Fort Myers, Fla.
I've had fun with Twins pitcher Caleb Thielbar this week at spring training, talking about the North Dakota State-South Dakota State basketball rivalry. Thielbar played college baseball for the Jackrabbits and lives in Brookings.
We talked prior to the Bison's thumping of the Jacks in Fargo on Saturday and Thielbar was very confident SDSU was going to win. Not so much. NDSU won 74-59 to clinch a share of the Summit League title.
Thielbar was not deterred.
"We'll see how it goes in Sioux Falls next month. That's all that matters," he said.
The Summit League tournament, and a berth in the NCAA tournament, is on the line March 8-11 in Sioux Falls.
Thielbar is having fun with the rivalry, knowing how important it is to both schools. He likes poking at Bison fans in a light-hearted way. He gets it.
He also gets pitching in the big leagues, something the 27-year-old couldn't say one year ago in Fort Myers. At that time, he was a little-known pitcher who was not far removed from a stint in the independent American Association with the St. Paul Saints, the same league in which the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks play.
Thielbar had a strong spring with the Twins in 2013, but did not make the club. He started the season in Triple-A Rochester before being called up in May.The rest, they say, is history. He had a tremendous year as a left-handed relief specialist, with a 1.76 ERA in 49 appearances. He had 39 strikeouts in 46 innings with the Twins.
"The numbers were pretty good," Thielbar said. "I just went out and threw my game. I didn't really change a whole lot from Triple-A."The bullpen was one of the few bright spots for the 96-loss Twins. Despite being overused and overworked because of a weak starting rotation, Twins relievers like
Thielbar, Casey Fien, Glen Perkins, Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing and Jared Burton had a decent 3.50 ERA despite throwing 23+ innings more than any other bullpen in baseball.
Thielbar is feeling more comfortable in Fort Myers this season. After being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008, he was not in a major-league camp until 2013. His stops in the Brewers organization included two different Rookie League teams and their low Class A affiliate. After being released, he played with the Saints.
"Just knowing everyone here, knowing the daily routine, not being intimidated by what's going to happen on the field on a day-to-day basis," Thielbar said when asked why he feels more comfortable. "Just knowing the guys and being able to have some personal relationships and not be standing there not talking to anyone.
"THis year is different, just knowing some guys and talking with them in the clubhouse. it's a whole different story."
Which, by the way, is how he feels about the next men's basketball game between SDSU and NDSU.
"Just wait," he says, smiling. "We'll see how it goes."
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