Q&A from the Twins Winter Caravan

Clockwise from top left, Minnesota Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra, manager Ron Gardenhire, catcher Drew Butera and pitcher Jeff Manship listen to fans on Monday afternoon during a Winter Caravan stop at Prairie Hills Mall.

Members of the Minnesota Twins organization, including manager Ron Gardenhire, stopped at Prairie Hills Mall in Dickinson on Monday afternoon as part of their Winter Caravan bus tour that takes them all over “Twins Territory.” The stop was fast and furious because of the nasty road conditions in North and South Dakota. However, Gardenhire, pitcher Jeff Manship, catcher Drew Butera and hitting coach Joe Vavra answered questions while radio personality Kris Atteberry MC’d the event and mascot TC Bear roamed around with fans.

I gathered tons of great quotes from the stop, many of which came from the great — and sometimes hard-hitting — questions asked by the many Twins fans in attendance.

Below, I have much from that session, but first, here’s a couple items I gathered in my quick session with Gardenhire and the players that weren’t in today’s story on Butera and Manship.

Butera on what it’s like to be Joe Mauer’s backup: “It’s pretty special for me. Last year was my first year and to get to say that I learned from the best is something you don’t get to do every day. I got to go watch him play, the way he works, the way he hits, the way he handles his pitching staff, and for me, that’s experience and advice I can’t get anywhere else. To be learning from the best is pretty special for me.”

Manship on what it will take to earn a consistent spot in the Twins’ bullpen: “I think spring training, first off, having a good spring training, just getting in shape and throwing strikes.  Spring training, in the past, it’s been a little bit slow for me to get going. Hopefully this year I can change that, making it back right away.”

Gardenhire on how Butera settled in to backup role following Wilson Ramos trade last summer: “The great thing about the kid is he doesn’t put any extra pressure on him. He just wants to go out there and call the ball games and do the best he could offensively. I think he concentrated on what he was supposed to be concentrating on and that was working with the pitchers and calling the games. He did a super job of that. The Ramos situation, we knew that was going to take care of itself eventually and he deserves a chance to play too. And Ramos was going to come up and not play much with Mauer catching. This is the perfect situation. Drew is a solid, solid major league backup catcher who can fill in in spurts.”

Gardenhire on the Twins’ top prospect, pitcher Kyle Gibson: “You can’t ask me that one because I’ll get in trouble with my bosses. (laugh) He’s a stud.”

Here are most of the topics discussed by the Twins, during the question-and-answer session with fans.

Gardenhire on Joe Nathan’s status: “Joe Nathan is going to be fine, we believe. He’s healthy. He’s been working his tail off and we expect him in spring training, going out there, flinging it and seeing what happens. … He feels good. He feels great. Now we just have to see how he does, bouncing back, day to day.”

Gardenhire on options at second base and shortstop: “Our second baseman, we have Nishi (26-year-old rookie Tsuyoshi Nishioka), I can’t pronounce his whole name yet. Nishi, from Japan, he’s a really good player. And Alexi Casillas. We’re going to figure it out. We’re going to let them both go down there and play and see what works, what doesn’t work. I’d just like to get a better look at him. I don’t know a lot about him other than he’s a pretty good player. We’re going to look at him and one’s going to play second, one’s going to play short. That’s what we’re looking for.”

Gardenhire on middle relievers: “Jeff Manship’s got a good chance. Of course, we lost some really good ones. Jon Rauch just signed with Toronto. … It’s not easy to fill those holes. We made a couple of trades, picked up a couple good arms, we’ve got some good, young pitchers coming in. You’ve got Joe Nathan back, you’ve got Capps. You know what, we’ve got some pretty good arms. We’ve got some holes to fill also. It’s not going to be easy. … We’ve got some really good arms. We’re excited about it.”

Manship on his role in the bullpen: “I was telling them last year, I’d fold towels just to be there. Any role I can get really, I’d love to start, I’d love to be in the bullpen, anywhere I can help.”

