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.
This is what the outfield seats at Target Field looked like a couple of innings into Wednesday's night miserable baseball game:
Now, let's give the Twins the benefit of the doubt. It drizzled all day, clearing up and turning into a fairly nice night an hour or so before game time. And school's in session and the Royals are in town and ... blah, blah, blah.
Friends, this isn't working. If you wanted to go on StubHub and buy tickets at the last minute Wednesday, you could find a batch of tickets for $.01. Yes, that's a penny (plus a 10 percent surcharge -- $.001? -- and the $5.45 download fee..) At around 4 p.m., there were four tickets in the Legends Club listed for $5 each. Yes, that's five as in one-two-three-four-FIVE.) There were 2,500 or so unsold tickets on the 'Hub, all of which counted as part of the "attendance" of 28,139. Basically, you could have taken advantage of the one-cent sale and sat pretty much where you wanted, as long as you looked like you belonged.
In our row of 20, it was me 'n' Julie and the delightful couple who have the seats next to use and a party of four further down the row of 20. By comparison, we were packed in. By the seventh inning, the front three rows next to us in Section 220 were empty. Totally empty. We counted nine people in the no-alcohol Section 311 early in the game and figured that one fell off the wagon when we counted only eight a couple of innings later.
Here's the problem for the Twins: Attendance figures are being padded significantly by tickets already sold for 2012.
How will they sell those tickets for 2013?
My friends, who have varying degrees of baseball intensity, weighed in when they saw the above photo posted on my Facebook page:
"Holy Cow, that is bleak."
"Wow, that's sparse."
"Glad to see the new stadium was worth the investment."
"Seems like only yesterday I was hearing how a new stadium would allow the Twins to 'stay competitive.' What they didn't add was 'with the Indians.' "
And here's the best-face scenario from a season-ticket holder friend:
"Only difference, and it's a big one, the Metropolitan Club is a nice place to hang out when the game is too frustrating. I hate to admit it, but tonight I was one of THOSE people who watched very little of the game but had a great night at the ballpark chatting with friends. So wrong. But so fun. I'm sorry Grandpa. I'm sure he's rolling in his grave!"
One other fan-experience observation: Last year, we wanted to go out to dinner before the game at the Town Ball Tavern, the nice bar/restaurant in the left-field corner. We knew we pretty much needed to be there when the gates opened in order to get seated, even though it was a weekday night and not a particularly high-interest game. Last night, we did the same thing, getting to the restaurant about an hour before game time and having a number of tables to choose from.
I'm not talking baseball right now. If you want to watch Ryan Doumit's three-error inning, go here and skip to the 1:20 mark. I'm talking about observations and soft data. The Twins appear to be doing a pretty good job of dispiriting their fans.
Obviously, fans who just want to support a winning team are staying away. The more observant have spent another season wondering about the team's injury management, its pitching and defensive failures and much of anything that speaks to things getting better soon. The most intense have wondered about roster moves, recently focusing their nth degree analysis on why reliever Anthony Slama isn't being given another chance to see if his minor-league dominance can translate to the majors and why Chris Parmelee wasn't used in the outfield at Rochester, if that's where he has the best chance to play for the Twins. And we all marveled at the Nishioka thing a few weeks back.
When you can frustrate everyone from the advanced-statistics posse to the guy who asks which league has the designated hitter -- a question we heard last night -- it's a sign that the fan base is going, going ...
Putting my money where my blog is, I'll tell you that I'm involved with three sets of season tickets: My scorecard for 2013 has me keeping one, cutting back on another and bailing on the third. Am I alone?
Right now, I think the Twins can win back most of their fans by going boldly into 2013 with a makeover that could take many shapes. If they tarry and pretend that all is good enough at 1Twins Way, they run the risk of being just another pretty ballpark with plenty of good seats available.
Let's not argue about using "the worst team in baseball" label when talking about the Twins. As long as they have the worst record in the league, that's how they'll be known here -- all the more because they have the worst record while playing in one of the two worst divisions in the majors. With some success in Chicago against the White Sox over the next few days, the Twins could upgrade their status to "worst team in the American League."
Keep your fingers crossed.
But here's something I like: The Rochester-to-Minneapolis shuttle has been in full effect over the last few weeks, and the Twins seem to have a clue when moves are being made. It took five starts for the Twins to act on the folly of the Jason Marquis signing, with his awful finale on Sunday dropping his statistics into Francisco Liriano territory.
My hope is they'll use the occasion to liberate Brian Duensing from the bullpen, where he appears to have cured himself of the extreme difficulties that he faced in 2011 against right-handed batters. I wouldn't be opposed to seeing the former Gophers pitcher Cole De Vries get a shot at the rotation, but that could also happen in the Nick Blackburn slot if he remains sidelined (or ineffective) or the P.J. Walters slot if his success turns out to be a mirage. (Four home runs in 12 1/3 innings concerns me a bit.)
I can come up with no better context for Marquis' awfulness than what Aaron Gleeman wrote on his latest blog post: "...opponents hit .371/.434/.629 (against Marquis). To put that in some context, consider Albert Pujols is a career .325/.417/.609 hitter, so Marquis basically turned every batter he faced into a souped-up version of this era's best hitter."
Last year, it felt like roster moves were being made to fill dead space. Yes, injuries had something to do with that, but you wonder how much the progress of some players -- Ben Revere, Chris Parmelee, Rene Tosoni and others -- was impeded by coming to Minnesota and then not playing as much, or being instructed as much, as they would have been in the minors.
By comparison, after keeping him with the team at the beginning of this season, Revere was held back at Rochester while the Twins brought in (the quickly departed) Clete Thomas, Erik Komatsu and Darin Mastroianni. None of those three players figure to have a future with the Twins that would rival Revere's, but it looks like Twins management showed some discipline in using his time in the minors as a teaching tool. I'll use four extra-base hits in 17 at-bats as early evidence, especially compared to Revere's 14 extra-base hits in 481 plate appearances in 2011.
Sometimes, minor league stats can be deceptive -- Revere had only one extra-base hit during his Rochester weeks -- when they're compiled while a player is being asked to try different things. But I'm also hoping that Drew Butera's time in the minors will make him a more functional hitter (read: not an assumed out) if he stays with the Twins. It's not often that a guy could have a .315 on-base percentage and it would be a 50 percent improvement over the previous year.
Whether time spent in Rochester with hitting coach Tom Brunansky and manager Gene Glynn, both in their first year with that team, will help Danny Valencia, Parmelee and some of the others is worth watching. At the very least -- and I am well aware that I'm operating in faint-praise territory here --the worst team in baseball is making like it has a plan for shedding that label.
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