March 2010

Making the Team: Final Week

After just over five weeks of spring action and competitions, the Twins made final moves to complete their Opening Day roster. Five competitions in all have now come to a close, and the Twins will play three more spring games to prepare for their first test in Los Angeles next week.


Gone from the competition and the list this week is catcher Wilson Ramos, infielder Matt Tolbert, outfielder Jacque Jones, and pitchers Glen Perkins, Mike Maroth and Anthony Slama.

Opening Day 2010 is days away, and a new era in Twins baseball is coming right with it.
Player Chance Notes
Drew Butera (C)

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Butera didn’t hit well this spring (.154 in 17 games), and he shouldn’t be expected to hit well during his stay up north. While Gardy seemed to like Wilson Ramos and his bat (.400 in 13 games), experience almost certainly was the deciding factor in brining Butera to the majors until Jose Morales is healthy. 
Alexi Casilla (IF) Lock.png Three players were up for the final bench spot, and Alexi Casilla came away with the spot seemingly by default. Jacque Jones hasn’t played in the majors in over a year, and Matt Tolbert had one option remaining. Despite a poor spring (.128 in 21 games), Casilla makes the team mostly because nobody stepped up to beat him, and partly because he would have been with another organization otherwise.  

Francisco Liriano (SP)

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After pitching extremely well this past winter, Liriano seemed to take control in the competition for the final spot in the rotation as spring training began. While his competition for the spot wasn’t the best over the past month, Liriano would have been tough to beat with his performance: 6 games, 20 innings, 6 runs, 5 walks, and 30 strikeouts. 
Brian Duensing (SP)

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Brian Duensing played a major role in the team’s success to close out the 2009 season. He struggled early on this spring, but his final outings were better and he’ll be a second left-handed option and long reliever out of the bullpen. Duensing ended his spring with a 4.50 ERA in 16 innings pitched.
Pat Neshek (RP) Lock.png Pat Neshek hadn’t faced live hitters in over 14 months when spring training began, and it seemed very likely that he’d get some extra work in through either extended spring training or minor league games before joining the Twins in Minnesota. Joe Nathan’s injury, combined with Neshek’s success on the mound (1.86 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 9.2 innings) put him on the Opening Day roster and in line to return from Tommy John surgery officially in April. 

Right On Target: An Open House

For the past 28 years, the Minnesota Twins have been located under the roof of the Metrodome on the other side of town. In just a few days the month of April will roll around, and the new month will signify the beginning of a new era with the opening of Target Field. 

This season, there will be wind, there’ll be rain, and there’ll be sun. Beginning in 2010, weather elements will combine with baseball once again in Minneapolis. The team’s new ballpark, Target Field, looks great in photos and on television, but neither of those things can do the ballpark justice. 
Last weekend, the Twins hosted an Open House to show off their new gem, and the first sight of everything is stunning. All around Target Field are small touches that make the ballpark unique and one-of-a-kind. From the “Gold Glove” on the plaza, to the celebration sign in centerfield, to the Budweiser Deck, to the large scoreboard in left center, Target Field has several features exclusive to the team and found nowhere else in Major League Baseball.
Inside there are heaters all around the concourse. The concourse itself is open from end to end, allowing fans to get their hotdogs and still see the field. There are restaurants: Hrbek’s and The Townball Tavern. The team’s history is displayed across the facility, and the walls are covered all around with photos of both players and big moments.
Season ticket holders will be in store for even more. The Metropolitan Club offers a place to hangout, the Legends Club has atriums of both Kirby Puckett and Rod Carew and also is home to “Club 573″ for Harmon Killebrew. 
Describing the stunning new ballpark in small detail and showing the pictures below from the event won’t come close to doing what a trip to Target Field will. When fans walk into Target Field for the first time in this 2010 season, they’ll be able to see the stunning and unique features and details for themselves. 

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

A Rare Off-Season

After making the playoffs for the fifth time in eight seasons, and with a new ballpark in the waiting, the Minnesota Twins entered the off-season primed to make some moves. It took less than two days for the front office to get started, and the big moves over the past four-plus months have many fans optimistic about the team’s chances. 

