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Twins beat, 4/8

April 8, 2011

Oliva honored during Twins’ home opener

MINNEAPOLIS — Fifty years ago, Tony Oliva left Cuba for the United States to join the Minnesota Twins. On Friday, a bronze statue in Oliva’s likeness was unveiled outside Gate 6 at Target Field.

Oliva, 72, played all 15 years of his career with the Twins, and remained involved with the organization as a mentor to many players. More recently, Oliva was involved in the process of getting the new Twins ballpark built.

“This gate is symbolically numbered for the Twins player who made the unforgettable journey from Cuba nearly half a century ago, and fortunately for all of us, he never left,” said Twins broadcaster John Gordon as he opened the ceremony. “His journey to the big leagues was in fact a blazed trail, and that trail became a populated path for many other great baseball players in an era when this sport became more than just America’s pastime.”

Among those joining Oliva for the ceremony were fellow Twins greats Kent Hrbek, Juan Berenguer and Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who was Oliva’s roommate during their time together in Minnesota.

Additional Opening Day festivities at Target Field included the raising of the 2010 American League Central Division Championship flag by Twins first-base coach Jerry White, a flyover and fireworks.

Oliva also threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Twins home opener to Casey Killebrew, grandson of Harmon Killebrew. Originally scheduled to throw out the first pitch, Killebrew was unable to make the trip to Minnesota due to a conflict with his treatment schedule for esophageal cancer.

“Fifty years ago tomorrow I left Cuba,” Oliva said. “I never dreamed that some day I would be in front of this ballpark next to a statue of me. It’s hard to believe.

“I’d like to thank the Minnesota Twins organization … for giving me the opportunity to play baseball and be with the organization over 50 years. And maybe 50 more to come.”

Morneau returns to action at Target Field

MINNEAPOLIS — Nine months, four days. That’s how long Twins first baseman Justin Morneau went between games played at Target Field before starting Friday’s home opener.

When the day finally came, Morneau was happy to be back in front of the home fans for the first time since July 4, 2010. Judging by the applause he received during pregame introductions, they were thrilled to have him, too.

“I’m sure it’s exciting for him. It’s exciting for all of us, because we’ve been traveling a lot,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “So Mornie is happy to be on the field. He got a lot of that stuff out of the way on the road, so hopefully he can just come home and flow right into it.”

Morneau collected his 1,000th hit on an infield single his first at-bat.

With the way Morneau and the Twins swung the bats on their season opening road trip, they’re looking to get things going a bit more offensively at home. As a team, the Twins entered the game batting .201 (40-for-199).

“We ran into some tough pitching, but with that home cooking, everybody’s happy to be home,” Morneau said. “It seemed like we were on the road for about a month, so it’s nice to get home and get into our routine and all the rest. Hopefully it turns into some wins.”

Cuddyer’s versatility helps Twins at second

MINNEAPOLIS — With Tsuyoshi Nishioka sidelined by a fractured left fibula, the Minnesota Twins have a number of options for replacing the rookie second baseman. One of those options may come as a bit of a surprise to some fans.

Opening Day right fielder Michael Cuddyer took ground balls Friday at second base, giving manager Ron Gardenhire another option at the position. Not only that, it allows him to get a couple more big bats in the lineup.

“We’ll mix and match at second base,” Gardenhire said. “I want options and Michael is one of those options. If I can get Michael in at second, it gives [Jason] Kubel and [Jim] Thome in the lineup. It’ll create some offense. Michael will play anywhere, and we’ve talked about it.”

Playing multiple positions is nothing new for Cuddyer. In 2010, he saw action at first base, second base, third base, right field and center field for the Twins.

While he played just nine innings over two games at second base the last two seasons, Cuddyer has logged 62 games there since 2003. In ’04, Cuddyer started 40 games at second, committing just three errors in 170 chances.

“Me going over there, if need be, just gives Gardy one more option,” Cuddyer said. “I’m comfortable enough to go out there and play.”

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