Twins Caravan: Twins, fans dreaming big
Out with the Vikings, in with the Twins.
Offering a reprieve from the purple-and-gold's loss in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, optimism abounded as the boys of summer made a stop at the Montevideo VFW as part of the annual Twins Winter Caravan on Tuesday morning.
And, yes, there was even some World Series talk.
Relief pitchers Taylor Rogers and Trevor Hildenberger and Hall of Famer and broadcaster Bert Blyleven headlined the event that had a much different feel to it than just one year ago when Minnesota was coming off a Twins-worst 103-loss season.
No longer were there questions from the audience about lackluster play or was there constant speculation about a potential trade of second baseman Brian Dozier.
Instead, coming off a Wild Card game appearance against the Yankees and a 26-win improvement in the span of one season, the Twins set high expectations on Tuesday.
A fan closed the open Q&A session with a simple question: Do you think the Twins can bring home a World Series?
"I absolutely do," Hildenberger said. "I think getting a taste of playing in Yankee Stadium last October makes you want it that much more and you want to get back to it that fast. There's a lot of work to put in, but we're in a good position.
"...If we can add one more starter we'll be in a really good spot. We have to go through New York and probably Houston, but we're going to be a really good team and a team to be reckoned with, that's for sure."
Rogers agreed with his bullpen mate.
"Getting that playoff taste, as well, we can take it into another gear," he added.
Due to heavy amounts of snow in the Twin Cities on Monday, the Twins arrival was delayed by 30 minutes, but the crowd of about 100 at the VFW didn't budge from their seats.
They were quickly awarded with a bevy of stories from Blyleven and radio broadcaster Kris Attebery, who served as the emcee.
Rogers, in his second year, and Hildenberger, a rookie, both became surprising stalwarts in the back of Minnesota's bullpen last season.
Rogers, a lefty, had a 3.03 ERA in 55 2/3 innings, while the side-winding right-hander Hildenberger posted a 3.21 ERA in 42 innings.
With both young hurlers on the Caravan along with a pitching legend in Blyleven, there was plenty of pitching talk to go around.
Rogers and Hildenberger piggybacked stories about how Matt Belisle, currently a free agent, helped completely change their pitching mindsets, prompting Atteberry to note, "Anytime these two are going back-to-back, that's a good sign for the Twins." And as for Blyleven—well, there was no shortage of comments from him throughout the hour.
Bullpen roles are now both much more open with the signings of relief arms Addison Reed, Zach Duke and Fernando Rodney, but Rogers and Hildenberger were excited for the bolstered staff.
"We put a lot into the bullpen this off-season, which is going to be big," Rogers said. "I feel like we have one of the league's best bullpens, so I'm okay pitching in any role."
Rogers, Hildenberger and Blyleven all spoke of having a solid top four members of the starting rotation, which is rounded out by left-hander Adalberto Mejia—whose name Blyleven confused with former Twin Jose Mijares at one point, making for a humorous moment.
"That would be great to have Jose, but he's not on the team anymore, Bert," Atteberry quipped.
Pitchers and catchers report to camp on Feb. 13 for the Twins, and Opening Day is March 29 at Baltimore. Minnesota's home-opener is April 5 against Seattle.
"We're hoping to see a long string of taillights headed to Target Field from Montevideo," Attebery said.