Four roster moves and one key signing have fans excited, and the season that has been talked about for several years has now finally arrived. A new ballpark, the beginning of the prime years for several star players, and new additions to the roster could potentially make a great start for a new era in Minnesota baseball.
Less than forty-eight hours after the New York Yankees clinched the World Series, the Twins acquired shortstop J.J. Hardy with the hope that he can solidify the shortstop position for at least the next two seasons. The position hasn’t seen consistency since Christian Guzman roamed there during the 2005 season, and if Hardy can hit anywhere near the way he did during his breakout years in 2007 and 2008, he could be a perfect fit.
Next on the agenda was veteran starting pitcher Carl Pavano. His success against the division and the Detroit Tigers in particular made him the perfect late-season pickup as the Twins looked to capture a division title last year. His success with the Twins helped him stay put in Minnesota. After offering Pavano arbitration and receiving acceptance, the sides eventually worked out a one-year, $7 million deal. 
The Twins’ off-season was already going smoothly when the new year began. The rumors continued, and the big name that popped up seemingly every week was that of lefty Jarrod Washburn. Instead of adding another pitcher, the Twins added some pop to the bench with the signing of future Hall of Fame slugger, Jim Thome. After lacking a power hitter off the bench in the 2009 playoffs, the Twins went out and added a cheap option while taking an old nemesis off the streets at the same time. 
With the late-January addition of Thome, the Twins had made three solid off-season moves. Retaining Pavano and bringing in both Hardy and Thome were moves that helped general manager Bill Smith’s grade sheet. The money available seemed to be thin though, and what else the Twins could do remained uncertain as spring training neared.
Just over one week away from the start of spring training, and already at $90 million for the Opening Day payroll, the Twins wrote one more check and added second baseman Orlando Hudson to the fold. The veteran has made All-Star appearances, has won gold gloves, and is the perfect fit between Denard Span and Joe Mauer in the lineup. 
The off-season was already superb with the additions of Hardy, Pavano, Thome and Hudson when the Twins locked up one of baseball’s best players, Joe Mauer, through 2018 to officially complete the five months of hard work. Experts and fans from around the league have lauded the team’s off-season moves and the organization has without a doubt heightened their MLB betting odds for the 2010 season with what might be an off-season of a lifetime for the Minnesota Twins and their fans. 

Making the Team: Week 4

The final two weeks of spring training have arrived, and the races are heating up. All around, there seem to be deadlocks. At catcher, there is still no favorite to be Joe Mauer’s backup, the infielders fighting for the final bench spot are struggling, and there seems to be uncertainty in the team’s plans for the bullpen. 
Can guys like Mike Maroth or Anthony Slama sneak into the race down the stretch? Who might have the slight advantages in the seemingly deadlocked competitions? Who might pull away before the team breaks for two exhibition games at Target Field next weekend?

Player Chance Notes
Wilson Ramos (C) Through nine games and 22 total at-bats, Ramos has excelled. He’s seemed to be serviceable behind the plate with a strong arm, and the youngster is currently hitting .364 on the spring. Despite a lack of experience in the highest minor league level, Ramos seems to be getting a real shot from manager Ron Gardenhire to make the roster.  
Drew Butera (C) Butera has played in 12 games, but has fewer at-bats than Ramos nonetheless. In 18 at-bats this spring, the defensive-minded Butera has only a .167 batting average. It’ll be interesting to see if Butera’s experience help put him on the plane to Minneapolis next weekend.  
Alexi Casilla (IF) With even a decent spring, Alexi Casilla would be running away with the final bench spot. Instead, in 13 games and 18 at-bats, Casilla is hitting just .143 with six strikeouts. The one thing that may help him make the team and remain with the organization is his lack of options remaining. 
Matt Tolbert (IF) Since Matt Tolbert is struggling both at the plate and at times in the field, and since he has one more option, a deadlock in the final bench spot competition would almost certainly go to Tolbert’s competitor, Alexi Casilla. Unless he has an outstanding final two weeks, Tolbert seems to be headed to Triple-A Rochester to start the season. 
Jacque Jones (OF) Jacque Jones is getting ample playing time, and he’s taking advantage. In nine games this spring and a total of 22 at-bats, Jones is hitting .318 with decent plate discipline. It’s still a long shot for Jones to make the club, but it seems as though he’ll secure a spot at Triple-A Rochester.   

