MANKATO, Minn. -- One of baseball's biggest and longest-running offseason tours got under way on Monday, as the Twins kicked off their 53nd annual Winter Caravan with four stops. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, bench coach Terry Steinbach, infielder Brian Dozier and play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer made the trip, which began with a visit to the new offices at FM 96.3 K-TWIN radio at the Ford Center across the street from Target Field. After stops in Northfield and Owatonna, the first day ended with a question-and-answer session and autographs at the Kato Ballroom in Mankato. Assistant general manager Rob Antony also joined the group for the final stop in Mankato.
But it was just Day 1 of the Winter Caravan, which features stops in nearly 50 communities throughout Twins territory until Jan. 24. "It's fun to go around and meet all these Twins fans," Dozier said. "Especially after coming off two years where we struggled a bit. But we have diehard fans who welcome us with open arms. So we know the past two years have been tough, but we want to reassure them we'll get back to our winning ways." The day featured several of question-and-answer sessions, with Bremer serving as emcee for events at Northfield Middle School, Plaza Morena Campestre restaurant in Owatonna and the final event at the Kato Ballroom. A popular question was the state of the club's pitching staff, as the Twins finished with the third-worst ERA in the Majors last season but added starting pitchers Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey this offseason. Fans also wanted to know about the center-field situation after the club traded away Denard Span and Ben Revere in an effort to revamp the pitching staff. But Gardenhire, who has been going on the Winter Caravan since taking over as third-base coach in 1991, said he knew what to expect from fans. "You think about these things before you get here, so I know those things are going to happen," Gardenhire said. "I know I'm going to be asked about center field, about the pitching and all those things. The crazy thing about it is that we have some people that are qualified to go out there but we'll see how it goes in Spring Training." Gardenhire added that Twins fans deserve better after the club finished in last place in the American League Central each of the last two seasons. "I don't think, with Twins fans, you have to talk up this team," Gardenhire said. "They love this team and there are so many Twins fans out here who are passionate. So I don't have to talk to up this team, but I do assure them that this team will work hard and we're trying to get back to our winning ways." The caravan continues on Tuesday with stops in New Ulm, Sleepy Eye and Worthington, Minn., and Sioux Falls, S.D. The current group travels until Thursday with a final stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. So Gardenhire sees it as the kickoff event before the Twins host the rest of Winter Caravan and TwinsFest from Jan. 25-27 at the Metrodome before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Feb. 12. "You get to see all the guys, and the talk starts flying around and you start talking baseball and you get to see all the players, and it kind of gets you really pumped up for it," Gardenhire said. "And you get excited to get down there and get going again. We have a lot to prove and a lot to do. I'm very excited about that."