Minnesota Twins' Alexi Casilla (12) and Ben Revere walk out of the dugout after a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore, Saturday, April 7, 2012. Baltimore won 8-2.
Patrick Semansky, Associated Press - Ap
Souhan: Angst, not hope, springs eternal for Twins
- Article by: JIM SOUHAN
- Star Tribune
- April 9, 2012 - 11:31 AM
BALTIMORE - Baltimore appeared to be an ideal place for the Twins to open the 2012 season. The Orioles play in a beautiful ballpark, a short flight from Florida. They also rank as one of the worst and most dysfunctional franchises in the recent history of American professional sports.
Instead of taking advantage of Orioles hospitality, the Twins were presented with an ominous reminder of how quickly a franchise can implode. The Orioles, whose highest ambition is to escape last place, swept the Twins, holding them to five runs in three games with three starting pitchers who never have been confused with Justin Verlander.
The Twins lost 99 games in 2011 and are 0-3 this season. They had not been swept in Baltimore since 2002. When they hold their home opener today, the mood of their fans will be far different than the first two home openers at Target Field.
In 2010, Minnesotans celebrated the opening of a beautiful ballpark that promised to suport a generation of winning teams. In 2011, Minnesotans celebrated another in a long line of division champions. Today, Twins fans with knowledge of what the Orioles used to be should be filled with apprehension.
A few decades ago the Orioles ranked as baseball's model franchise. They developed stars, executed prescient trades, took pride in fundamentals and embraced their litany of likeable Hall of Famers. As recently as 1997, they won 98 games and advanced to the American League Championship Series.
Since then, they have strung together 14 consecutive losing seasons. They have wasted money on lousy free agents and waited for a wave of young players to reinvigorate the franchise, and they still are waiting.
Today, the Twins, another former model franchise, will hold their home opener in a beautiful new ballpark, following a foreboding season, and a foreboding weekend.
"We went wire to wire in '97,'' said Jim Palmer, a Hall of Famer for the great Orioles of the '60s and '70s who is now a team broadcaster. "Then the Yankees got the YES Network. We had the highest payroll in baseball in '97. Then the Yankees got better, and the Orioles slipped. ...''
It can happen that fast.
Last year on Opening Day, the Twins could celebrate a nine-year stretch in which they played in at least a one-game playoff in seven of the previous nine seasons. Those were the good old days, when losing to the Yankees in the playoffs constituted a crisis.
Including the last day of the 2010 regular season, the Twins are 63-106 in meaningful games, and their manager sounds worried.
"We left spring training swinging really good; it just didn't' carry here,'' Ron Gardenhire said. "We've just got to go home now and try to get some momentum going at home. It's obviously not good.''
Following their supposedly soft weekend against Baltimore, the Twins will face five consecutive American League powers, as if to remind them how far they are from contention.
"Regardless of the amount of money you spend, you can play better than the Orioles have played,'' Palmer said. "That's the easy excuse. We've made a lot of bad decisions with drafts, and now Tampa Bay is your model.
"If you have pitching and you can change the culture, which is what [Rays manager] Joe Maddon has done and we're trying to do here now, you can still win. You don't have to outspend everybody. But it doesn't hurt.''
Today at Target Field, the Twins will introduce a roster that has been remodeled and a payroll that has been reduced by $15 million. They will introduce a team that, before it proves it can win, must prove it can make fundamental plays.
"It's nice to get home,'' Gardenhire said. "Unfortunately, you'd have liked to win a game or two here. You'd come home with a little bit better atmosphere in our clubhouse.
"Going home always should make you feel a little bit better, getting in front of our fans, so we'll see.''
On this Opening Day, pomp and circumstance will be accompanied by angst.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org
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