The Week Ahead: Twins move into new home

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target-field-100407.jpgFor the first time since 1981, the Minnesota Twins will be playing a regular season home game outdoors when they host the Boston Red Sox on Monday.

The special occasion is the opening of Target Field, a sparkling new venue that opens its doors just nine years after folks were seriously considering contracting the Twins. Not a bad turnaround for a franchise that until recently was considered small market. (Don’t tell anyone, but the Twins’ payroll is at more than $97 million this season – that’s 10th in the league and just ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers.)

And while not everyone is thinking happy thoughts about the new ballpark (yes the Twins will have to keep winning for attendance to hold. Sheesh, can’t they enjoy the moment?)  it’s hard not to get excited about the prospect of a good team playing in a nice stadium. I’m sure you Rays fans out there salivate at the idea.

The real question, though, is whether or not the Twins can build a home-field edge similar to that of the Metrodome, where fly balls routinely became invisible against the Teflon roof, and a hitter’s concentration would turn to mush under the frenzied roar of the Twins faithful.

From listening to those who should know, this is no small thing. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, termed the “Metrodome mystique” as “half the battle.”

And former Twins center fielder Torii Hunter had even more to say:

“If we lost a ball [in the roof], we knew how to pick it up,” said the Angels’ Torii Hunter, who played a decade in the Metrodome.

Hunter laughed at the long-held suspicion that the Twins would turn on an air conditioner late in the game, with the home team at bat, the better to carry balls over the fence.

“We knew, when they opened the doors, all the pressure went out to right-center field, so we would swing for right-center field,” he said. “They thought it was an air conditioner. But the doors were let open in the seventh inning to let everybody leave.”

The changing air pressure never seemed to have any effect on Joe Nathan, but who knows, maybe they shut the doors in the top half of the ninth inning. What fan would want to leave at that point anyway?

Of course there will be no issues with air conditioning or air pressure at Target Field, only good, old-fashioned weather issues. But if you’re thinking the Twins will gain an edge playing outside in the Minnesota cold, remember these wise words of Joe Mauer: “We’ve got to play in it, too.”

Besides, it’s not going to matter, at least not on Monday. They’re expecting a high of 74. Our own Aaron Gleeman will be there covering the festivities. Follow him here, and on Twitter.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Red Sox at Twins, April 12, 14-15:
In addition to opening Target Field, these happen to be two pretty darn good baseball teams mixing it up this week. We get Jon Lester vs. Carl Pavano, John Lackey vs. Kevin Slowey, and Tim Wakefield vs. Francisco Liriano.

Athletics at Mariners, April 12-14: Oakland enters the week with a 1 1/2-game lead atop the AL West. Seattle is tied with the Angels at the bottom. What’s next? Dogs and cats living together? Mass hysteria?

Giants at Dodgers, April 16-18: When former New York teams move to California, they take their rivalry with them, and this is nothing if not a crazy, intense rivalry. Plus, you have this.

Mets at Cardinals, April 16-18: Always fun when you get a big city team playing against the game’s best player. Plus, there’s the added bonus of a likely Chris Carpenter-Johan Santana matchup on Saturday.

Rays at Red Sox, April 16-19: Big week for Boston, as after the trip to Minnesota they come home for four games against the Rays. Wonder if the Tampa Bay players will complain about the stadium.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 4:10 p.m. ET: Red Sox at Twins (ESPN)
Wednesday, 8:15 p.m.: Astros at Cardinals (ESPN2)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: White Sox at Indians (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Giants at Dodgers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Mets at Cardinals (FOX)
Sunday, 1:35 p.m.: Rays at Red Sox (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Mets at Cardinals (ESPN)
*Check local listings

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

Report: Blue Jays closing in on a deal with Jose Bautista

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 17:  Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on during batting practice prior to game three of the American League Championship aagainst the Cleveland Indians Series at Rogers Centre on October 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports that the Blue Jays are closing in on a deal with free agent outfielder Jose Bautista. This is not particularly surprising, as Bautista’s market has been slow to develop despite recent reports having listed the Orioles, Twins, and Indians as other interested teams.

Bautista, 36, is coming off of a lackluster 2016 performance. Over 517 plate appearances, the six-time All-Star hit .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI.

The Blue Jays needed to provide some clarity in their outfield as Ezequiel Carrera was listed first on the depth chart. Bautista, of course, will supplant him if and when the deal is finalized.

Collin McHugh calls out Donald Trump for criticism of John Lewis

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 30:  Starting pitcher Collin McHugh #31 of the Houston Astros watches from the dugout during the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on May 30, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Astros pitcher Collin McHugh was among those who took to social media on Saturday after Donald Trump disparaged Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis on Twitter.

During NBC News’ “Meet the Press” interview on Friday, Lewis called Trump’s presidency into question, casting doubt on its legitimacy after the alleged tampering of the election results by Russian hackers. In response, Trump posted a series of tweets that criticized Lewis for not spending enough time “fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested),” despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Trump also accused Lewis of being “all talk, talk, talk – no actions or results.” The Congressman, whose efforts to further civil rights span over 50 years, served as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee from 1963-66 and is considered one of the six fundamental leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

McHugh was one of many to call out Trump on Twitter, defending Lewis and speaking directly to his own experiences in Atlanta:

Last year, McHugh was also one of several players to speak out on social media when Trump dismissed his own crude, misogynistic comments as “locker room talk” after an Access Hollywood video was leaked prior to the election.

I don't like to comment on politics publicly. I never feel competent or knowledgeable enough to say something that a thousand more well-informed people haven't already said. However, I feel the need to comment on the language that Donald Trump classified the other day as "locker room talk", given my daily exposure to it. Have I heard comments like Trump's (i.e. sexist, disrespectful, crude, sexually aggressive, egotistical, etc.) in a clubhouse? Yes. But I've also heard some of those same comments other places. Cafes, planes, the subway, walking down the street and even at the dinner table. To generalize his hateful language as "locker room talk" is incredibly offensive to me and the men I share a locker room with every day for 8 months a year. Men of conscience and integrity, who would never be caught dead talking about women in that way. You want to know what "locker room talk" sounds like from my first hand perspective? Baseball talk. Swinging, pitching, home runs, double plays, shifts. The rush of victory and the frustration of defeat. Family talk. Nap schedules for our kids. Loneliness of being on the road so much. Off-season family vacations. And most importantly, coffee talk! The best places to find quality #coldbrew. What's currently brewing on the #aeropress in the empty locker between me and Doug, affectionately known as #CafeStros? How strong do you need it today? Kid wouldn't sleep last night? I'll make it a little stronger for ya. Maybe Mr. Trump does talk like that in his country club locker room. Perhaps he's simply not privy to the kind of conversations that take place in other locker rooms. But as for me and my @astros team, our "locker room talk" sounds absolutely nothing like his. And I couldn't be more proud of that.

A photo posted by Collin McHugh (@cmchugh) on

While some applauded McHugh for his strong words on Saturday, the pitcher was quick to state that he doesn’t consider himself “anti-Trump,” just “anti-bullying and pro-respect.”