FORT MYERS, Fla. — Thousands of seats were zip-tied off, preventing anyone from trying to sit in them, rectangles were spray-painted into the berm seating to account for social distancing and hand-sanitizing stations were aplenty at Hammond Stadium, reminders of the pandemic that continues to grip the nation.
But on the field, under sunny blue skies as stadium employees sprayed down seats to prep the stadium for fans this weekend, the sights and sounds looked more or less normal as the Twins held their first full-team workout on Tuesday at their spring training complex.
Manager Rocco Baldelli and outfielder Jake Cave traded barbs over facial hair, top prospect Royce Lewis sat behind home plate during live batting practice and chatted with Nelson Cruz, and a healthy Josh Donaldson stepped into the batter’s box to face his teammates as an optimistic vibe took hold at camp.
The Twins kicked off their 2021 season with messages from president of baseball operations Derek Falvey, senior director of communications Dustin Morse, travel director Mike Herman, trainer Michael Salazar and others.
Baldelli, of course, addressed the group, too, setting the tone early.
“I think it’s important to note, one, just that we have all the pieces that we need to accomplish what we are here to do,” the third-year manager said. “We talk about this, but it is always a point of emphasis in spring training to take care of today today and take care of tomorrow tomorrow. And that’s how you ultimately accomplish all of your goals.”
Those goals remain unchanged from last season when the Twins hit one goal — another division title — but fell way short of the ultimate goal.
Though the Twins locked down their second division title in as many years on the final day of the 2020 regular season, they suffered the same disappointing result: a quick playoff exit that they feel wasn’t indicative of the talent they had on the roster.
“Obviously we have a really good team on paper, and we’ve had a really good team on paper the past couple of years,” Cave said. “I think we’ve played really well and we’ve hit some speed bumps in the playoffs, but … we can’t think about that.”
The Twins are now months away from that disappointment, which they have left behind. They return much of the same core that has propelled them to success the past two seasons, now with added experience under their belt.
“I think going into the year, everybody is exuberant about being here,” Donaldson said. “Everybody sees the potential we have as a ball club.”
The front office did plenty to supplement the roster this offseason, bringing in a pair of starting pitchers in J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker, a pair of relievers in Alex Colome and Hansel Robles, a Gold Glove shortstop in Andrelton Simmons while also bringing back Cruz, their leader and most productive hitter the past two seasons.
Simmons was one of four players yet to report to camp, held up with a travel-related issue. Pitcher Andrew Albers and catcher Tomas Telis were missing for the same reason, and Happ has been held out of camp as he recovers from COVID-19.
But Happ’s diagnosis aside — and the Twins are expecting him to be able to join them soon — the team entered camp in good health and good spirits.
“We have again everything we could possibly want to go out there and win a World Series, frankly,” Baldelli said. “Today’s probably the only day we’re going to say that out loud because now we have to go out there and play.”