Francisco Liriano (SP) As spring training kicked off, the general feeling was that if Francisco Liriano pitched anywhere near the way he did this winter, he’d run away with the final rotation spot. Liriano is doing just that. In 10 innings, the lefty has allowed just three runs (2.70 ERA) and struck out 16 hitters. With almost complete certainty, Liriano will begin the 2010 season as the team’s fifth starter. 
Brian Duensing (SP) Despite some struggles and Liriano’s strong outings, lefty Brian Duensing still has a great shot at cracking the Opening Day roster. There are now two spots open in the bullpen with closer Joe Nathan’s injury, and Duensing could be the team’s second lefty if he can beat out Glen Perkins. Their numbers are nearly identical, so heading into the final weeks there is still time to shine and capture a roster spot. 
Glen Perkins (SP) Perkins has run into a minor injury and will miss a few days on the mound. Those days are potentially precious as he’s currently locked into a race with Brian Duensing. So far, along with Duensing, Perkins has a 9.00 ERA in seven innings. 
Pat Neshek (RP) At the start of spring training, it seemed as if Pat Neshek was primed for a start in either extended spring training or the minor leagues. He hadn’t pitched to hitters in over 14 months and needed to work back into game condition. Joe Nathan’s injury has opened another spot in the bullpen, and strong outings may give Neshek a better opportunity (although it’s still very possible he starts somewhere other than Minnesota). In six outings and six innings, Neshek has allowed one run (1.50 ERA) and struck out seven.
Mike Maroth (RP) It’s very hard to see Mike Maroth making the team out of spring training, but with decent outings, combined with the struggles of both Duensing and Perkins, he may have a small chance to sneak into the race down the stretch. In five games, Maroth has thrown seven innings, allowed three runs (3.86 ERA), and struck out one hitter.
Anthony
Slama (RP)
Anthony Slama has shown fans why there is excitement surrounding his name. Through four innings, the young righty has been nothing short of dominant. He’s allowed no hits or runs and struck out eight. He’s not on the 40-man roster (though he could take Nathan’s place when he heads to the 60-day disabled list) and has thrown mostly to non major league players with his late-game appearances, so he appears to be a long shot despite his success. Nonetheless, he should debut sometime in 2010. 

Mauersota

Mauer Signs.jpgTarget Field will end indoor baseball in Minneapolis, and it may too end the use of the moniker “cheap” in relation to the Minnesota Twins. After trading for J.J. Hardy, retaining Carl Pavano and signing stars Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson, the Twins put the finishing touch on their busy off-season Sunday night, locking up their hometown hero through 2018.
Joe Mauer is a rare breed. At the age of 26, he’s won three American League batting titles, three more than any American League catcher in baseball history. His .365 batting average last season is the highest by a catcher in baseball history, and he also became the first catcher in history to lead the American League in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. 
His eye-popping numbers in 2009, which came even after he missed the first month of the season, earned him a third Silver Slugger award, and helped him join teammate Justin Morneau as an MVP award winner. 
Mauer’s busy off-season has now collided with the Twins’ after months of negotiations, and the result is an 8-year, $184 million contract. For the next nine seasons, and through the age of 35, Mauer will be with his hometown team in Minneapolis.
The months filled with false rumors and false hope are gone. No longer will Mauer need to talk about where he might be after the 2010 season on each road trip. Instead he can answer questions about staying with his hometown team and his attempts at taking the team he grew up rooting for to a World Series. 
In the early years of the long contract, if Mauer continues to progress and produce, fans will praise what is now the fourth largest contract in baseball history. In the later years, if Mauer regresses or struggles at times in his mid-thirties, there may be some grumbling. 
Yes, the long term deal carries its risks. Paying a 35 year old catcher $23 million might not work out. Then again, who says Mauer couldn’t change positions over the course of nine years if necessary? 
The Minnesota Twins had no option but to fork over the money, and in the end, it’s a deal that seems fair for both sides involved. Had the Twins lost Joe Mauer after just one more season, fans would be wondering for the next decade, what might have been. There will be no need for those thoughts however, fans will be able to find out the fate of the contract with a front row seat.

