If not for a stroke of bad luck — the wrong seat on the team charter at the wrong time — Caleb Thielbar would have avoided the COVID-19 injured list entirely. The Twins reinstated the left-handed reliever ahead of Saturday’s game, sending Luke Farrell back to the alternate training site, after the club had to leave him behind in Southern California earlier in the week when it traveled to Oakland.
Truthfully, Thielbar said, the most potential exposure he thinks he has had to the virus since spring training was likely when he traveled home from California on a Delta flight. Thielbar returned to Minneapolis a couple days ago commercially while Max Kepler, Kyle Garlick and the non-uniformed staff member who have all tested positive for COVID-19 traveled home on a private flight.
“I didn’t really do anything wrong. Just happened to be sitting in the wrong spot,” Thielbar said. “That’s what’s the toughest part about this whole thing.”
Thielbar, who never tested positive for the virus, was able to get of the hotel to walk to a nearby park, where he threw into a backstop and took in the fresh air. He also benefitted from a large enough hotel room that he was able to throw at his mattress a couple times — though he did, understandably, find the bedding difficult to move.
“There was enough room in between the TV and the bed to be able to get a full stride and follow through and everything,” he said. “Not worry about hitting your hand on anything.”
With limited sports options on the TV, Thielbar said he spent most of his time watching the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, reading and catching up on as much sleep as possible.
Upon his return, he threw a bullpen on Friday and said it felt like he was picking up right where he had left off, leading to his Saturday morning activation from the injured list. Thielbar has appeared in five games this season, giving up four runs in seven innings.
“It was just more boring than anything,” Thielbar said of his time away. “I mean you’re sitting there, and you know you feel good. So it’s hard to sit out when you don’t think you have anything. But I get it. It was just a little frustrating.”
Badelli punches back
For two years straight, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli has been named MLB’s most handsome manager in an annual ranking done by Craig Calcaterra, formerly of NBC Sports. Pirates manager Derek Shelton is determined to not let his good friend forget that.
The old friends — the two coached together with the Tampa Bay Rays and Shelton served as the Twins’ bench coach for two seasons — poke fun at each other whenever they get the opportunity, often over the scoreboard during spring training contests.
This weekend, both managers came prepared with props.
Shelton hopped on his Friday afternoon Zoom wearing a custom shirt. On it, a picture of Baldelli and a caption reading “Hi, I’m Rocco, the best looking manager in baseball, and I approve this message.”
Former Twins hitting coach James Rowson may or may not have had something to do with the shirts, Shelton said, which were distributed to members of the Pirates’ coaching staff.
“He wanted to play reindeer games at the end of spring training, thinking that he had the last laugh with the shark video thing,” Shelton said Friday, referring to a video that aired over the scoreboard. “I’m sure I’ll get hammered the last two days, but I would say we’d all agree that this one is pretty good.”
Baldelli showed up Saturday morning for his Zoom session with a Speed Hitter, a hitting tool that Shelton appeared in an infomercial for years ago, in hand. Prior to the game, during the middle of pregame introductions, the Twins aired Shelton’s infomercial on the Target Field scoreboard.
“I’ve watched that infomercial, I mean, I can’t tell you how many times. Countless. Countless times, and it’s impacted me in a baseball way but in an artistic way,” Baldelli joked. “I mean the production value and everything that went along with it, it moved me. So that’s why Speed Hitter is a big part of what we do here with the Twins. I can’t thank Sheltie enough for bringing it into my life.”