Alex Berg | Sports Editor | 1-26-2012
This year’s special guests were Fox Sports North announcer Dick Bremer, former player Tony Oliva, and current outfielders Ben Revere and Rene Tosoni.
“I have had great experiences on the caravan because I have been doing it for over 40 years,” Oliva said. “Every year is different, but I get more and more used to it. When I used to come up to this part of the country in the 60s and 70s there was a lot of ice and a lot of snow. Now it doesn’t seem too bad. The best part is coming to see all of the fans that support us and come to the ballpark in the good times and the bad times.”
For Oliva, now 73 years old, it is evident that his true love for the game of baseball is what is keeping him coming back to do the Caravan.
“I love what I do,” Oliva said. “I love the people and to give them the chance to see me. I like to talk to the people who saw me play and we talk about the past. I remember coming to these towns a long time ago and the towns were not very big, it is great to see them grow as much as they have. I love being able to mingle with the young fans the most.”
While Oliva and Bremer are long-time veterans on the caravan, Tosoni and Revere are newer to the experience.
“It is a lot of fun,” Revere said of the experience. “Just to experience how big the Twins faithful actually is a lot of fun. Interacting with fans, both young and old, and being able to put a smile on their face is very wonderful.”
It is Revere’s second go around on the caravan and Tosoni is making his first appearance.
“There has been a lot of travel through the snow, but it has been a lot of fun,” Tosoni said.
Revere and Tosoni were both beneficial of the injuries to outfielders Jason Kubel, Denard Span and Delmon Young last year.
Revere turned a lot of heads with his electric play and speed. He hit .267 and stole 34 bases while turning in a number of highlight plays in the outfield during his rookie campaign.
“Whether it is a hit or a walk, I just want to get on base and score runs,” Revere said. “Hopefully it will be like last year and I will bat second, right behind Denard. The defense didn’t know what was going to happen, it’s fun to terrorize the defense a little bit.”
Tosoni played in 60 games for the Twins and hit .205 with five home runs in 2011.
“We both are going in hoping to get a spot,” Tosoni said of him and Revere. “There are going to be a couple of openings and that’s all you can ask for.”
This upcoming season, there will be no Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, or Jason Kubel in the Twins outfield. Young was traded to the division rival Detroit Tigers last August, while Kubel and Cuddyer both left the team in free agency.
Kubel went to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Cuddyer to the Colorado Rockies.
“It is going to be a lot different group in the locker room,” Revere said. “If we can stay healthy, we will be alright.”
Along with Revere and Tosoni, the Twins will look to Trevor Plouffe and newcomer Josh Willingham to fill in the outfield spots to the left and right of Denard Span.
Willingham, who hit 29 home runs last year for the Oakland Athletics, will provide well-needed power from the right side of the plate for the Twins.
Along with Willingham, the Twins found veteran help in the form of free agency by signing backup catcher Ryan Doumit, utility infielder Jamey Carrol, starting pitcher Jason Marquis, and, most recently, hard-throwing relief pitcher Joel Zumaya.
The signing of Marquis will likely result in Brian Duensing moving back to the bullpen.
Terry Ryan has returned to his former position of General Manager to replace Bill Smith.
“‘TR’ did his homework and picked up some really good players,” Tosoni said. “There will be new faces in the locker room and I’m sure it will take a little while to get used to, but I’m sure it will feel like our own little family again.”
Oliva spent all 15 seasons of his career in a Twins uniform, and won the American League rookie of the year in his first full season with the Twins in 1964.
He hit a league-leading .323 with a career-best 32 home runs and picked up 94 RBIS.
He followed his rookie season by winning two more batting titles and a total of eight all-star game appearances.
“It has been great driving around with him,” Tosoni said. “Tony O is full of stories. He was such a great player and he played with so many great players. He’s so full of knowledge and he always keeps us up to date on his life stories.”
Along with needing Ryan’s newcomers and the youth to step up, the Twins will also need to have a healthy Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in the 2012 season.
“The key for the Twins or any other team for that matter is to keep your best players on the field,” Bremer said. “It doesn’t matter if you are the Tigers, Yankees, or Twins; if your best players are hurt, it won’t be pretty to watch.”
Mauer and Morneau, both former MVP award winners, combined to play in only 151 games in the 2011 season.
“Last year was a very tough year for us,” Oliva said. “It was easy to understand why we had that kind of year though. Not having Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, and a lot of the pitching staff made it really tough.”
The Twins will look to improve on their worst season since 1982 by staying competitive in the American League Central in 2012.
“You really won’t know how well the Twins have filled the vacancies until a month or two into the season,” Bremer said. “However, the history here has been good. If Mauer, Morneau, and Span can stay healthy and if the starting pitchers can go deeper into the ball game, this Twins team will be just fine.”