This should be a good baseball town by now. Two World Series championships in the past 23 years, five division titles in the past eight seasons, and a ballpark that stands as a shrine to the game and its city should make Minneapolis a Midwestern baseball mecca.

The next step in our development as a baseball town will be the realization of the new breed of fan that baseball is not football.

If you want to follow what is truly "The Beautiful Game," you need to realize that just because the joint is sold out every night and interest in the franchise stands at an all-time high doesn't mean that this has suddenly become the NFL, where every game determines the course of seasons and careers.

Sunday afternoon, Ron Gardenhire made two sensible decisions. He gave Denard Span his first day off of the season and used Joe Mauer at DH to rest his legs.

Then the Twins lost 7-3, and you would have thought that Brad Childress had just rested Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson in the NFC Championship Game. There were even fans standing near the press box yelling at reporters that they had been ripped off by being forced to watch a Twins game without Span in the lineup.

"I went to Justin Morneau's [casino night charity] event, and everybody was asking, 'What the heck happened?'" Span said. "They were telling me, 'We came to watch you play!' It actually flattered me a little."

I tried to ask Gardenhire about the pressure he may feel to play his starters during home games. He was not flattered. Apparently assuming I was second-guessing him, he quickly became defensive and said: "You see, I don't pay attention to that. Why would I sense it? The only time I sense it is when you say it. ...

"I can't pay attention to that. The same people were complaining that Denard wasn't getting a day off and was playing every day. So I don't manage by that. I manage by what my guys need and by what I know. That's the way I do things. I protect my players."

Right answer, wrong attitude. Gardenhire's strength as a manager is his ability to stay attuned to what his key players need, in terms of time off, praise and criticism. In arguing that he doesn't listen to public perception, he sounded hyper-sensitive.

I actually agree with Gardenhire resting his players. In fact, if you were going to criticize his handling of playing time, you could argue that Mauer, Span and Morneau could use more time off, not less.

Every manager worth his sunflower seeds knows that wearing down key players in June is a sure way to lose a pennant in September.

"When you have the attendance that we've had, the expectations that we've had coming into the season, more people are following us, more people nationally are following us, more people are coming to the games to follow us, so the reaction doesn't shock me," outfielder Michael Cuddyer said. "The average Joe just doesn't realize what goes into playing every single day. Denard hadn't had a day off all year, and he deserved it and needed it. This is how you manage your team over 162 games."

Span said: "You need the break more mentally than physically. But I think fans feel like, 'Every time I come to this stadium Adrian Peterson better be on the field and he better get the ball 25 times.'"

That's not how baseball works. A few reminders:

• Baseball players need days off. Think back to Morneau wearing down at the end of last season.

• Mauer's knees must be preserved if the Twins are going to do anything in September, and possibly October.

• Sometimes baseball teams need to risk losing a game in June to preserve their chances of winning later in the season.

• Every team, even the Yankees, has to make use of its bench and farm system to get through the season. Haven't you heard of Francisco Cervelli and Juan Miranda?

You want to offer a fair second-guess of Gardenhire? Ask why Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert are batting second.

When it comes to the manager giving his best players days off, you have to remember that the game you bought tickets to is not the Super Bowl, and that in this sport it's OK if your Tarvaris Jackson gets to play once in a while.

Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. •