Sunday, January 29

Minnesota loves Fort Myers, for more than just baseball


La Velle’s 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions on Sundays.

. . .

Estimates on Tuesday had Hurricane Ian making landfall near Tampa, Fla. By the end of the day, the projection was adjusted to Venice, Fla.

Wednesday morning, I checked the radar and saw the dangerous storm sitting off the coast of Fort Myers Beach.

My heart sank.

In 23-plus years of covering the Twins, I have spent more than 1,000 days in the Fort Myers area and have developed everlasting friendships with locals there. And Minnesota’s affection for the area can’t be understated. Many have vacation or retirement homes in the area. Minnesota license plates are easily spotted on area roads, including Estero Boulevard, the main drag on Fort Myers Beach.

This state fuels a lot of the economy in southwest Florida, where the Twins’ year-round facility has operated for 32 seasons. Thousands of fans escape winter there and flock to Hammond Stadium to get some sun and watch their Twins. The annual Minnesota Day during spring training draws fans from throughout the state for a massive pregame tailgate.

So a lot of us are hurting this week as we watch footage of the devastation Hurricane Ian foisted on this wonderful community. I spent Thursday contacting people I know in Fort Myers and checking on their safety. “I am alive, thank God,” was one of the messages I received. That’s most important, and yet it’s awful to hear of businesses and homes being destroyed. I heard from friends who lost their house 50 yards from the Gulf of Mexico. Places I frequent along Fort Myers Beach have been wiped out.

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It’s going to take a long time and a lot of investment for the area to rebound, and some areas will never be the same.

Twins President Dave St. Peter said the Twins spring training complex in Fort Myers took on some water and suffered some wind damage, but nothing extensive. He then forwarded a few photos, including one of the large artwork of Kirby Puckett that’s affixed to one side of the minor league complex — with a third of his body stretched over the top of the wall, like his memorable leaping catch in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Kirby is now bent at the waist from the powerful winds.

The facility currently is a staging area for first responders, with some staying in the dormitories located on campus.

Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had to leave his Fort Myers home because of the storm surge and stayed with former bench coach Steve Liddle, who lives more inland. Gardy lost his motorcycle and his wife’s car was destroyed, but they are safe.

Minnesota has a deep connection with southwest Florida. When winter is at its nastiest, we have warmed ourselves with thoughts about escaping the cold in February and heading down to catch games and soak in the sun. Now Fort Myers is on our minds again, as it begins a long, slow process of recovering from terrible Ian.

Shoulder injuries

Earlier this week, I spoke with Wild forward Jordan Greenway about his recovery from shoulder surgery. He opted for the procedure so he can play the way he wants to and not have to worry about it being a problem. Greenway is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season as he continues to recover.

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Vikings running back Dalvin Cook plans to play on Sunday against New Orleans a week after dislocating his shoulder against Detroit. He suffered a similar injury last season, also tearing his labrum at the time. He missed one game and then returned wearing a harness for protection. He plans to use the harness on Sunday, likely playing with some pain.

It’s interesting to see how two local athletes have approached their shoulder injuries. And there’s a chance that both Greenway and Cook are taking the correct approach, the one that works for them.

best-in-class strap

Last year’s free-agent shortstop class was ballyhooed as being a deep and impactful one. In reality, it’s been mediocre.

Corey Seager signed a 10-year, $325 million deal with Texas, and entered Saturday batting .247 with 32 home runs, 81 RBI and a .777 on base-plus-slugging percentage. Not bad.

Trevor Story signed a six-year, $140 million deal to play second base for Boston, and batted .238 with 16 homers and 66 RBI in 94 games. He is out because of a heel injury and has vowed to improve next season.

Javier Baez went to Detroit on the same deal as Story and was batting .239 with 16 homers and 63 RBI. Meh.

Carlos Correa has outperformed them all. He signed a three-year, $105 million deal with the Twins, including opt-outs, and entered Saturday batting .286 with 22 home runs, 63 RBI and an .830 OPS. He was batting .346 in September.

… AND TWO PREDICTIONS …

Jefferson and Vikings will roll

Look for the Vikings on Sunday morning to pull away to a 33-17 victory over a Saints team that will not have wide receiver Michael Thomas available. Justin Jefferson rediscovers the end zone.

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Twins coaching changes to come

Expect the Twins to make at least two changes to their coaching staff this offseason. One move will be to add either a new pitching coach or bullpen coach.


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