Chatter is all knees and elbows

Caravan chatter is all knees and elbows

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- The new nickname of the South leg of the Twins Winter Caravan might be the "How's the knee doing tour?"

For the second year in a row, Twins catcher Joe Mauer and pitcher Carlos Silva are headlining the South portion of the tour and once again one part of the body is getting the majority of the questions -- a knee.

Last year it was Mauer that had to field questions about the health of his left knee after he missed much of 2004 due to surgery to repair the injury. But this year it's Silva who is the subject of the knee questions after suffering a meniscus tear in his right knee early in the 2005 season. Being able to pass the baton on to his teammate was something that Mauer didn't take for granted.

"Yeah it is a bit of a relief because I heard that a lot last year," Mauer said. "Carlos is hearing it a little bit because the fans are hoping to see him out on the mound all year. Really, though, it's nice to know that fans care about what happens to us."

Silva agreed with Mauer about the fans concern but wasn't about to let his teammate off without a little blame for his own knee problems.

"I think Joe passed that pain to me last year on this trip," Silva said with a laugh. "But really, it's good because if they are asking about your knee then they are worrying about you. They want to see you be in good shape for the season and I like that they care about you."

The good news for fans is that the knees of both players appear to be fine. Mauer has spent most of this offseason in Florida working out and preparing for the upcoming season with no problems. Silva also had positive things to report as his

"I feel very good right now," Silva said. "Last year was a very hard situation for me. When they thought that I'd miss half or all of the season, that was the worst moment for me. Luckily I was able to continue on and now the knee seems like it's going to be all ready to go."

Joining Mauer and Silva for the South portion of the Twins' 2006 Dodge Winter Caravan are former Twins great Tony Oliva and Fox Sport Net's Dick Bremer. It is one of three legs of the Twins caravan taking place this week as the club gets ready for Twinsfest on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The questions directed at Mauer and Silva on the topic of injuries weren't the only team issues that fans wanted to address at Monday night's Hot Stove Meeting at the UCR Fieldhouse. They got their wish as Twins general manager Terry Ryan joined the group for the night event along with another former Twin, Jack Morris.

Ryan fielded questions that ranged from what the Twins will do with the openings in the bullpen to the health of Torii Hunter. Before he even addressed any questions from fans, though, Ryan explained to the group of over 400 people his feelings about the Twins 2005 season and what he expects as the team looks ahead to Spring Training.

"We were embarrassed by last season and we were all certainly humbled by the experience," Ryan said of last season's results. "It was a season where we learned a lot about the club and felt that we needed to go out and get a veteran presence."

Adding some power hitters like Rondell White and Tony Batista was the main focus of Ryan's talk to the crowd along with how the Twins main source of strength has remained the same -- its pitching. The club returns four veteran starters in Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Kyle Lohse and Silva which Ryan feels will make the club match up once again with its division rivals.

"We've certainly seen all the additions that the White Sox and the Indians have made with their clubs," Ryan said. "We feel like we match up with them quite well and that we are off to a good start to field a very competitive team this season."

Dedication: Before ending the night in Rochester, the group began the day quite early as the bus left the Metrodome around 7:30 a.m. The first public stop of the day for the caravan was at the Northfield Middle School, the first of many school visits. Unlike most of the visits to local schools, this one was slightly different -- this school was closed.

The school had a scheduled day off due to the end of the quarter so the stop at the school was made a public event for anyone who wanted to see the Twins. On a day in which kids could have had an excuse to stay away from their school, there was a surprisingly large crowd in attendance.

"I was wondering why they didn't have school and maybe I should have gone there when I was younger (laughs)," Mauer said. "We had a good showing there too. It was nice to see the fans come out so early on an off day."

Lunch time confusion Through the hard work of many people in the Twins front office staff, the caravan usually runs very smoothly but there are always those times when a mishap happens.

One such mistake occurred for the Twins lunch on Monday afternoon in Austin, Minn. A break for lunch was accidentally posted on the Twins' Web site and named a local spot in town, Tolly's, as the place that would host the caravan.

The team had only written down the stop as a potential lunch spot and had no formal event plan, which was a bit of a problem since the location for the lunch wasn't even open on Monday afternoon. But when the owner of the restaurant, Dave Tollefson, heard about the team's intent to dine at the popular, local eatery he opened it up just for the team.

Having a homemade meal cooked for them was just one of the benefits. The eatery also had a room near the bar that was filled with sports memorabilia including a signed picture of Oliva himself. It was a great stop for the busy caravan and a highlight of the day for many on the trip including Oliva.

"That is special," Oliva said. "I can't believe they would do something like that. Those people go way back to the old days as baseball fans. We saw a lot of the pictures on the wall and those people are the real deal as fans. And the food was unbelievable with the wife making all the desserts and everything. That was the top of the line right there."

Spam I am: One of the last events of the day took place at the Hormel Plant in Austin. Hormel has long been one of the sponsors of the Twins and with the team in town to visit a local school, the group had the team stop by for a quick visit and autograph session with some of the employees.

As part of the visit, each of the four members of the caravan was given a goodie-box with various products such as a SPAM T-shirt and their own supply of SPAM. The players appreciated the generosity of the group and were excited to take something home but Silva was hoping that on his next trip to the plant, he would get to see more of an inside look.

"I wanted to learn more about the plant but we don't have time for that," Silva said. "Next time I hope we have a little bit more time so we can learn about how they make that stuff."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.