Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
Watching the Twins broadcasters after Thursday night's frustrating-for-all loss to Detroit was a little bit like listening to me talk about the basketball teams I used to coach -- the elementary school team in the Golden Valley/Crystal Park and Rec League and the sixth-grade B team I coached in Hopkins. After a loss, we'd chatter about the effort and look for the bright spots -- winning the fourth quarter against the tough kids from Eden Prairie or how we'd run some good offense and "did everything but make the shot."
That's how it should be when you're coaching preteens.
The Twitterverse was a bit cranky after the Twins blew that lead in Detroit.
One of my friends tweeted: "After 9 straight losses, this is where we'll find out what kind of Twins fans we are. Does that represent the kind of person we are too."
To which someone responded: "I don't think that expressing frustration and expecting those who run the Twins to do better constitutes being a bad fan."
When Bert Blyleven tweeted this afterward:
Now that was a tough loss 4 the Twins. Good thing about baseball: tomorrow is another day to play the beautiful game of baseball. Go Twins— Bert Blyleven (@BertBlyleven28) May 24, 2013
Someone responded: "Oh c'mon, Bert, the team sucks! When Molitor takes over, I hope you are the pitching coach."
And so it went. In the best of times, some true fans hold animosity against those who jump on the bandwagon, which is silly. In bad times, they sometimes talk smack at each other, which deflects from the real problem of how incredibly poorly the Twins have been playing since the start of their last homestand.
That 2-7 stretch followed by a clean sheet of defeat on the first half of the current 10-game road trip has landed the Twins solidly at the bottom of the AL Central, with the only worse record in the league belonging to pathetic Houston. In the name of looking at the present and future, I called a personal halt at the start of the season to writing about how the mistakes of the last few years had created a team for which there was little hope.
"Kansas City North" was the term I used a few times, and Twins fans are getting a first-hand look at what that means. We used to watch the Royals talk about how better stuff was ahead and then they'd get off a respectable start -- followed by a tumble to the bottom. That's exactly what's been happening to the 2013 Twins, who worked so hard to be respectable for the first five weeks that little appears to be left for the next five months.
(Quick aside: I know I'm not the only one a bit skeptical about all of the optimism being directed toward the Twins of the future who are currently playing their way through the lower minors. Hopeful, yes. Convinced, no.)
The awful starting pitching has begotten tired relief pitching. The poor pitching has created an overall sense of hopelessness, leading some fans to bicker about who should be called up from Rochester among the collection of players currently in last place in the International League.
The biggest frustration there is the perceived "Anthony Slama treatment" of pitcher Kyle Gibson by Twins management, which has called up Samuel Deduno and P.J. Walters as current stopgaps. We've heard buckets about how Gibson has thrown shutouts in two of his last four starts, one against a team with a record almost as bad as Houston's (and the other also against a sub-.500 team), and little about the other two.
In the other two, Gibson gave up nine runs and 18 hits in 7 2/3 innings against two of the league's better teams.
For the Twins to seek more consistency from Gibson is understandable.
For fans to expect (and have expected) more competence from the Twins is, too.
So the Twins are excitedly exclaiming "Game on!" for tonight and expecting however many fans with tickets to brave the freezing temperatures and winds of winter's rotten return. They'll have the heaters turned up and free hot chocolate and coffee. An adventure for those who dare! Definitely an "Explore Minnesota" moment for those watching on TV from elsewhere!
I checked today and the Twins no longer have the policy that used to allow fans to exchange tickets up to 48 hours before first pitch for a game later in the season. It was a policy from the Metrodome years and, understandably, would not have been practical at Target Field when the team was selling out game after game during the honeymoon seasons.
Not that I want to make a practice of telling the Twins how to handle their affairs, but...
I'm hoping that someone at 1 Twins Way has sent one of their underlings to the print shop today to get certificates -- that would be handed to fans as they leave Target Field tonight -- letting them come back for a game at no charge.
Give 'em a half-dozen dates to choose from and tell 'em they have to redeem the certificates within a couple of weeks.
Even make 'em stay through five innings to qualify.
And, what the heck, when they come back for their free game, let 'em in an hour earlier than everyone else so they can watch batting practice!
Those of us from the smallest crowd ever at Target Field who were still in our seats in the ninth inning weren't expecting much. After all, Gardy had used his entire skinny bench and there was no choice but for Eduardo Escobar to bat. That's the Eduardo Escobar who brought a .217 career batting average to the plate -- complete with more strikeouts (32) than hits (30) -- from his previous two short stints in the majors.