From the Fort

Hammond StadiumThe feeling at spring training isn’t quite the same as a day at the ballpark anywhere from April to October. It’s still baseball, but the final score is primarily irrelevant. It’s all about baseball being back in the air, players taking extra grounders and fly balls, young prospects proving their worth, and so forth.
When you first step foot onto the Minnesota Twins complex in Fort Myers, Flordia, you’re welcomed with a parking lot that has parking lanes named after Twin greats. Walking down the cement plaza fans can see the field, Hammond Stadium, off to the right. To the left is where much of the work is completed and progress is made. Practice fields are all around, and everywhere players are tuning their skills for the season ahead. 
On Tuesday, I was in attendance as the Twins took on the Baltimore Orioles, and while the team lost, there were several things to take away from the event.
Game Notes:
** In the lineup after taking a few games off was catcher Joe Mauer. After his introduction, he was enthusiastically welcomed by the fans. Hitting just like last season, Mauer twice took some pitches and then solidly drove a pitch to the outfield for a hit. Other lineup mainstays played too. Michael Cuddyer especially stood out. Three times he smoked fly balls to the outfield, and all three times he was retired (including a few very good catches).
** Scott Baker looked great on the mound. The first pitch of the game was taken to left field for a base hit, but otherwise Baker had good control and put forth a solid four-inning outing. 
** Several prospects took the field in the loss: Juan Portes started, and despite a hitless day, he hit a few balls hard to the outfield and definitely looks like a guy to watch. Ben Revere has some incredible speed. Danny Valencia, although in a short viewing, looked like a capable defender at third base (he made a nice stab on a line drive). 
General Notes:
** The first thing to see upon arrival was manager Ron Gardenhire and former manager Tom Kelly behind the plate with their fungo bats and the infielders taking grounders. The spring feel showed again with Gardy joking with the players and everybody pretty relaxed. The day’s session seemed to end with pitcher’s fielding practice. A majority of the pitchers practiced coming off the mound to field grounders and they ended it by lining up between first and third and simultaneously faking throws to the mound from the stretch. 
** Jon Rauch is really tall. Everybody knows the righty is 6’11, but Rauch really towered over basically everybody during practice. Carl Pavano (6’5) looked most normal standing next to the team monster. 
** Gardy has nicknames for everybody as many know, but it seems as if the trend extends to other coaches too. Rick Anderson was yelling various names out during pitchers fielding practice as he threw baseballs to the grass for pitchers to throw to first base. Two that were clear enough to hear were Frankie for Francisco Liriano (it seemed many people called him this), and Pav for Pavano. 
** The atmosphere and general feel of these games is definitely unique. The outcome is far from important, and many fans are there simply to take in America’s pastime on a sunny afternoon. It’s funny to hear fans say to themselves, “Who?” when players wearing the 70s, 80s and 90s on their uniforms enter the game.
** It seems to be quite the spring for attendance at the team’s spring home. After breaking the single-game attendance record against the St. Louis Cardinals one week earlier, Hammond Stadium saw another record crowd for their matchup with the Orioles. That record apparently didn’t last long either though, a new record was set on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
** It’s hard to judge without going to other games at different parks around Florida, but based on seeing the Blue Jays ballpark from the street and the Twins’ complex in person, it seems as if Hammond Stadium and the surrounding fields have to be one of the better spring training complexes. It’s easy to get close to the action on the practice fields, and it’s a pretty nice place to watch a game too.
Spring training without a doubt has a different feel. Watching the players take grounders and practice like any high school or college team would is interesting, and it’s great knowing baseball is right around the corner.
From the Park

Making the Team: Week 3

Week three of Making the Team brings with it only minor changes. There is still no favorite in the backup catcher competition, no infielders are stepping up to take the final bench spot, and it seems as though manager Ron Gardenhire is leaning toward Pat Neshek starting the year in either Triple-A or extended spring training. 

