The relationship aspect of this is very important. That is not lost upon us. We’re going to do everything we can as we move forward to enhance that, and frankly, just spend more time with each other, if we can.”
On Saturday morning, the Twins announced that J.A. Happ tested positive for COVID, and while he is asymptomatic, it will delay his arrival to spring training.
Baldelli said, “I think coming into camp we knew the odds were that there would be some positive tests. In some small way at the beginning of camp when he comes in, will he be a little behind initially? Probably so. That being said, I don't foresee this being a long-term issue of any kind. J.A. is one, a guy who needs to know what he needs to do to get ready for a season,”
No question there will be more challenges throughout spring training. Adjustments will need to be made. But they’re not all bad…
We’ve got carts!!
Baldelli noted, “So we’re a little more spread out. We’re using carts significantly more, kind of old school, like we used to see all the time. Carts going in different directions. So that’s helping us transport everything that we need to.” He later added, “A lot of coaches pride themselves on walking. You know, I’m going to walk 400 yards from here to there. I’m going to take the cart most of the time. I think right now You’re going to see them zipping around all over the place.”
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