Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
Well, we got the Papa John's 50 percent discount Wednesday because the Twins won the night before, so the household pizzas really did have Josh Willingham's name on them. And we'll probably hit Leeann Chin in the next few days because those ticket stubs from a victory are good for 2-for-1 deals for a week. Combine those deals with the almost half-price seats in the Legends Club that we picked up for the Willingham walk-off, and Twins tickets are still a great value, don't you think?
At least in a coupon-clipping sense.
We were ready to be really frustrated on Tuesday. Remember how they were hitless in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position going into the ninth, and then -- after getting the first two guys on base -- Ben Revere popped out bunting and Joe Mauer came within an shifted infield of adding to his GIDP (grounded into double play) total.
And then Willingham made it all go away -- and came back the next day, with his kids in the stands, to drive in three of the Twins four runs in the Liriano/Burnett/Gray shutout of troubled Oakland.
Back to Tuesday's game, though. More than anything else, it was a game that made me wonder about the Twins' future. How will the twins continue to keep fans engaged and buying tickets through the struggles the organization has brought upon itself? The promise of discounted food only goes so far, after all. The most noticeable thing about the Tuesday game was how empty the stands were by the time Willingham hit his home run.
The announced crowd was 31,781; the actual crowd was smaller and I'm sure the number of people in their seats at game's end was no more than half of that number.
People took in their seven or eight innings and took off. Given the 2012 product, I totally understand -- although we did wonder why so many fans stayed through the top of the ninth and then left before the Twins had their final at-bat. I mean, if you're in for that long, you might as well stay to the end.
Unsouring the fan base will be a major challenge. What will the Twins do with the $23 million (or more) that almost certainly will come off the payroll during or after the 2012 season. (Those are the contracts of Carl Pavano, Jason Marquis, Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano.) What else could be freed up when the Twins become sellers at the trading deadlines in July and August? And can the Twins use that money as wisely as they did in picking up Willingham and, to a lesser extent, Ryan Doumit?
Knowing that others -- Justin Morneau, Nick Blackburn, Jamey Carroll and Tsuyoshi Nishioka -- are signed only through 2013, will the Twins combine their richness in next week's amateur draft with a payroll bump for next season to juice the schedule for recovery?
Here's a list of potential free agents for 2013. It's an interesting list to play with, and sometimes you (you = Pohlads) need to spend more than you might like to keep people buying those $7 beers in the short term and bringing back those who are drifting away.
I have confidence in Terry Ryan's ability to make more good decisions than bad ones: Willingham + Doumit + Carroll + Burton > Marquis + failures sniffed out during spring training. I want to have confidence in the revamped front office to do better in developing talent, a test that will be passed or failed by looking at draft results and the progress of players still a couple of years away from the majors.
It's an interesting time, even if it's not what most of us imagined for the Twins. It's also a dangerous time if things continue going so wrong.
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