Player Chance Notes
Wilson Ramos (C) Ramos has hit well in 15 at-bats, posting a .400 batting average through six games. His defense seems to be serviceable, and it seems as if the Twins are giving Ramos a strong opportunity to compete with Drew Butera for the backup catcher role until Jose Morales can return. 
Drew Butera (C) Butera is going to need to beat Ramos with his defense and experience, because his bat isn’t anywhere near being flashy. Thus far, in only 12 at-bats, Butera has a .167 batting average.
Danny Valencia (3B) Danny Valencia will almost certainly be in Minneapolis at some point during the 2010 season, but it seems highly unlikely that he’ll be there when the team opens Target Field. With ample playing time thus far, Valencia has hit .286 in 14 at-bats and 8 total games.
Alexi Casilla (IF) Alexi Casilla has had a difficult spring at the plate, hitting just .111 in nine games. The Twins have given him ample at-bats (18) nonetheless, and he seems likely to make the Opening Day roster with no options remaining and his fellow competitor providing even less production.
Matt Tolbert (IF) Matt Tolbert’s current situation is simple: He has one option left and a trip to Triple-A seems likely. In 14 at-bats, Tolbert has no hits, and his defense hasn’t made up for a lack of plate production. He has made several defensive mistakes too.
Jacque Jones (OF) It’s hard to see Jones making the team out of camp, but with both Casilla and Tolbert playing poorly, there’s a chance. If the Twins are comfortable having one less infielder and Jones hits well in the final weeks, his chance could become a reality.   

Francisco Liriano (SP) Francisco Liriano continues to pull away with the final spot in the rotation with every spring appearance. In seven innings, Liriano has surrendered a few runs, but has walked only one batter while striking out 12 hitters. The closer role remains a possibility, but if he’s good enough for that role, he’ll serve the team better as a starter.  
Brian Duensing (SP) Only one lefty is currently in the bullpen, and with Nathan’s injury, another spot may now be available. If that spot remains open, Brian Duensing seems like a likely candidate to take a spot in the ‘pen and serve as an additional lefty and the team’s long reliever.
Glen Perkins (SP) Perkins has thrown 3.1 innings, given up 8 hits, and allowed 5 earned runs so far this spring. It isn’t quite the performance the Twins were hoping to see, and he isn’t doing the best job of showcasing himself for other teams. It’s hard to see him making the team with other candidates seemingly being better options, but it’s still possible.
Pat Neshek (RP) Neshek has thrown four solid, scoreless innings so far. Nonetheless, Gardenhire seems to be leaning toward Neshek starting in either Triple-A or extended spring training with his comments. Neshek hadn’t thrown in 14+ months and his velocity could still increase.  
Mike Maroth (RP) As stated before, Maroth will begin the season at Triple-A with almost complete certainty. His spring outings will continue to build his case for potential injury situations during the 2010 season.
Anthony
Slama (RP)
Anthony Slama could potentially make the bullpen if the Twins don’t bring in another closer and Neshek begins the season somewhere other than Minnesota. Even if he doesn’t make the team however, he’s likely to make his debut this season, and his spring outings, much like Maroth’s, will build his case.  

Celebrate Good Times

One of the most unique features that fans will notice when they step foot inside Target Field this season is the celebration sign in centerfield. There is now footage of the sign, which features Minnie and Paul, in action.


[Hat Tip: Ballpark Magic]

Making the Team: Week 2

In the second week of Making the Team, a twist has altered some of the chances of cracking the Opening Day roster for several players. With Joe Nathan potentially out for the season, there are now seemingly two bullpen spots available rather than just one.

The extra spot could eventually help one of the two starting pitchers who fail to make the rotation, and Pat Neshek may have a better chance now too. Then again, the Twins could always fill the closer role externally, and it’ll be back down to one opening. 
This week no players have been removed, but there is one addition. Two scoreless innings, three strikeouts and an extra bullpen spot have at least made relief pitcher Anthony Slama worth watching.

