We went to our last baseball game of 2011 last night. It was a nice night to sit outdoors and we may have watched Matt Capps and Joe Nathan throw their final pitches as Twins. In Nathan's case, that's a sad but understandable thing. In Capps case, not so much.
Among other things, I'm also guessing we saw Rene Rivera for the last time and I hope that in 2047, when someone asks me on my 90th birthday about the weirdest stuff I ever saw during a baseball game, I will remember to tell them about the time Rivera threw toward second base -- and into center field -- when the runner on first wasn't trying to steal.
I am still on the side that says the young players who have been getting bonus time with the Twins are not going to be the ones that make them better in 2012. I see utility players and long relievers, which doesn't cure a team that ails in the infield, outfield, starting rotation and back of the bullpen.
Despite the sample size, I am mostly intrigued by Chris Parmelee, who has put up good numbers and handles the bat in a way I wouldn't expect from someone who got struck for an extra year at Class AA -- all the more when Class AAA Rochester wasn't exactly brimming with talent to hold him back. I'll take the charitable (delusional?) view and allow that maybe the Twins didn't want to expose him to the Red Wings' train wreck and that spending time at New Britain with the old Twins outfielder Tom Brunansky did him more good.
In the minors, Parmelee spent a little bit of time in right field, but the Twins use of him solely at first base tells me that being an outfielder isn't an option. I guess, for now, he'd get a season in a revamped Rochester environment and serve as insurance for Justin Morneau's health.
But there is a not a single other position where a young player provides such insurance right now. Ben Revere has neither the arm nor the offense to play significantly for a contending team. Again, I want to think those are things that can be improved -- his arm a little bit and his offense quite a bit -- with a season at Rochester while the Twins mine for proven players and make a deal with Cuddyer or Kubel.
The dealing is going to be the interesting part about this winter. Jim Pohlad went on record this week saying Bill Smith will be back and that ownership won't stuff its pockets with the money saved from departing veterans.
The off-season boils down to two questions, from which there are all manner of follow-up questions:
*Can the less-than-fit from 2011 -- Mauer, Morneau and Span -- be at 100 percent health and play at 100 percent of the level we expect?
*Can Smith do a 180-degree turn from the disastrous decisions that were made leading up to this season?
Target Field has had its honeymoon period. Being named 2011 Sports Facility of the Year, which the Twins have been touting more than I'm comfortable with, is warm spit in an ocean of losing. As a season-ticket holder, I recently completed a survey about the "fan experience," and used the comments section to tell them that the best way to improve the fan experience would be to field a better ball club. I used some of these: !!!
(Having better TC Bear scoreboard singalongs is No. 2 on my list, by the way.)
One of the things that I hope I bring to this blog is that I approach the Twins as a paying customer -- one who makes a pretty substantial payment to their business. I'm not coming from the press box or a broadcasting booth, where my job would be to be either a dispassionate writer or a voice of the club. (I've done the dispassionate "win or lose, I'm just here to tell a good story" beat-writer thing, and it's a vital voice to counter the propagandists.)
I'm astute enough to know that a chunk of the Target Field crowd is there more for the experiences that go beyond the field. The foursome in front of us last night arrived in the third inning, left in the seventh, went through the ball park food groups and had a fine time. I don't think they're worried about Revere's arm or the middle-infield situation.
I also like Target Field's comforts. But that's the sizzle around the meat.
Because it's baseball, I'm coming back for more. That's the grip of a great game.
For my money, I expect better than what we got in 2011.