FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -- Just nine days ago, commissioner Bud Selig put contraction aside, and the Minnesota Twins finally knew for certain they'd be going to spring training and playing baseball this season.
Major league players are gathering throughout Florida and Arizona this week, but it's doubtful any are enjoying it more than Twins such as Torii Hunter and Doug Mientkiewicz.
They sat at a table in the Twins' clubhouse Thursday doing what they love to do: talking baseball.
Players, teams, fans, ballparks. It didn't matter.
"I appreciate this team. I do," Hunter said. "When you've gone through what we've gone through, you appreciate everything more."
Close to 20 players took part in a light workout of batting practice and fielding although the team won't have its first official practice until Feb. 18. The early turnout illustrated the team's eagerness to move past the drama of the team's near-elimination and get back to the business of baseball, Hunter said.
"That's too much for one offseason," Hunter said, shaking his head. "We talked a lot this winter and couldn't believe that Bud Selig wanted to contract us after the season we had last year. But you can't let it have an effect on your preparation.
"You want to be in Minnesota with the guys you grew up with and we went through ups and downs. But you're going to play somewhere."
Mientkiewicz, who got up to leave the baseball talk at least four times, only to sit back down each time, was more concise in his description of the winter.
"Complicated," Mientkiewicz said. "We tried not to get too caught up in it. We realized it was out of our control and there's nothing we could do about it."
The Twins' frustration was greater because of the breakout season they had in 2001. After years of bad baseball, the Twins led the AL Central for more than half the season and wound up finishing second.
It was that performance, Hunter said, that probably saved the team for at least another year.
"If Selig would have talked contraction in '99 or 2000 or whatever, when we weren't getting anybody in the stands and we weren't performing like we're supposed to, I could kind of see that," Hunter said. "But no, he wants to do it in the year we're growing and maturing, and I hate that that happened."
For some of the Twins' bright young stars, the prospect of contraction was hard to swallow. And they did their best to keep it from affecting their offseason workouts.
"You can't let it affect you," Mientkiewicz said. "As players you have to go about your business. If the Twins aren't here you have to go and make a club somewhere else. We had to take it as, 'We're going to come to spring training, it just depends on where and with who."'
Second-year pitcher Adam Johnson said he was shocked at first, but forced himself to concentrate on what he could control.
"A month into it, I was like, 'OK, I don't see anything in the near future happening so I'll go about my business.' If you get traded, it's like anything -- it's going to happen."
Even though the contraction fight kept the Twins from changing their roster much in the offseason, they enter spring training as serious division contenders.
That's especially satisfying for Hunter and Mientkiewicz, who came up through the team's minor league system.
"We came from the lowest of the low," Hunter said. "For us, the hard work is finally starting to pay off. Now we have a good chance at a division title and that's what we wanted."
They also have something to prove to the rest of the baseball owners, and especially Selig, that they belong in the league, Hunter said.
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