Player Chance Notes
Wilson Ramos (C) Ramos is doing an extraordinary job at the plate this spring going 3-for-8 thus far with four walks in three games. His defense has seemingly been alright too. The big question is how much of a chance the staff is giving Ramos with his competitor Drew Butera having more experience.  
Drew Butera (C) Experience at Triple-A may give Butera the upper hand, but if the Twins are looking for offense in their backup catcher, Butera doesn’t seem to be the guy. Everybody knows he’s much more geared toward defense, and his early .167 average (with three strikeouts in six at-bats) continues to confirm that.
Danny Valencia (3B) It seems likely that Danny Valencia will make his major league debut at some point during the 2010 season. Nonetheless, it continues to be an uphill battle for the 25-year old to crack the Opening Day roster. He’s 3-for-7 thus far with a homerun, but he’ll need to really stick out in the next three weeks to grab a spot.
Alexi Casilla (IF) Alexi Casilla is just 2-for-10 thus far in four games, but equally poor plate production by his competitor is keeping Casilla in the battle. With no more options it’s either make the team or move to a new organization, so Casilla may currently have the upper hand.
Matt Tolbert (IF) While Casilla is batting just .200 after four games, Matt Tolbert has yet to collect a hit in eight at-bats. It’ll be interesting to see how the Twins handle the situation.
Jacque Jones (OF) Jacque Jones’ chances of making the team seem to be decent, especially with the poor production from both Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert. He hasn’t played in the majors since 2008 however, so he still has a lot of impressing to do to make his return to Minneapolis a reality.   

Francisco Liriano (SP) In his first outing of the spring, Liriano pitched two scoreless innings and struck out three hitters. It’ll take more than two innings to convince the organization and fans that the winter reports are accurate, but it seems like the final spot in the rotation may be his to lose.  
Brian Duensing (SP) Duensing struggled in his first trip to the mound, but his chances to make the bullpen may have gone up anyways. If the Twins go with an in-house candidate to take Nathan’s spot, there are now two spots open in the bullpen, and only one lefty is currently a lock. 
Glen Perkins (SP) Glen Perkins’ first spring outing didn’t go quite as planned, and his second was only decent. Out of options, Perkins could eventually be traded if he can’t earn a spot in the rotation or bullpen. He very well could be pitching to show off for other teams. 
Pat Neshek (RP) Two solid outings to begin camp, combined with the Joe Nathan injury, have heightened Neshek’s chances of making the team out of camp. Coming off Tommy John Surgery, Neshek could still begin in extended spring training, but there is another bullpen spot seemingly available if his good performances continue through March. 
Mike Maroth (RP) So far this spring, Mike Maroth has had one less-than-stellar outing, and one scoreless outing. His chance to make the team is very slim, and the veteran lefty is almost certainly headed for Triple-A Rochester where good performances could make him an option if injuries arise. 
Anthony
Slama (RP)
With closer Joe Nathan most likely out for the season, another bullpen spot is now open. With a solid spring, in which Slama would need to blow the coaching staff away, the young righty may have an opportunity to crack a spot in the bullpen.

The Nathan Aftershock

It hasn’t even been a full day since the organization and fans learned that their All-Star closer might possibly miss the entire 2010 season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. It’s been a day full of updates and hope, and we’re now entering the time of aftershock.

Everybody knows the implications: If Nathan’s two weeks of rest don’t pan out, which some believe would be a miracle at this point, he’ll undergo Tommy John surgery and the organization will be left looking at other options to fill the ninth inning void and help keep the team on track for a run at the postseason as they open Target Field. 
Assistant general manager Rob Antony took a few moments to answer some questions regarding the difficult news and the immediate future. Per team policy, he wasn’t able to confirm or deny whether the team holds an insurance policy on Nathan, but he did shed some light on other matters.
Regarding internal candidates…

If Joe is unable to come back from this in 2010 we do have several internal candidates and we will begin looking at them as we move forward. As Gardy said, “Until we hear differently, Joe Nathan is our closer.” That said, it would be irresponsible for us not to begin evaluating our other options in the event that he needs surgery.

In the event that Nathan needs surgery, would they expect him back in 2011…

We hope so. It is so early in the process to speculate on 2011. We want to first see how it feels in a week or two.

In closing…

We will explore all options and make decisions when opportunities or candidates present themselves. I don’t believe we would make any decisions before it is necessary and will be open to internal candidates and potentially other avenues.

The hope remains that one of the best closers in all of baseball will be on the mound in 2010. It’ll take some things falling in place and some pain tolerance by Nathan, but that’s why it’s called hope.

If Nathan can’t go this season it’ll be very unfortunate not just for the team, but for Nathan and his great career. Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean the team can’t fight on and remain in contention for a berth in the playoffs this fall.
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