Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was proud to show his mukluks to anyone who noticed he was wearing boots.
"I made the bus stop in Ely," Gardenhire said of his purchase as the annual Twins Caravan stopped in Brainerd at Washington Middle School for an afternoon assembly and at Timbermist for dinner Thursday.
Gardenhire was accompanied by pitching coach Rick Anderson, former Twins great Tony Oliva and team president Dave St. Peter.
The Twins are in the midst of a tumultuous offseason. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski and pitcher Eric Milton were traded and free agent relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado signed elsewhere.
"We've lost a lot of people," Gardenhire conceded. "You're going to get those times in smaller markets, and we're there. We're trying to do it as good as we can. (General manager) Terry Ryan is working his tail off."
Gardenhire pointed out the everyday lineup returns intact, with the exception of Pierzynski, who will be replaced by rookie Joe Mauer, who has played just two years in the minors.
"He's a very mature young man, he picks things up quick," Anderson said. "His emergence is the reason we traded A.J. We figured Joe's ready.
"Spring training is going to be very important for him. ... It's going to be a learning experience but if anyone can handle it, it's Mr. Mauer."
In case Mauer falters, the Twins signed veteran backup Henry Blanco. He hit .199 for the Braves last season and has a .219 career average.
Washington Middle School students cheered on Twins mascot T.C. Thursday when the Twins Caravan stopped at the school.
Of their three free agents, the Twins re-signed Shannon Stewart. The standout outfielder turned out to be the leadoff hitter the team lacked, batting .322 for the Twins.
"We wanted him back from the get-go," Gardenhire said. "He means a lot to our team."
Anderson believes the Twins can win a third straight American League Central Division title with acquisitions like reliever Joe Nathan from the Giants. Nathan has a 24-10 career record and 4.12 ERA.
Also in the Pierzynski trade, the Twins received minor league pitchers Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano. They acquired utility infielder Nick Punto and reliever Carlos Silva from the Phillies. Punto has 103 major-league at bats. Silva has an 8-1 career record and 3.83 ERA.
On Tuesday the Twins added veteran right-hander Rick Helling. He is 90-78 lifetime with a 4.77 ERA.
"He eats up innings," Anderson said. "He's been a winner. He's going to add a lot to this team. We have some young guys. He adds a little stabilization to the rotation."
The stadium issue will never die unless it is built or the franchise moves. The Twins propose a park with a retractable roof, 42,000 seats and natural grass.
"They have used a lot of different ideas from different stadiums," Gardenhire said. "It's going to be gorgeous."
Gardenhire also addressed the standoff between cable TV systems and Victory Sports, a cable network owned by the Twins that owns the team's broadcast rights.
Victory is being carried by few cable systems in the state. It wants to be included in the expanded basic lineup. Cable systems want to put Victory on a sports tier where only those who want to watch it pay for it.
"I think it's one of those situations where the closer we get to baseball season a lot more things are going to start happening," Gardenhire said. "The people around this area are huge Twins fans, Gopher fans, hockey fans.
"Eventually, it's going to come to a head because people are going to start getting angry when they don't get a chance to watch some of these things. They're going to get it done. Contracts are going to get signed. Everybody will be on Victory Sports and it's going to be a great station."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.