BEMIDJI - The Minnesota Twins Winter Caravan made its annual stop in Bemidji Monday at the High School.
This year’s guests were current players Brian Duensing and Chris Parmelee plus former players Tom Brunansky and Dan Gladden.
Gladden played with the Twins from 1987 to 1991 and has been the radio color commentator for the team since 2000. He is considered the “veteran” of caravan foursome that came to Bemidji.
“It is an honor to keep getting asked to come back,” Gladden said. “It is always nice to meet with the fans and rekindle some memories while being able to talk about the upcoming season.”
Duensing, a pitcher for the Twins, returned to Bemidji for the first time since 2011, which was his first trip on the caravan.
“The caravan is a great time,” Duensing said. “This is the third season doing it for me and, actually, the second at this school. It is really important for us to get out to towns to see fans that we may not get to see down at Target Field. To be able to reach out and thank these people is important to the organization and very fun for us at the same time.”
Duensing has bounced back and forth between being a starter and a reliever over the last two years and owns a 28-31 record with a 4.12 ERA in four seasons.
Duensing is unsure what his role in 2013 will be but is willing to do whatever is asked of him.
“If you have a quarter, we will flip it and go from there,” Duensing joked when asked if he would be a starter or reliever. “I would like to be a starter but I had a lot of success last year in the bullpen. Spring training is a good time to figure that out. I do not know what to expect, so I will prepare to be a starter and go from there.”
Duensing was in the headlines this past week with the announcement of his new 1-year, $1.3 million deal that avoided arbitration.
“I was excited,” Duensing said. “I appreciate how classy Rob Anthony, the one doing the negotiating on the Twins’ side, was. I am excited that I avoided arbitration and was able to stay with the organization.”
Duensing’s deal is one of the many made with pitchers this offseason. After losing Scott Baker and Carl Pavano, the Twins have brought in Rich Harden, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and Vance Worley.
“Terry Ryan and the front office have done a great job getting some starting pitching this offseason,” Duensing said. “Last year we had some guys who were injured and some who struggled, myself included. I think we have the offense to put runs up, so getting starting pitching is a huge step.”
“Like last year, it is all going to be up to pitching,” Gladden added. “If our guys can step up and give them solid innings, I think we can compete in the American League Central.”
The shake-up in the pitching staff is not the only change the Twins have made this offseason. The team reassigned many of its coaches, including introducing Brunansky as the new hitting coach.
Brunansky played with the Twins from 1982 to 1988 and hit 271 home runs in his 14-year career.
“I am looking forward to working with the best of the best,” Brunansky said. “Approaching these guys from the mental side of the game kind of brings me back into the game. I live my at-bats through them while trying to help them put runs on the board for our ball club.”
With the trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere, the Twins have opened the outfield for Parmelee to be an everyday player.
“Parm has developed,” Brunansky said. “He has made big strides as a hitter since I first started working with him in AA. He knows what it takes to be a big, run-producing, power hitter. He is now knocking on the door of being a big league ball player. The organization made a few trades to ensure he will have the opportunity to get 500 at-bats, and that is what he deserves.”
“Bruno and I worked together a little bit in 2011 and 2012 and we work well together,” Parmelee added. “We are looking forward to getting down to spring training and to get going.”
Parmelee feels that his versatility and ability to play first base and the outfield will play to his advantage this season.
“I think right now, I have a little bit of a better chance in the outfield, being that we have a pretty good first baseman,” Parmelee said. “Wherever I can help the team, I will do it. I just want to have fun and be in the lineup.”
The -17 degree temperature was something that Parmelee and Brunansky - both natives of California - are not accustomed to.
“This is actually the coldest weather that I have ever, personally, been in,” Parmelee said. “It is freezing and it hurts when you walk outside, but it is a nice change. I like it, in a weird way.”
Even with the last two seasons being a disappointment, Brunansky believes Twins fans should have high hopes for the future of the team.
“The whole point of this is to come out and get people excited about baseball, and that is fun,” Brunansky said. “There is always new hope when the new season comes around.”