Gardenhire on first season in Target Field: “We all saw it’s a beautiful place. Going to the ballpark every day. Going to the Metrodome, once you walked inside, you didn’t know whether the sun was out, whether it was raining, whatever. It makes you want to go there. We go there early. A lot of the players get there a lot earlier than they did at the Metrodome. There’s so much room. There’s so much to do inside the clubhouse, then when you walk out of the clubhouse and into the dugout, it’s an event. We see how much fun everyone is having at the ballpark. It’s a great ballpark, playing surface, the whole package. I know a couple of guys complained that it’s too big, but that’s OK, that helps our pitchers out. We absolutely love it, it’s as good as it gets.”

Gardenhire on status of Justin Morneau: “We all want him back. He’s doing fine. He’s down in Arizona, he’s doing all his baseball work. The tell-tale sign will be once we get down (to Fort Myers, Fla.) and we get down on the field and he starts diving around for ball and diving into the bases. We work on those things, that’ll let us know a little bit more about how everything’s going. The doctors have told us he’s fine. Justin is feeling great and working out every day and not having any setbacks or any problems. We look forward to him being there from day one and going forward from there. … We dearly miss him and we look forward to having him there for a 162 games, that’s a wonderful thing. Hopefully this year, he’ll be able to stay healthy and stay on the field.”

Butera on growing up around baseball while his father, Sal Butera, played for the Twins: “One of the best people I got to meet, and one of the best players, was Kirby Puckett. I idolized him growing up, the way he played the game, the way he treated the fans and his family. It was really special to me.”

Butera on Twins pitching: “I don’t know if you guys know, but we’re still trying to sign Carl, so I’d really like for Carl to come back because that means I get to play every once and a while. We’ve got some really, really good arms. Liriano, Baker, Blackburn, Slowey. Our bullpen is still shaping up with Capps, like Gardy was talking about, and hopefully we get Nathan back. We’re going to have a really good pitching staff. I’d like to see Jeff (Manship) on there too. I like having him around.”

Gardenhire on what Tsuyoshi Nishioka is going to be like and communicating a player who doesn’t speak English or Spanish: “Sign language. As I told him when they were in town, his job is to learn our English, not my learning his Japanese. I will try to a little bit of his native language, but I expect him to be able to speak to me. Baseball is one of those languages. We can get by on a baseball field. It’s going to be one of those different things. We’re going to have interpreters around to help us out. It’s something we’ve never dealt with. It’s going to be interesting. I’ve been laughing about it. I’ve got Alexi Casillas and Nishi up the middle and neither one of them understand me, so it’s going to be a hell of a meeting out on the mound.”

Gardenhire on the leadoff spot: “I’d say Denard Span is going to be our leadoff hitter. We like the Span man up there. He can run, he’ll take pitches and he’s pretty darn good.”

Gardenhire on what position will Michael Cuddyer be playing: “That’s a good question. Michael will be our right fielder. We know he can play first, he can play second, he can play third. He really wants to pitch. That’s what he’s been telling me. He really wants to pitch and he wants to play shortstop desperately in a game. That’s what he’s been telling me. He can play just about anywhere. He’s a great guy, he’ll do anything to win and I think we’ve seen that when other people have gotten hurt.”

Gardenhire on his favorite stadium outside of the Twin Cities: “I love going down to Kansas City. It’s a beautiful, beautiful ballpark.”

Gardenhire on his playing days and some advice for young ballplayers: “I played for the New York Mets. I was a futility player, in every sense of that. I didn’t hit much, but I had a ball playing. That’s another thing kids, don’t let anybody tell you ‘you can’t do this’ or ‘you can’t do that.’ I grew up in a little bitty town in Oklahoma. Everybody always tried to say not very many people get a chance out of here, but I got a chance and I made it to the major leagues because I just kept playing and playing and playing and worked hard and listened to my coaches.”

Gardenhire answering a young fan’s question, “What’s the key to beat the Yankees?”: I don’t know. How ‘bout I tell ya that straight out? I think get more hits than them and pitch a little better. Things have got to go our way. It seems like every time we play those dog gone guys, we’ve got something going on, something happens and next thing you know, they take advantage of it. We’ve just got to come up with some big hits and make the pitches when we have to. They’re a great baseball team with a lot of great players. We go toe to toe with them and somehow they find a way. We’ve got reverse that. We’re tired of it. I think our players are tired of it. I know you guys are tired of it, so we just have to reverse it. The only way you can do that is by going out on the field and getting it done. That’s what we have to do.”