With two on, one out and the Twins trailing by one, you wished that Gardy and Terry Ryan had opted for one more bat on the bench instead of Wilken Ramirez, who had driven in the other run, and the small-ballers Escobar, Jamey Carroll and Darin Mastroianni.
Escobar walked to the plate and I said aloud, "Prove my cynicism unfounded, Escobar!"
Who would have thought that two full games into the season, the longest ball hit by a Twins player would come off the bat on Escobar, a little guy taking a big-guy swing that would have gotten him chastised -- "trying to do too much" -- if the ball hadn't kept sailing through the wind toward the wall in left-center -- and the Tigers outfielders hadn't been doing their best Delmon Youngs in pursuit.
The ball skipped against the wall and the Twins went all giddy on the field. A couple of years back, when they were on the outside of the division title chase in July -- just before starting their miserable slide -- the Twins beat Cleveland in similar walk-off fashion and the guys were chastised by some for a disproportionate-looking celebration. Someone got their jersey buttons ripped, if I remember correctly, and the wise consensus was that the guys should have acted like they'd been there and winning in that manner was no big deal.
Things have changed a lot. The Twins ran on the field and pounded one another in celebration. Josh Willingham gave Escobar the first big hug and Pedro Florimon almost jumped over both of them with a gleeful leap. Phil Coke walked toward the Tigers dugout alone and talking to himself, far different demeanor from when he retired Justin Morneau and Ryan Doumit to end the season opener.
On a chilly late afternoon, it all seemed appropriate because this group of Twins hadn't been there before.
And anyone who says they were anticipating "Eduardo Escobar, off the wall, walk-off double" is a liar.
Day game today. Enjoy.
A few scattered thoughts, thinking as a fan here:
*I watched the last few innings of Yu Darvish's almost-perfect game Tuesday night and was struck by all the Houston fans who were rooting against their team. The guy behind home plate, in the Astros cap, doing exaggerated strike-three calls, really stood out.
Here are my questions for you: Is that a natural reaction to seeing a rare event? Did the Houston fans jump ship because their team is that bad? What would you do if a pitcher would take a perfect game into the late innings against the Twins? (And what did'ja think of seeing A.J. Pierzynski catching Darvish? Or are you finally past thinking about A.J.?)
*Baseball on the radio is a great thing, and the XM Radio and MLB At-Bat app get heavy use during the summer in the Section 219 world. On the bad days, there are a lot of words spoken that don't tell you much about what's going on. On the good days, you find Toronto's new team of Jerry Howarth and former Twins/Jays/Tigers pitcher Jack Morris.
Howarth was the Jays announcer when I was writing about the Twins and his demeanor (on and off mike) is the closest thing I know of to the late Herb Carneal. Listening to him with the crusty and opinionated Morris is a fun listen. For a fun side note about Howarth and Morris, which goes back to their minor league and college days, go here.
*While few people are expecting the Twins to be good, many of us are at least holding out hope that some of the fundamental soundness returns to the team. That was definitely not the case on Opening Day. What stood out most was Chris Parmelee's wild-swinging at-bat against wild-throwing Al Albuquerque with the bases loaded, two outs and a rally in motion in the seventh and Joe Mauer's inability to get down and block Josh Roenicke's wild pitch in the eighth that gave Detroit its final run.
And there were other things. Pedro Florimon's passive try to catch Mauer's throw to second that let Jhonny Peralta steal in the second inning, which led to a run, and Vance Worley's near-misplay on Victor Martinez's soft grounder in the third were two others that stood out. Also in the eighth, nobody covered third on Andy Dirks' sacrifice with runners on first and second -- a hard bunt between third and the mound that could well have resulted in a force.
I'm thinking about that in contrast to one play on the other side: Torii Hunter's clean, takeout slide of Brian Dozier on Miguel Cabrera's first-inning grounder. That went a long way toward Detroit scoring two runs in the top of the first instead of one. Against better teams -- and that would be most of 'em -- the Twins will have to be much more on their game than they were in the opener. They benefited from the decision to pull Justin Verlander after five innings, and we had reason to expect more against the Detroit relief crew than two runs and 12 left on base.
*The secondary ticket market is a great thing in troubled baseball times, especially if you're looking for good seats on short notice. The Section 219 household opener is today and we're in the Legends Club, third row -- at just over $19 per ticket. I'm not endorsing one vendor over another, but there are deals out there.
So the Twins named their Opening Day starter and he was a six-game winner in an injury-curtailed 2012 season. That's Vance Worley. And the Twins top pitcher from last season, Scott Diamond, will start 2013 on the disabled list in his comeback from arm issues that surfaced during the off-season.
