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.
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!
Tuesday could have simply been a bad day for Minnesota sports on the playing field and in the arena. The Twins fell behind early and lost by three runs, finishing the night when Joe Mauer struck out with the bases loaded. The Wild lost 1-0 on a goal caused by a misplay. The Timberwolves lost again in the late-night obscurity of a West Coast game on FSN Plus.
Yet those failures will likely be forgotten well before the Twins' ham-handed effort to extract up to $900 per game from a select group of fans for the privilege of entering Target Field 45 minutes before their peers to "watch a majority of Twins batting practice."
I won't bore you with the old-school arguments about how getting to games early enough to watch batting practice used to be part of the game-day deal for some fans. Or even the new-school suggestion that letting people into the outfield seats 45 minutes early from time to time, and opening a concession stand or two, could have brought in more in concession revenue and maybe even have generated some good will.
I will take the Twins at their word that this bright idea was killed because "the idea was not fully vetted across the Twins organization," as the team's never-mind press release stated. That phrase can mean anything.
So does the statement by a Twins official, as reported by startribune.com and others yesterday, that "about half the teams in the majors have some sort of early entry program."
That phrase can mean anything. Here's why:
If you pay $14.95 to become a Red Sox Nation card holder, you can enter Fenway Park earlier than other fans any time you have a game ticket -- and watch batting practice from on top of the Green Monster. The $14.95 also gets you free MLB.com GameDay audio, a discount at the team store and some restaurants near Fenway, and some other stuff. I think I'd buy that one.
If you're a Baltimore Orioles season-ticket holder, you can enter Orioles Park at Camden Yards 30 minutes before the gates open to the rest of the fans.Yes, it's an apples-and-oranges comparison to what the Twins were offering for a few hours, but it should dissuade you of the idea that a bunch of MLB teams are already doing what the Twins had proposed.
If you really want to pay money to watch batting practice, the Atlanta Braves will let you do it before night games -- for $60 during the week and $75 on weekends. The Braves, though, let you watch batting practice from a fenced-off area on the field behind home plate.
That's where my research, which was almost as painful as watching the first inning of Tuesday night's loss, stopped.
I give the Twins a lot of credit for creating an experience at Target Field that is overwhelmingly fan friendly. You can spend a reasonable amount, by my standards, and have a very good time at the ballpark. In fact, the "fan experience" is one of the things that's supposed to see the Twins to some degree through their troubled times on the field. Off the field, the Twins do a lot of the little things right.
What the Twins did on Tuesday, unfortunately, was to undo a chunk of the good will they have created. The "never-mind" press release didn't really do the trick. Not even close. If you have a few minutes, you can check out some of the 138 comments on the story from our website, including those posted after the vetting was fully completed.
I'll be interested in what they do to recover from this gaffe. It shouldn't be hard to figure out something.
There are no guarantees about what they'll be called heading into the third week of the baseball season, but going into the second, the local major league baseball team can be called the "first-place Minnesota Twins" without lying or hallucinating. I would suggest that in all of your conversations from now until it no longer applies, you refer to them -- both here and in all of your baseball chatter -- as "the first-place Minnesota Twins."
Or "first-place Twins" for short.
If you need a qualifier, you can always say they're the "first-place Twins, with 156 games left to play in the regular season," or something like that. (Yes, I know they're tied for first with the White Sox, but "tied for first-place Twins..." is a bit much after you've said it three or four times in the coffee line.
We might as well have some fun as long as it lasts, whether it's through the rest of the day, the day of the week ... or whenever. Anyone who has watched enough baseball knows that it would be foolish to read much into the opening two series. The first-place Twins are not going to keep up this pace and win 108 games any more than Aaron Hicks will finish the season with his current .077 batting average or Joe Mauer will keep up his current pace and strike out 177 times if he plays 150 games.
Not to be a thrower of cold water, but a trip or three through the starting rotation means little. You need only go back a half-dozen years to Ramon Ortiz, who won four of his first five starts with a 2.57 ERA -- and was gone from the 2007 Twins rotation forever after five more starts in which he put together an ERA near 11 and put on base more than two runners per inning.
I'm not going to be the one to put a end date on your fun.
However, I'll suggest these first-place Twins might be better than we thought -- especially in a league that could feature more struggling teams than suspected. Are the Blue Jays, for example, headed for a replay of the promise-and-crash that enveloped the Miami Marlins last season? Are the old-and-injured Yankees toast? Is Oakland that good?
I'm not putting a yes or no tag on any of those questions, but the first week of this season has provided good reason to come back for the second.
The first-place Twins came through their first week winning two of three games apiece from teams that went to the 2012 postseason. They rallied from behind, held on to some small leads and exiled Tyler Robertson to Rochester after his ill-fated pitch to Chris Davis on Friday afternoon, which came on top of an unpromising spring training and a mediocre 2012, in which there simply weren't better alternatives.
I am willing to suggest that the current bullpen will prove to be a better collection and there will be more choices in the starting rotation than the 2012 last-place Twins, in which appearance-by-default treated us to pitchers you would prefer seeing in the other team's uniform. I am also willing to bet on this year's middle infield play to be superior to last season's.
Ii is no disrespect to 39-year-old Jamey Carroll when I say that I hope he has half the number of plate appearances as the career-high 537 that he had in 2012. I mean no disrespect to Denard Span and Ben Revere, but I'd rather be watching Aaron Hicks and Chris Parmelee right now.
I don't expect anyone in the front office to be raising their arms in triumph right now, but I'm looking forward to seeing how the collection of modest parts that Terry Ryan has collected -- Florimon, Escobar, Ramirez, Pressly and Roenicke -- among others, will be judged when the season reaches the quarter and halfway marks. (I still wish there had been a significant help-now acquisition over the winter, but reliving that battle can only lead to a concussion.)
I am happy we're one week into the season and Ron Gardenhire's job security isn't an issue.
Late-afternoon game today. Who's leaving work a bit early?
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.
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