The Minnesota Twins start spring training Thursday, and Denard Span couldn’t be happier.
He played only 70 games in 2011 and suffered from a concussion and migraine symptoms in an injury-marred campaign. The previous season, Span became the first Twin since Torii Hunter (2004-05) to post consecutive 20-steal seasons (23 in ’09 and 26 in ’10).
“I had a good off-season, and [it was] probably the best I felt in two years,” Span told curious reporters at the team’s kickoff luncheon at their downtown stadium on January 27. “I won’t know until I get down to spring training and get to playing baseball every day and get on the field.”
Weekly visits to a chiropractor in Florida, who advised him to change his diet, helped Span en route to regaining a healthy existence, he pointed out. “It got my brain and body to functioning naturally. I haven’t sipped caffeine in three or four months. Body wise, this is the best I’ve felt in a couple of years.”
Optimism annually runs amuck each spring, and after missing by one losing 100 games, the Twins understandably aren’t preparing in Florida for a repeat performance. Not having Span in the lineup or on the field was a contributing factor among so many factors in the lost season of 2011.
“It definitely was a tough year for me,” admitted Span, “and a tough year for the team in general. It was one of the most depressing and tough seasons for me personally.”
The 2012 Twins will look distinctly different: Gone are stalwarts Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan. Josh Willingham is one of several new faces on the roster.
“This is not the first time we lost key players,” noted Span. “We lost two or three All-Stars in 2007 — Torii [Hunter] and Johan [Santana] — and everyone counted us out, and we were one game away from making the playoffs.
“I don’t see any other reason why we can’t do that this year. We brought in some other good players, veteran players, guys who will be good for our clubhouse. Everybody’s counting us out. We’re confident that if we play our game and stay healthy, we’ll be fine.”
For this to occur, Minnesota needs the Denard Span of 2009, who batted .311 and a .392 on-base percentage — 10th in the American League — and his league-best 10 triples. Or even the Span who was on a roll in the first part of last season before the injuries hit.
“I spent most of the year asking God, ‘Why now?’” he reflected. “But everything happens for a reason. Whatever the plan He has, it was not meant for me to play last season. It made me stronger as an individual, not so much as a baseball player.
“I’m just ready to put it behind me and look to 2012,” he proclaimed. “I got my glove and bat, and I’m ready to go.”
But it wouldn’t be baseball here on the local front if some sort of controversy didn’t exist, either real or conjured up by local busybody scribes. This spring it’s pitting the team’s only two Black players, Span and Ben Revere, against each other. Revere was Span’s injury replacement last season, which prompted some to subtly suggest that perhaps he, not Span, should be the regular centerfielder.
Never mind that Revere’s arm is better suited for left field, and Span’s speed can cover more ground in the middle of the outfield. It shouldn’t be an either-or choice — why can’t both be outfield starters, Revere in left field and Span in center?
Deftly avoiding such tit-for-tat inquiries, Span pointed out, “Everybody knows I waited a long time to play center field. I’m very passionate about it. Even towards the end of last year, Gardy [Manager Ron Gardenhire] was saying that he would first try me out in center field and see what Ben can do in left.
“If it doesn’t shake up, I have to do what I have to do,” Span continued. “When he told me that, I have to respect that, and I’m OK with that. If it doesn’t work out, I don’t mind playing wherever.”
However, what’s even more important is that Span and Revere are teammates, not tug-of-war combatants. “I’m looking forward to being out there with him,” concluded the veteran centerfielder on Revere, who hopes to begin the season with the parent club — he began last year in Triple-A Rochester before being called up for good in June.
“He’s a hell of an athlete,” said Span. “I’m looking forward to mentoring him and looking after him a little bit.”
Did you know…
When Jackie Robinson broke the color line in April 1947, it would be more than a dozen years before every major league baseball team had at least one Black player.
Who was the Minnesota Twins’ first Black player? (Look for the answer in next week’s “View.”)
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.