And come Monday morning, the Twins will be tied for first place in the American League Central. We'll see if that lasts until sundown.
I've learned over the years to cut down on my blogging during spring training, which is one of the reasons Section 219 has taken a break during the Twins stay in Florida. There's little I can add from up here that can't be told better from reading the reports from our crew on the scene in Fort Myers and from our TwinsCentric crew.
That Jared Burton seemed to get lit up every time I listened for a few innings adds little to the discussion -- except nervousness, maybe. (On closer inspection, most of those were unearned runs.) I've learned over the years not to look at exhibition ERAs. Joe Nathan getting knocked around was Exhibit A; Dusty Hughes getting people out was Exhibit B.
Besides, February and March are kind of a busy time in my A-job of keeping this web site together. This last month or so, I've been living with Tubby, Percy, Gophers of many sports and all of the related excitement that comes with this time of year. One beauty of baseball is that it hits you smack in the face right when you emerge from the weeks when so many winter sports finish up in their haze of tournaments.
Plus, you can only be grumpy about stuff so many times and -- having reached my grumpy limit -- it's time to look ahead and try to get excited, or at least intrigued, about the flawed Twins.
I am prepared to look for the best, and I hope that feeling lasts. My list includes:
*Aaron Hicks. God bless Darin Mastroianni and the Puntonian hustle (without the head-first slides into first base) that he brings to the Twins. But if he had been the Opening Day starter in center field, it would have symbolized all that is wrong with the team's decline. I know that spring training can be filled with illusions, but I hope that Hicks isn't one of them.
*Tom Brunansky. Is it a problem when No. 2 on your hope list is a coach? I'm intrigued about whether Brunansky's approach to hitting leads to some improvement. We're not talking about helping Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau as much as lessening the feeling from the last couple of seasons that, on many days, the Twins were fielding a lineup in which several spots were being filled by players for whom a hit would be a happy accident.
*Joe Mauer. If felt like every time I watched or listened to part of a Twins or World Baseball Classic game, Mauer was on base or in the process of getting on base. That he has a combined .558 on-base percentage with the Twins and for Team USA this spring confirms that it almost wasn't an illusion. I am beyond the "how many home runs should Mauer hit" issue. I want Mauer to play every day -- somewhere in the lineup -- and have the kind of year in which we won't leave our seats or the TV when we know he's coming to bat.
*The middle infield. I want to believe that what Brian Dozier learned as a failed major league shortstop will help him become a successful major league second baseman. I will make no other comparison between Dozier and Torii Hunter except to cite that it took a couple of extra trips to the minors for Hunter to get it right. I want to believe that we won't cringe when Pedro Florimon comes to bat, although his spring training numbers do not fill me with hope. I do like that Dozier and Florimon are Nos. 1 and 2 in innings played in Florida. That statistic speaks to a commitment that I hope isn't being made in vain.
*Gardy. Toward the end of his managing years, Tom Kelly's frustration with his players was pretty evident. If you'd gone from managing two World Series winners to relying on Chad Allen, Scott Stahoviak and some of the others, you'd be miffed, too. So far, Ron Gardenhire hasn't gone that route. His spring training desire for Jim Thome was odd, but -- reading between the lines -- I hope it was his way of saying that he needed more offense on his bench. Demoting Drew Butera was a step in that direction. Now, if he can resist the temptation to carry 13 pitchers ... If he goes, I don't want him to go beaten down.
I'm starting the 2013 season prepared to have more hope than expectations. If you've read this blog, it hasn't always been a pretty journey to reach that place and, yes, it may make me a sucker. I promise not to turn aluminum foil into silver linings. I promise to try having fun while being realistic about what we're going to be asked to support at Target Field this season. I got my Section 219 tickets this week and I'm looking forward to using them.
After all, it's baseball.
|Vikings (4)||Twins news (12)|
|Bears (1)||Packers (1)|
|Off the field (2)||On the road (9)|
|Rookies (1)||Roster moves (2)|
|Trade talk (2)||Ron Gardenhire (63)|
|Target Field (46)||Twins fans (104)|
|Twins game coverage (19)||Twins management (80)|
|Twins offense (104)||Twins pitching (105)|
|Twins rumors (8)||Twins transactions (20)|
|Twins: From the Dome (4)||Adrian Peterson (1)|
|Bernard Berrian (1)||Brad Childress (1)|
|Brett Favre (2)||Brad Childress (1)|
|Twins postseason (26)||Farm System (15)|