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Tom Kelly absent from Twins camp for first time in nearly 50 years

A February 2013 photo shows Minnesota Twins coaches Paul Molitor (4) and Tom Kelly (10) watch positions players stretching at the start of day nine of the Minnesota Twins’ Spring Training at the Lee County Sports Complex in Fort Myers, Fla (Pioneer Press: John Autey)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — For the first time in nearly half a century, Tom Kelly won't be at Twins spring training.

The toll last spring took on Kelly's knees convinced the two-time World Series-winning manager that it was time to step aside at age 66.

"I called him the other day before I left just to tell him I was going to miss not having him around," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "I think it's really hard for him, to be honest with you. This is kind of how he's wired."

The task of hitting grounders on the half field named in Kelly's honor will fall to a range of Twins coaches, but as Molitor pointed out, there really is no replacing Kelly's keen eye and unmistakable booming voice.

"I don't know if anybody can handle the bat quite like he can, but we'll do the best we can," Molitor said. "He's doing the right thing to take care of himself. It will be a big void. Even after being removed from managing for awhile, he's still very influential."

South Korean first baseman Byung Ho Park was a particular point of emphasis for Kelly's blunt approach last spring, his 47th consecutive year in Twins camp.

"I'm not sure how much Byung Ho is going to miss him," Molitor joked. "It was funny. As hard as he was pushed by TK last year, I think inside he kind of enjoyed it. He learned to understand the intent of what TK was trying to do with him to help him transition over here."

WORKOUT AID

New Twins catcher Jason Castro spent part of his Wednesday morning prone in front of his locker, stretching out his hips and quads with a black PVC pipe.

"Foam rollers are unacceptable," he joked.

Castro made the switch to PVC in 2011, when he missed the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The gym he frequented during his rehab used PVC, and he has traveled with his own slab ever since.

Fellow catcher Eddy Rodriguez, in camp as a non-roster player, does his stretching with PVC covered in foam, but to this point no one has asked to borrow Castro's unusual workout aid.

CALL HIM 'HOOVER'

Twins reliever J.T. Chargois caused a comic stir in the clubhouse this week when he grabbed a stray vacuum and tried to rid his locker area of loose sand he had tracked in from the fields.

"I'm kind of a neat freak, to be honest with you," Chargois said. "That pretty white sand shows up pretty clear on that dark carpet."

At one point, Chargois' vacuuming inadvertently sucked up part of the laces on his game cleats, prompting locker mate Michael Tonkin to wonder aloud if the former Rice University standout had ever operated a vacuum before. Yale graduate Craig Breslow, seated two lockers away, tried not to stare.

"I'm in between two polar opposites," Tonkin said, shaking his head.

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