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Fundamentals: What is instructional league?:2002 Star Tribune

Road trips are short -- usually no more than an hour. The young Twins team will play against other teams with instructional league entries in that area.

Given the amount of work that the players go through and the lack of time they have for anything other than work, instructional league is like baseball boot camp.

Instructional league is where players get into the specifics of the game. The difference between major league players and minor league players is consistency, not the players' size and strength. Major league players have learned to produce day after day. If the players learn, work hard and succeed here, then their baseball fundamentals will be one less thing they'll have to worry about when the games matter.

Twins General Manager Terry Ryan and Jim Rantz, the Twins director of minor leagues, decide who gets invited. Team budgets determine the number of players each club invites, so the players who get invited understand that they are among a special few.

From the beginning the players are told that they are responsible for making it to the big leagues. Those who don't show improvement, don't show exemplary work habits -- practice early and stay late -- will lose out. Most of the prospects understand that it's easy to get to the minor leagues, but it's hard to stay.

Twins officials said they chose Jake and Joe Mauer because the players have, among other things, solid work ethics. Jake reads ground balls very well and can be taught to be a versatile utility player. Joe is a natural batter but, like most players out of high school, has mechanical flaws that he needs to overcome before he can get to the majors. Steve Liddle, formerly the Twins' minor league field coordinator, says that both players have the ability to perfect their games and make it. (Liddle was promoted this season to the majors as the Twins' bench coach.)

A player has to do more than just work on specific skills to perfect his game. He also has to train with weights. Three to four nights a week, each player works on a program designed for him. Clubs also hire strength-conditioning coordinators during the season. Weight training has become a year-round job in baseball. Wherever the teams play, the team coordinator finds a gym nearby. When it's a player's day to lift weights, he has to lift.

Teams emphasize strength training because baseball's lengthy season -- the daily grind of playing almost every day -- is hard on a player's body. In high school or college, players worked up to four days a week. The professional player works every day. According to Twins officials, strength training aids physical and mental toughness. Strong bodies will build strong minds.

Over the winter, players may also be given a target weight gain to reach by spring training.

The players will need their strength when spring training comes. The coaches evaluate the players as they determine which players belong in the majors and where in the minors the remaining players belong.