Gardenhire on backup catcher Drew Butera after a young child asked him, “What base is Joe Mauer going to be this year?”: “It’s a battle between him and Drew to see who is going to play the most this year. We’re going to let Drew battle it out with him. I’ve got to believe I know who’s going to win. Probably Joe Joe. Drew and I actually have a lot of fun with this. Drew knows that on home games — and I know our fans come in on home games — you guys don’t like to see Joe not playing. And I’ve learned that because I hear some of the things said above the dugout to me when Joe’s not playing. But in baseball, you play every night, you get a day game, and Drew doesn’t get to play a lot at home. We’re going to try and work on it this year where we can get Drew some more games at Target Field because he likes playing there in front of the fans.”

Butera on “Who do you enjoy playing the most?” As much as I don’t like them, I like playing Chicago. There’s a rivalry, there’s a lot of intensity. It’s fun playing the guys. I know that if we win, we move up into first place.”

Ron Gardenhire on “Who do you enjoy playing the most?”: I honestly like Chicago too, mostly because I don’t understand a word (White Sox manager) Ozzie Guillen says and it’s fun to listen to him talk. He’s a good friend of mine and we have a good rivalry with him. The same with the Motown Tigers. I like listening to Jim Leyland talk too. They’re two managers I get along with really well, and they’re good competition and the possibility of a few elbows being thrown here and there, which is always entertaining.”

Gardenhire addressing a fan who heard a rumor the Twins might be pursuing Manny Ramirez: “There’s kids in here, so I can’t really say what I’d really like to say. (loud laughter from the crowd) I doubt that’s going to happen folks. (applause) I doubt that’s going to happen. He makes a little too much money for me.”

Gardenhire on Justin Morneau and his offseason “talks” with the MVP first baseman: “We text back and forth. These players have taught me to text. … The last time he texted me, I think it was about moving the fences in again. I told him not to text me anymore unless he’s feeling good. He’s feeling great and I think he’s going to be fine.”

Gardenhire on disputing calls and his relationships with umpires, particularly North Dakota native and much-maligned umpire Gary Cedarstrom: “Arguing with umpires is actually kind of entertaining for me. I know a lot of people like it when you go out and argue, but moreso than anything else, I don’t want my players to get into any arguments. I keep my players out of it. If I see them going toward an umpire, I’ll sprint out and I’ll get into the middle of it. I don’t want to get thrown out of games. Most times, if you put ‘you’ or ‘your’ in front of anything, they’re going to throw you out of the game. There’s been times when we’re talking and I say, ‘I disagree with the call. I think it’s bad. It’s a bad call and there’s no way I can walk off this field without you throwing me out.’ They’ll look at me and be like, ‘Are you serious?’ and I go, ‘Oh absolutely, you have to throw me out.’ And they throw you out. Then there are times when it gets heated. But Gary, he’s a good guy. He laughs at me. We know each other, so when Gary throws me out, he normally starts smiling at me and then he throws me out because he knows that I enjoy that part too. That’s probably why he gets me more than anyone else because he starts smiling and he knows it makes me madder than hell.”

Gardenhire on the change of third base coaches. Steve Liddle moves from the bench to third base and Scott Ullger moves to the bench: “We flipped third base around. Scottie, he’s the manager when I get thrown out or am not able to be there, so he should be on the bench with me. We’ve been talking about this for a while. Steve Liddle is a very good third base coach. He’s been on the bench for a while now because Steve is good with computers. He types up all my paperwork, so I told Steve he’s going to do double duty. But Scottie should be on the bench with me, running the ball games, making sure the players are ready in the dugout, all those things. Scottie, he’s a very good baseball guy and a very good manager and I hope he gets an opportunity to manage one day.”

Very young fan: “Do you think you can get to the World Series?”   Gardenhire: (picks up mic) “Yes.”

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