The Minnesota Twins are noteworthy in many respects. Not one player on their spring training roster was in his 30s. They have the lowest average salary ($90,000) and the highest average ticket price ($7.50) in baseball. Their marvelous farm system generated players who last season led organized baseball in homers ( Tim Laudner's 42 at Orlando) and average ( Kent Hrbek's .379 at Visalia), not to mention vowels (Faedo, Gaetti) and consonants ( Hrbek). Billy Gardner is a highly popular manager. Outfielder Mickey Hatcher is one of baseball's funniest players. And this week the Twins open the $55 million Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis.
What kind of team will this be? Don't ask. Minnesota's weaknesses start with its putative strengths. Third Baseman John Castino will be out until at least mid-May, following spinal fusion surgery last October. Roy Smalley maintains he will play shortstop despite recurring back troubles, which plagued him last year. Gardner, however, may pencil him in at designated hitter. Laudner is coming off two knee operations and won't be ready for the big club. "We have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball," says the ever-hopeful Gardner. Then why has Doug Corbett led all relievers in appearances the past two years?
"The pitchers think they're the big shots, but I think they're average," says a Twins regular. "Of course, the batters aren't the '27 Yankees, either." The Twins finished next to last in hitting, homers, stolen bases and earned run average in '81. And they won't exactly knock down the Metrodome's wall, which is 343 feet down the foul lines and 408 to dead center. " Harmon Killebrew could have handled it," says Smalley. "I don't know about the rest of us."
So why are a record number of upper Mid-westerners shelling out $8 apiece for most Metrodome seats? Well, there's the novelty of spending Minneapolis' short summer indoors. And the Twins aren't completely inept either, appearances notwithstanding. Speedy outfielders like Jim Eisenreich and Dave Engle will look like quarter horses when they chase balls hit up the artificial alleys. Rookies Lenny Faedo at short and Gary (G-Man) Gaetti at third could more than adequately replace Smalley and Castino. And then there's the hometown hope, rookie First Baseman Hrbek, who is a 1978 graduate of Kennedy High School in Bloomington, the site of the Twins' old park. The stuff of legend, Hrbek made the long jump from A-ball to the Twins last August and homered in his first game to beat the Yankees in New York. "I'm having a great time," he says. "Living at home, seeing Mom and Dad, coming home from work to hangout with my buddies."
Indeed, most of the Twins are spontaneous and fun-loving, especially Hatcher, who dances in the dugout between innings. "Everybody likes to get together," he says. "All the players like to fish. We go out there, goofin' around, throwin' people in the water."
Great, but can they play ball?