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Slimmer Kubel has high hopes for '07

Slimmer Kubel has high hopes for '07

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire almost had to do a double take when he saw outfielder Jason Kubel walk into the Metrodome on Sunday morning for the final day of TwinsFest.

Having dropped 10 pounds and in noticeably better playing shape, Kubel looked very different from the player who had struggled to work out due to continuing soreness in his knees at the end of the '06 season. Getting Kubel back healthy was one of the big goals for the organization during the offseason, and from Gardenhire's initial glimpse, it looks like a strong start.

"He looks good," Gardenhire said. "He looks thinner in the face and like he's lost some weight. I would imagine that when your legs start feeling good, you're able to go work out without pain, and that makes it easier to stay in shape and work out. He wants to play and do well. Now that he's got his legs underneath him, he's able to take care of himself a little better. Last year, he wanted to work out, but his legs killed him and that makes it hard."

It's been a rough two years for Kubel, as he's had to battle through his first knee injury, which forced him to miss an entire year of baseball, only to make it back to the field before dealing with the troubles in his right knee as well. It seemed that just as Kubel was beginning to get things going offensively last June, he started having problems with that knee.

It wasn't until after the season ended that a tear was found in Kubel's right meniscus and he underwent a scope to fix the problem. And even though it may sound odd, finding out about the problem was actually good news, considering all of the soreness that Kubel had been experiencing in the knee.

"It was a relief to find out something was there, because I was thinking, 'Why does it hurt so much and they can't find anything?'" Kubel said. "After they found it, they went in and fixed the meniscus and cleaned out the back of it. I can bend my knee and run for long periods of time now, which is really good."

Now that he's back to working out again, Kubel is focused on keeping himself in playing shape. The concern over Kubel's knees was part of the reason that the Twins decided to bring back Rondell White to play left field. For now, Kubel is expected to fill in as a designated hitter, and that's all right with him. Mostly, he's just trying to get back to the form he had last June, when he hit .333 with five home runs and 16 RBIs.

"Without any problems, I'm hoping that I can go back to where I was for that period of time," Kubel said. "I figure if I was able to do that after a whole year off, I should be OK. Both knees feel perfect, and I'm really excited about it. It's been a long time since I felt like that."

Beware of sharks: It didn't take long for the Twins' "Little Piranhas" nickname to catch on with fans, and it appears that it won't be going away anytime soon.

Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett spent more than three hours late Saturday night filming a commercial for the club featuring the two swimming with other types of fish as a play off the piranhas moniker.

It was a very unusual type of shoot for the two players, as they had to wear wet suits under their uniforms and get into about a 12-foot-deep tank full of other fish and sting rays at the Mall of America. Trying to stay at the right spot in the tank, let alone see anything, was difficult for the two, but it ended up being quite an entertaining experience. And considering that there were no real piranhas in the tank with them, that helped make the shoot a little easier.

"People around the clubhouse, like Torii Hunter, tried to scare me and tell me that the fish are poisonous and we could be in for some trouble," Punto said. "So it was a bit of relief not to see anything like sharks in the tank with us. Really, it was a fun experience and we had a good time with the whole thing."

No small coincidence: Kevin Slowey, one of the Twins' top young pitching prospects, was in town for this weekend's TwinsFest as part of a large contingent of the club's upcoming Minor League talent.

Slowey received one of the team's invitations to Major League camp and found out this weekend that he will be wearing No. 59. It might seem like an uncommon number for a pitcher, but it holds some significance in club history, considering it was Brad Radke's number during his rookie season.

It seemed like a fitting number for Slowey, too, as he has already begun to hear the comparisons between himself and Radke in his relatively short career with the Twins. That's because the 22-year-old is more of a command pitcher, like Radke was.

"It's definitely a little quirky, but I think it's great," Slowey said of the number. "Obviously, Brad had an amazing career here and did a lot for the Twins, just as much off the field as he did on the field. If, at the end of my career, I can look back and say that I was anything like him, I would be thrilled."

Breaking boundaries: This year's three-day TwinsFest drew a record number of Twins fans to the Metrodome.

A total of 35,835 people attended the festival, surpassing the previous record for attendance, set in 1992, when the club drew more than 33,000 to the event. Since its inception in 1989, TwinsFest has raised more than $3.5 million for programs and organizations supported by the Twins Community Fund.

The weekend event also marked the beginning of single-game ticket sales. Officials within the organization reported that ticket sales were up 37 percent from last year's TwinsFest. There are still plenty of great tickets available, which fans can purchase by visiting twinsbaseball.com.

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

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