Twins owner Jim Pohlad said he knew that when Target Field opened in 2010, it would be a big draw and that attendance would skyrocket. But he also was aware that continued interest in the team in the years to follow would have less to do with the ballpark than with winning.
The Twins drew 3.2 million fans that opening season and went to the playoffs. In 2011 they drew 3.1 million fans but lost 99 games. In 2012 the attendance dropped to 2.7 million and they lost 96 games. In 2013 it was 2.4 million and the team lost 96 games, again. Last year, even with the All-Star Game at Target Field, they drew 2.2 million fans and lost 92 games. Their attendance was good for eighth out of 15 teams in the American League.
Pohlad was asked if he is worried about attendance going into this season.
“That is our own fault,” he said in a recent interview. “We’ve hurt our brand by four years of losing. We’re still relatively happy about the season ticket sales, considering the fact that we’ve had four straight losing years.”
Pohlad said winning would be the only factor for attendance going forward.
“We compounded that problem by four straight losing seasons,” he said. “Yes, the shiny new stadium tends to go away after a few years, but when you lose too, that really hurts.”
This offseason the Twins signed Ervin Santana to the highest free-agent contract in team history at $54 million for four years. They also brought back popular right fielder Torii Hunter on a one-year, $10.5 million deal.
Pohlad says that there is hope that the team, which finished fifth in the American League in runs scored last season, will make a marked improvement in 2015.
“We expect a lot from the team every year, and the last four years it hasn’t delivered at all,” Pohlad said. “But we’re optimistic, and I think little by little building a really good, solid foundation, and with our young players we expect a lot, yes.”
Asked if it would be more disappointing to post another bad year after increasing the payroll to $101 million, he said: “We have been disappointed for four years; I don’t equate it to payroll. There is a lot of disappointment. But this year if we don’t improve and aren’t significantly better, yes I’ll be disappointed, but so will [General Manager] Terry [Ryan] and so will the rest of the organization.
“Payroll is a cycle, I think the payroll on a team is a cycle. You have a bunch of young players, they come up and the payroll is favorable during those years. The older they get the more the payroll escalates. Then if you have an issue, like we had with the flow of young players coming up, then you have to go out and maybe increase payroll a little more.”
Excited for Molitor
Pohlad knows how disappointing the past four years have been for Twins fans and the organization, but he said last year, despite the record, showed a silver lining.
“I think last year was a really good, productive year for a lot of young players,” he said. “I think everybody thinks that this year we’ll have more young players and the young players from last year should improve, also.”
Pohlad is also excited about the addition of Paul Molitor as manager. Pohlad said Molitor was the best choice to replace Ron Gardenhire.
“There is no doubt, we feel we picked the best of the best,” he said. “We had a lot of great candidates and I think we picked the best one.”
Gophers spring injuries
The Gophers football team started spring practice this past week. Coach Jerry Kill said there are some key players who will be limited in practice and some who will miss it all together.
“It’s one of those things where we have to be careful,” Kill said. “Hank Ekpe, our starting defensive tackle, is coming off knee surgery, he’ll do some things but will very, very limited. Linebacker Nick Rallis will not be able to go through spring ball. Jarred Weyler, an offensive lineman coming off knee surgery, he’ll get to do a few things, but we’ll be careful with him.
“Duke Anyanwu will participate in the spring, we may start off a little slow with him. Isaiah Gentry, the receiver who had knee surgery, we’ll anticipate in the spring, which is exciting for us, we need that. Jonah Pirsig will get a little bit of a slow start with the hamstring situation. Josh Campion has gone through most of the offseason but he has had a little bit of a back situation so he may be slowed up at the beginning of the spring. … We had a lot of injuries of kids that didn’t play this season and they’re still going through rehab on some of the things they’re doing. We have to be smart but we still have to get a lot of things done.”
There are some disadvantages to not having these players available, as they, like everyone else on the team, need the work. But on the other hand, their absence will give some young players a chance to get additional work in and provide added depth when the season starts this fall.
• Devan Dubnyk is 18-3-1 since joining the Wild, and he has 27 victories on the season between here and Arizona. His previous career high came with Edmonton in 2011-12 when he went 20-20-3. His 1.60 goals-against average with the Wild would be by far the best of his career. His career mark is 2.74, and for comparison’s sake the NHL leader in goals-against average this season entering Saturday was Montreal’s Carey Price at 1.92. For the season, Dubnyk is at 2.09 overall. Maybe Wild goalies coach Bob Mason should get a lot of credit for Dubnyk’s success since his arrival.
• Bobby Knight spoke to me about how much respect he has for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who played for Knight at Army and was an assistant coach under Knight. “[The Blue Devils have] always been good when Mike has been there coaching and I’m sure they are this year, too,” he said. “What little I’ve seen of them I like. They play well on the defensive end and they’ve been getting stronger and stronger as the year has gone along.”
• Twins GM Terry Ryan had this to say about Ricky Nolasco, who posted a 6-12 record in his first year with the Twins and struggled to live up to his $49 million contract. “He came into camp [this year] looking physically good,” Ryan said. “He’s the one guy that has dropped quite a few pounds, but we need to get him right and get him back to the point of what he looked like with the Marlins and the Dodgers when they had him. He’s an important piece to this club and I think he has taken it upon himself. He wants to change people’s minds and I would hope that’s the thing that happens here. We certainly could use his experience, his innings, his history and all that stuff. I don’t think there’s any reason we can’t get him going in the right direction.”