If Rocco Baldelli is concerned about the Minnesota Twins’ 7-13 record, he’s not showing signs of it. There he sat in the bowels of Target Field after a 6-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, comfortably resting behind a makeshift press-conference table, calmly explaining that his team just needs to get into a “baseball routine.” It’s getting warmer out. They’ll be playing more night games soon. Eventually, more fans will be allowed into the park.
Hopefully, we’ll all return to a sense of normalcy, and the Twins will start winning again.
“We were actually looking forward to going on the road the last time around because we were going to get a chance to play some night games,” he said, “actually get on on the field, get some work done, hit some BP, and then we ended up in the hotel, so we weren’t able to get out there.”
Baldelli was bundled up in a puffy jacket, wearing a mask, and speaking through Zoom to the assembled media. Perhaps there were signs of distress we could not see. But he seemed like the same guy who pontificated about player wellness, sleep hygiene, and, yes, the importance of routine from behind the desk in his manager’s office during Minnesota’s euphoric 2019 season.
Turmoil may be swirling around him like the freezing rain that circulated in Target Field on Sunday as the suddenly glacial offense mustered only two runs against the Pirates. But Baldelli sees sunshine and blue skies in the forecast. Perhaps more pertinently, he knows that there will be fewer early mornings and more time for batting practice before games.
“You’re used to…being relaxed when you come to the ballpark,” he said. “And generally, what you’re used to is getting your work done, having a schedule that you’re somewhat familiar with. It allows you to prepare for the game without feeling disjointed, without feeling stressed, and things like that.”
Many of his players have been vaccinated, so there should be no more COVID postponements. There are no more trips to Oakland Coliseum, where the lights went out during the second game of a doubleheader. They’re no longer playing red-hot teams like the Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox, and the Oakland A’s. They have time to make up lost ground.
“Our guys have been waking up at 8 in the morning. Normally, we’re creatures of the night in this game,” he said. “That’s what everyone here has been raised on. Waking up and playing these day games over and over again, getting shut down for a little while, obviously dealing with the stresses of the COVID situation and some other things, it doesn’t really allow you to breathe for a second, to eat when you’re normally ready to eat, get your work done when you’re normally getting ready. You’re kind of piecing it together every day to get where we need to be to play these games.”
Baldelli reiterated multiple times that he’s not making excuses. It may not be last year’s pandemic-shortened season, but it’s still a strange start nonetheless. We’re not out of the coronavirus woods yet, and the Twins know that better than anybody. But by the middle of summer, Target Field should be full again. There will be more 7:10 p.m. first pitches and fewer COVID restrictions. Things should feel less rushed and regulated.
“There’s only so many days in a row where you’re going to be able to get on the field in the morning and get things done,” he said. “Guys need to get some sleep. Guys need don’t need to be waking up in the morning, rushing over to the ballpark every day to do that. We can get on the field for day games.
“There’s no issue with that when you have some day games. But when they’re all day games, it does get challenging sometimes. And again, we’re going to make it work. We’re going to figure it out. We have night games coming up. We should be able to fall into something that we’re really ready for and that we know.”
The Twins lost bench coach Mike Bell to cancer in March, which has to be weighing on them in some capacity. They’ve dealt with injuries to key players. They went all of last year without a COVID outbreak, only to have one soon after many of their players were vaccinated. They want to be able to get to the park in the early afternoon, take batting practice, have dinner and clear their heads before the game.
They know why fans are upset with their start. Internally, they have to be frustrated, too. They just seem to be asking for a bit of patience. Things should be returning to normal soon. And Baldelli believes his team will start winning once it does.