FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Drew Butera had never played in a World Baseball Classic until this year, but now that he's back from his first stint on the international stage, the Twins' catcher is hooked.
Representing Italy, who carried a 2-1 record into the second round of the tournament before being eliminated this week with losses to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, Butera and Twins teammate Chris Colabello experienced a different brand of baseball in Phoenix and Miami, making memories they won't soon forget.
"I loved every second of it -- great competition, excitement in the game -- I would recommend it to anybody," Butera said of his time with Team Italy.
With 12 of his fellow Twins playing in the Classic, Butera saw teammates sitting in opposing dugouts everywhere he turned. But the 29-year-old relished the opportunity to compete against some of his Minnesota pals.
"It was fun to play against [Canada's Justin] Morneau, [the U.S.'s Joe] Mauer, [the Dominican Republic's Samuel] Deduno, all those guys," he said, as Morneau playfully shoved him in the dugout before Saturday's game. "It was great to see them represent their own countries and see them play with so much passion."
For Butera, who went 3-for-16 with four RBIs in the tournament, playing such passionate games so early in the year was highly beneficial.
"You can't create that type of intensity and drama during Spring Training," he said. "You can try to, but it's hard in a game where you're working on things and trying to accomplish a different result. We still take the game seriously in Spring Training -- we play to win and we want to win -- but to create that type of environment is tough to do, so it was definitely good to experience."
Fighting for spot in center, Mastroianni on a tear
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Starting this spring with a .364 batting average in his first 11 at-bats, Darin Mastroianni seemed poised to be the Twins' starting center fielder this season.
But after a hamstring injury and a break-out Spring Training campaign from 23-year-old prospect Aaron Hicks, Mastroianni's future no longer seems as clear-cut as it once appeared.
"Anything can happen in baseball," the New York native said. "There are a handful of guys in here with guaranteed spots on the team, and I knew coming in that I'm not one of them.
"I'm in a good position to make the team because I spent a lot of the year there last season, but this time last year I was getting ready to go to [Double-A] New Britain, and a month later I was in Minnesota. Anything can happen."
Through 77 games with the Twins in 2012, Mastroianni hit .252 with three home runs, 17 RBIs and 21 steals.
Since returning to the lineup last week, Mastroianni, 27, has been on a tear, entering Saturday's game with a .409 batting average and .462 on-base percentage in his past 11 at-bats. He has five stolen bases this spring (four since the injury).
But just as Mastroianni has stepped up his game, Hicks has not let his own slide. The Twins' 2008 first-round pick is batting .341 with a .384 OBP in 12 games this spring. He has 14 hits, including four home runs and 13 RBIs, in 38 at-bats.
Mastroianni insists he hasn't been motivated by Hicks' success, though.
"We joke about it all the time, but there's not one time I'm sitting there hoping he has a bad game," Mastroianni said with a laugh. "I want him to be successful, just like I want to be successful.
"My main goal is to be ready for April 1 and make this team, one way or the other."
Diamond to make spring debut Monday
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Minnesota Twins southpaw Scott Diamond is recovering well from the surgery he underwent this January to remove bone chips in his throwing elbow.
Diamond threw live batting practice on Thursday for the second time this spring, and he is scheduled to make his 2013 spring debut in a Minor League Spring Training contest Monday.
Getting a start is something Diamond has been looking forward to for some time.
"Just being able to get back out on the mound for the first time in a game situation without an L-screen in front of me, I think it's going to feel like everything is catching up again," Diamond said before Saturday's game against the Pirates at Hammond Stadium.
Forced to take things slowly this spring, the Guelph, Ont., native admits that from a competitive standpoint, his rehab has been mentally tough to deal with at times.
"As soon as you get [to Spring Training] and you start seeing everyone get going, throwing bullpens that first week and then into their own live BPs, it definitely gets a little frustrating, because you want to be out there working alongside them," Diamond said. "But to be climbing back without any setbacks, feeling as strong as I do, it's finally good to just be close to being part of it again."
The 26-year-old started 27 games for the Twins last season, putting up a 3.54 ERA and a 12-9 record in his second year with the Major League club. Through 173 innings pitched, Diamond gave up 17 home runs and 31 walks, and he struck out 90 batters.
Though he will likely be unavailable for the first week or so of the regular season, Diamond should be ready for action by April 12, when the Twins take on the New York Mets at Target Field.
Melissa Couto is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.