Minnesota Twins Shorten Communication Gaps AND Minimize Beer Keg Transportation

Posted on March 28, 2013 | in Baseball, Concession Stand, Continuous Flow, Hockey, Inventory, Kanban, Lean Tools, Lean Wastes, Motion, Respect For People, Sports, Transportation, Waiting | by
(Pioneer Press: Mike Berardino)

(Photo from Pioneer Press: Mike Berardino)

Here are two quick stories about the Minnesota Twins finding ways to increase efficiency (or productivity, which is probably a better depiction).

First, the Twins have enrolled some of their young players in a specialized class to learn how to speak English during Spring Training in a fun and comfortable way – through singing popular American songs and acting out real-world scenarios like ordering at restaurants.

In the past, the Twins would bring in one instructor three times a week at minor league camp. Results varied.


What’s different about this year’s initiative, which encompasses about three dozen of the 140-plus players in minor league camp, is it’s being held off site, away from the baseball facility where players spend countless hours each spring.

“We were looking for different ways we might be able to reach the guys,” says Jose Marzan, the Twins’ Latin America coordinator. “We wanted to help them realize this is something good for them instead of a punishment.”

If you’d like a good laugh:

A class like this helps bridge the communication gap between players who only know their native language and the team/fans/media they will begin interacting with on a regular basis here in the United States.

Such initiatives are becoming increasingly vital as the sport’s talent pool, especially in the minor leagues, skews more toward Latin America. If those investments in on-field skill are to pay off, teams recognize they must prepare those young athletes for the full range of experiences in a new land.


Lyrics now flashing on the board at the front of the classroom, the players’ voices gradually begin to rise in volume. With each note they seem to gain more confidence in using this complex, unfamiliar language, the one they will be expected to use primarily as they rise through the minor leagues.

In restaurants.

During interviews.

On the field with teammates, coaches and umpires.

Perhaps even while courting their future wives.

Communication is key in improvement initiatives and the Twins are taking great strides to bridge any communication gaps between English-speaking players and those with foreign tongues, which will surely pay off on the field as players can share ideas and strategies more effectively.


Photo by Marc Aune

Photo by Marc Aune

Next, Mark Graban at LeanBlog.org tipped me off to this photo by a Uni-Watch reader who visited Target Field, home of the Twins. Reader Marc Aune’s words, from the Uni-Watch post:

“There are nine different ‘keg rooms’ in the bowels of the stadium. Instead of having workers moving kegs all over the place, there are dedicated beer pipes that run directly to vendors. Do other stadiums have that feature?”

This is an excellent question. My answers are a) some but not many, and b) they absolutely should.

Target Field in Minneapolis is relatively new, having opened in 2010. Many older stadiums run concession stands with either kegs or individual beer containers (cans or plastic bottles). Systems/technology like this would require significant infrastructure overhauls with the old stadiums, but since Target Field came into use after sports teams had their “Eureka!” moment on this technology that’s been around for quite some time they elected to implement. (Bars with beer on tap have been using this technology for a long time.)

As Aune indicated in his quote, this minimizes how much transportation is required by stadium personnel or vendors in order to get kegs into place all over the stadium. No more need to hand-truck a keg or two from shipping or warehousing over to the beer-less concession stand, better control of beer inventory levels, and faster delivery times to replenish the needs of the thirsty game attendee.

Transportation can be costly in terms of available manpower toting the kegs across the concourse, stockouts leaving the customers frustrated, or excess inventory stocked in stands that prevent such stockouts (but tie up cash in assets not immediately needed and generate overpurchasing).

One nit I have about the internal beer delivery system is how much beer is tied up in the transmission lines and how often the “work in process” between the beer room and the beer taps in the stands is cleared out. Of course, it is inherently a first-in-first-out system with the beer in the lines.

(Good catch Marc and Mark!)

Contrast this with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who had many wheeled beer booths in Nationwide Arena last winter. Those beer booths ran exclusively beer cans or aluminum pints and had to constantly be replenished by material handlers. At the end of the evening, anything that was left over had to be restocked in the coolers – anything brought out and not sold had to be returned, which is more excess motion.

Granted, wheeled beer booths aren’t set up to run kegs or in-stadium beer supplies, but I also look at wheeled beer booths as being somewhat excessive. Teams focus more on creating more outlets for fans to purchase beer without having to wait in long lines, as opposed to working on their internal concessions management processes and streamlining those activities so that the waiting time in lines is limited. More beer outlets in a stadium necessitate more inventory being distributed, but the inefficient concessions processes remain less than optimized and wasteful activities remain.

As stadiums continue to be built and refurbished, installing such beer management systems should become more commonplace.

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