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Souhan: Plenty of good to discover in watching bad baseball

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • May 26, 2012 - 10:18 PM

With the Twins falling apart for a second consecutive season, those who love baseball need to find a new way to enjoy the game.

You've come to the right place. I'm an expert on the joys of bad ball.

The team I followed in my youth, the Baltimore Orioles, is trying to end a string of 14 losing seasons.

The team I followed as a young adult, the Texas Rangers, thought of Pete Incaviglia as a franchise player.

The team I covered as a beat writer, the Twins of 1993-97, was so hopeless that the commissioner thought about eliminating the franchise.

Watching so many losses taught me how to appreciate baseball on the short end of the fungo:

1. Bad teams are more fun

The Yankees are the source of reverence or hatred; the Cubs are everyone's punch line. Rooting for the Cubs is more fun.

Derek Jeter is a great player. He's also no fun. Know who was funny? Alex Cole and Butch Huskey, both outfielders on horrible Twins teams.

The former dressed like Shaft. The latter once ran face-first into a fence without slowing down, prompting Kirby Puckett to adorn the outfield wall with the kind of tape the police use to outline dead bodies.

Mets fans may idolize the 1969 team that won the World Series, but they truly love original Mets such as Marvelous Marv Throneberry, who helped his team lose 120 games.

2. More room at a great park

Take it from someone who used to sneak into Arlington Stadium after they stopped taking tickets: Empty ballparks are like found money.

Tickets are cheaper. Parking is cheaper. You get to enjoy big-league baseball, with elbow room and without traffic jams.

Fans think the Twins wanted Target Field so they could fund a winner, but if it was that simple the Pittsburgh Pirates would be a dynasty. In reality, the Twins wanted Target Field so the franchise could still be relevant when the team wasn't. Mission accomplished.

3. Why watch the game?

One of my favorite things about baseball is that being a fan doesn't require anger. Ever watch a basketball crowd? These people pay good money to scream for traveling on every possession. Ever watch a football crowd? They think they're at war.

When the park is empty, you can bring a book to the bleachers or wander the concourse. You can sunbathe. You can arrive late or leave early without guilt.

4. Watch for greatness

Baseball is a game of individual skill and achievement. Paul Molitor's 3,000th hit was not diminished by his team's record at the time he got it. Neither was Scott Erickson's no-hitter.

Somebody has to win the World Series every year; there is no guarantee that someone will reach 500 home runs or pitch a perfect game. If you're at the ballpark, you could see something historic.

5. Watch the kids

Baseball is inscrutable. Nobody knew a Rule 5 draftee like Johan Santana would become the best pitcher in the game, and nobody knew that Torii Hunter would become an All-Star in his 10th season in professional baseball. The kid you see today could be the star of tomorrow.

6. Promising math

Watch a bad NFL team or college football team, and you might see three victories in a span of 365 days.

As horrid as the 2011 Twins were, they celebrated 63 times in the regular season and 20 times during spring training. Bad baseball teams can win any given day, making them more interesting than the dregs of any other sport.

7. Sheer star power

Have you seen Justin Verlander pitch in person? This season might provide your best chance. Tickets will be cheap, and Verlander is about even money to pitch a perfect game.

8. Enjoy the crowd

Bad baseball clears out the riff-raff and leaves the ballpark half-filled with people who enjoy the ambience and history of the game.

So buy a cheap ticket and grab yourself a section of seats. If you watch closely, something interesting is bound to happen. Eventually.

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. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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