TWINS: Twins Winter Caravan stops in Marshall

Photo by Sam Thiel Trevor Hildenberger (right) signs an autograph for a young Twins fan during the Twins Winter Caravan on Tuesday at SMSU.

MARSHALL – Baseball season may be just over a month away, but for the Minnesota Twins, their campaign starts early. In its second week, the Twins Winter Caravan continued its trip around the state to interact with fans and promote Twins baseball and Tuesday night’s stop saw hundreds of fans line the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University as the Caravan rolled into town.

Right-handed pitcher Trevor Hildenberger, left-hander Taylor Rogers, Twins radio broadcaster Kris Atteberry and former Minnesota pitcher and current color commentator Bert Blyleven all were on hand for the second leg of the tour, taking a Q&A and signing autographs for the fans.

This is Rogers’ second caravan with the Twins and Hildenberger’s first, and Blyleven said it’s important for the young players to get out into the community and interact with the fans.

“I think it’s important for these young guys like Trevor and Taylor to see the enthusiasm the fans bring and the importance of the fans,” Blyleven said. “I go back to 1987 when the fans of Minnesota and the five-state area were basically the 10th player on the field. Because of what happened when we beat Detroit [in the 1987 ALCS] and to come back and there’s 55,000 people wishing us good luck in the World Series. That really filtered into what fans can do for Twins baseball or any baseball team.”

Hildenberger, who was called up to the Twins last June, said touring the state gives them a chance to meet the passionate Minnesota sports fans who have built a community watching their teams play.

“Just talking to the fans, they’re really proud of the fact that it’s not just the Minneapolis Twins or the Minneapolis Vikings it’s the Minnesota Twins, the Minnesota Vikings, the Minnesota Timberwolves,” Hildenberger said. “It’s a statewide sporting community, so you get to meet people who have been Twins fans their whole lives; they feel a deep connection with the team and I want to tap into that and get to know them and try to represent them.”

The group was also able to chat and have a chance to workout with the SMSU baseball team on Tuesday, who helped run the event. Rogers said he was very appreciative of the team’s hospitality and the ability to talk with some of the next up-and-comers.

“I was glad they let us do that; it was very nice of them,” Rogers said. “Just another Minnesota trait of hospitality and they made us feel welcome.

Blyleven, who pitched for 22 years, including 11 with the Twins, was able to talk with some of the players and offer his insight after a Hall of Fame career.

“Some of the kids came up on the pitching side and asked how I held my curveball and we talked about the fastball. I came from the old school and I had a good curveball but it all keyed off the fastball,” Blyleven said. “I saw one young man that I thought if he could open up his body that he might be able to bend his back a little bit and be a little more consistent. With those little tidbits, hopefully they take them and try it.”

Last season, Rogers won seven games in relief and pitched 55.2 innings, striking out 49 batters while recording an earned run average (ERA) of 3.07. Hildenberger appeared in 37 games in his first season with the Twins, going 3-3 with a 3.21 ERA and striking out 44. This season, the Twins are looking to improve on a season that saw them win 85 games and make its first postseason appearance since 2010.

Rogers said they have they sights high this year and is looking forward to getting back out there.

“We’re going to set our sights high this year. Obviously from where we were at last year, you look at us on paper and we got some bullpen additions,” Rogers said. “We’re getting really exciting especially with TwinsFest and this caravan. I’m getting really antsy to get down there and get the season going.”

Hildenberger added that he wants to make even more of a contribution this season and that the team wants to take another step forward after the success in 2017.

“Our goal is that we want to take another step forward. Last year we had a great season and we built on everything that we learned in 2016 and took a huge step forward and made it to the postseason and had that game in New York. But we’re looking to take another step forward and try and win our division and win over 90 games and host some playoff games for the fans of Minnesota,” Hildenberger said. “For me personally, I just want to contribute and be ready every day and be a reliable person in the bullpen that the staff can look to. To provide some sort of durability and consistency out of the pen would be a massive contribution for me.”