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No excuses: Twins veteran provides words of wisdom, much to Rocco's delight

Nelson Cruz
Minnesota Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz reacts after striking out during the first inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

When Rocco Baldelli addressed his team at the beginning of spring training, the Twins manager set World Series expectations for a franchise coming off a 101-win season that was followed by a disappointing sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees in the playoffs.

Four-plus months later, Baldelli got the chance to give his team a second season-opening speech on Saturday as the Twins prepared to start a 60-game season that was postponed and shortened by the coronavirus pandemic. This time the message was different in tone and location (it was conducted in the outfield at Target Field to provide plenty of room for social distancing), although the expectations haven’t changed.

I did not mention that specifically today,” Baldelli said when asked about the World Series. “I think that’s something that’s probably in everyone’s heads. That’s something that you probably have to hear once and then you don’t have to talk about it anymore. It’s something that you have to go and do, you have to go and actually accomplish that. It’s more of a how, it’s more of an every day thing than it is to actually re-mention it. But I’m sure that hasn’t slipped anybody’s mind.”

Baldelli said Saturday’s meeting focused on many different issues, including the ongoing pandemic that put life on hold and continues to be an issue. Two Twins players, Miguel Sano and Willians Astudillo, tested positive for COVID-19 during the recent intake process.

“We talked about a lot of different things,” Baldelli said. “You know when you come in, normally … you come in with a pretty optimistic tone. So what we did today was we tried to do a few different things. We tried to come in with an optimistic tone, I think we have a team that’s built for dealing with adversity. I think we have a team that prepares and is disciplined and can handle change pretty well. We talked about that a little bit. We also talked about some of the expectations that we’re going to have for our group and a big part of that is obviously respecting everybody around you and taking care of the people around you.

“A lot of the things that we have going on are built around, ‘Yes, you can do this, we should do this, you shouldn’t do that.’ But all that being said, it’s not just because we’re following a protocol. It’s because we’re trying to take care of every individual. It’s because everybody individually has to take care of the person next to him. If you take that thought everywhere you go, your life is going to change a little bit. You’re going to really have to consider a lot of different things, but I think that’s the best way to attack what we’re looking at right now. … Our guys are up for it.”

Baldelli did get an assist in his speech from an expected source. Veteran designated hitter Nelson Cruz was recognized by his teammates for recently winning the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian award, but Cruz also took the opportunity to provide some words of encouragement about the upcoming season.

“He told our guys we have no excuses,” Baldelli said of Cruz’s message. “We’re going to go out there and we’re going to prepare, we’re going to do our jobs. We could look at this basically pessimistically, but we’re not going to. We’re going to look at this in the most optimistic way we can. We’re never going to make an excuse and we’re going to go out there and get the job done. That was his message to the group, which was great.”