Fort Myers, Fla.
The Minnesota Twins opened full-squad workouts Saturday at their southwest Florida complex with a million questions about the 2014 season, including but not limited to their starting pitcher, an All-Star catcher moving to first base and the health of their general manager.
Who will play second base is not among them, for the first time in several years. Brian Dozier established himself with a standout 2013 season, which stood out even more amongst the 96-loss pileup that nearly led to the dismissal of longtime manager Ron Gardenhire.
It was an interesting off-season for Dozier. He was married a couple of months ago and spent a couple of weeks in November digging ditches in Nicaragua.
Say what? A successful major-league baseball player digging ditches? Voluntarily? Yes, indeed.
Dozier and his new bride Renee are devout Christians. They went to Nicaragua to do mission work for an organization called Amigos for Christ.
"We spent a week or two digging trenches for a clean-water system in a small-town in Nicaragua," Dozier said Saturday morning. "They were drinking nasty water every day, which could've led to the townspeople getting infectious diseases in the future. We did some other things, too, because it was a mission trip. I'd like to make this a yearly thing."
Dozier would like to make his 2013 performance an annual thing, too, although it's hard to get him to talk about individual accomplishments. Asked a couple of questions about his very strong 2013, Dozier turned the conversation back to the team.
"One of the big things is establishing yourself in the big leagues and that was my goal coming into last year," he said. "At the end of the day you can say you had a good year, but I play the game to win regardless of the individual statistics. My main goal coming into this year is to win and anything less than that is not good enough for me."
Dozier's numbers were too good to ignore. And they came in a season when he was trying to gain a foothold at second base after coming up to the Twins in 2012 as a shortstop. Dozier hit 18 home runs (a record for a Twins second baseman), had 55 extra-base hits and drove in 66 runs. He'd take those numbers again this season, but would like to improve on a .244 batting average and 14 stolen bases.
He was also slick at second base. In another train-wreck of a season, Dozier was one of the few bright spots.
He's seemingly one of the few players not surrounded by question marks, unlike Joe Mauer or Aaron Hicks or Trevor Plouffe or Josh Willingham.
"It is good to know that but at the same time you can't let that hinder you from getting better," Dozier said. "Whether it is defensive or offensively, you want to improve. That's always the goal. But at the same time, regardless of how that comes out, you want to win."
There he goes with the winning stuff again.
Like every Twins player, coach and front-office type, Dozier says he believes the key to Minnesota's improvement this year will be the acquisition of starting pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. The Twins just simply have to get better starting pitching. It isn't the only ailment, but it's the biggest one.
Dozier on Nolasco: "He's a bulldog out there. He goes deep into games and gives you a chance to win. That's what you need from your starting pitchers. He's got great stuff to begin with and he has the mentality that he's ready to win each and every time he takes the ball."
Dozier on Hughes: "He's an All-Star pitcher with electric stuff. I faced him a number of times. He's another guy who's been around for six, seven years ... he pitched in New York ... and he's had a number of really good years. I think he's somebody who is excited for a fresh start with a new team and wants to be part of turning things around and making something special."
Win or lose, Dozier seems to have his priorities in order. He loves chatting about his mission trip to Nicaragua.
"Those are the big things in life. We get so caught up in the game of baseball, which we take very seriously, but at the end of the day it those other things in life that matter," said Dozier.
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