Sometime during a nearly four-hour, nine-inning Twins game last night, we came to a realization: about three decades after we seriously began following baseball and watching it on TV, it has come full-circle.
Or maybe more appropriately, it is a perfect arc.
We grew up, as some of you know, in Grand Forks, N.D. This was back before there were a million cable TV channels. We had cable. We also had a black and white TV (this was not normal). We got about 13 channels, two of which were from Canada (hey Hockey Night in Canada!).
One of the channels was “The Superstation,” WTBS (as it was known then) from Atlanta. That channel showed just about every Braves game. And so a Braves fan was born. We started getting into it during the tail end of 1983, just in time to see the Braves narrowly lose the division. We picked it up in 1984, but we really dug in in 1985. From 1985 to 1990, six seasons when we were between the ages of 8 and 13, the Braves’ BEST year ended with a 72-89 record (1986). Four seasons had at least 95 losses, including the particularly awful 106-loss season in 1988.
Of the nearly 1,000 games the Braves played in that span, we would estimate we saw at least 90 percent of the televised games, either when they happened or on VCR. This is a sad, sad statistic. Sabermetric folks are still trying to figure out how to categorize this, but our Time Well Spent Above Replacement was not good.
We all know about 1991, of course – the worst-to-first resurgence, a World Series whose outcome we cannot recall, followed by a string of great regular seasons, multiple playoff heartbreaks and the lone 1995 title, which was won with great starting pitching and because we adhered to wearing lucky clothing.
That World Series title came during our sophomore year in college at the U of M. As these things happen, gradually our viewing habits shifted away from the Braves and toward the hometown Twins since that was where we now lived.
We started going to Twins games during the Days of Becker and Stahoviak, but we didn’t make the full transition until the 2001 Twins genuinely piqued our curiosity.
What followed, of course, was about a decade of very good regular-season baseball – six division titles and a near-miss from 2002-2010. So basically we had about two decades of following good teams – one each with the Braves and Twins.
And now here we are. These current Twins remind us, sadly, in so many ways of those mid-to-late-80s Braves teams. Josh Willingham and Lonnie Smith could have a fielding contest in left field, and none of us would be better off for it (Smith was known as “Skates” because he looked like he was playing left on roller skates … Willingham we shall call “The Plow” because try as he might, that best describes his speed and turning radius out there). The pitching is a mess in both cases (if you think the Twins lack an ace, consider Rick Mahler was the most dependable Braves starter of that era BY FAR).
Also: Twins reliever Josh Roenicke is the son of 1987-88 Braves outfielder Gary Roenicke.
But there was also a certain charm in the hopelessness. Every victory was to be savored. We remember journeyman reliever Charlie Kerfeld weaseling his way out of a bases loaded, no-out jam to preserve a victory in 1990 and being euphoric. (We also remember having a bad flu that same season and alarmingly having a vision while watching a game that the next hitter was going to hit the first pitch off the third base bag, and having it come true).
Some people are suckers for underdogs. Maybe we go beyond that and root for the truly hopeless.
In any event, 2016 will be the 25th anniversary of the 1991 Braves. Maybe these Twins are charting a similar course – bottoming out, playing a bizarre mix of established veterans, youngsters and castoffs – while launching themselves toward better days.
Time will tell. For now, three decades fit into a neat arc.