Wednesday, April 12, 2000

No Joy in Minne-Mudville

My brother and I spent much of our youth in the backyard improving our baseball fielding skills. Once the 1981 Roseville tornado blew down the bee and box elder infested tree that stood in the middle of our marred baseball practice field facility, we had an open field to take a tennis racket and ball out and hit grounders, high pop ups and fly balls to each other. Mom was rather amused that years after we both moved out the neighbor girls, who must have been watching us closely, replicated our version of baseball complete with tennis equipment.

Occasionally my brother and I would take a break and lie on the slight hill that once led to the little rose garden that Mom used to tend to and love. We'd watch the corner of our house against the partly blue sky and marvel at how the cloud movement made it appear like our house and not the world was moving. Every once and a while we would be distracted by the notion that the gutter high on the house housed many missing tennis balls and we would have to at some point go up and retrieve them.

Similarly literally the warmest memories I have of growing up are when my family would go to the beach. I remember playing in the water until I started shivering and becoming somewhat blue lipped and then running up the sandy beach to wrap a towel around myself. Inevitably comfortably my Mom who wasn't a swimmer, would be sitting on the blanket by the cooler that held our lunch, always with the radio tuned to the Twins' game.

Prior to the current state of affairs, the 70's represented the nadir of baseball in the state. Calvin Griffith was clearly overmatched when it came to matters of the finance of the game. But Mom never gave up hope. Didn't matter if it was Glenn Borgmann or Jerry Terrell facing Goose Gossage or Danny Walton trying to win a game in the ninth inning against Sparky Lyle, Mom always thought the Twins could pull things out.

This past week the legislature commemorated the Twins' 40th year in Minnesota with the appearance of two of the state's biggest baseball heroes, Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett on the House floor. There was a unique palatable energy to the proceeding as the legislators were clearly moved by the presence of the two local legends. I could imagine my Mom's displeasure however at the sight of WCCO announcer John Gordon opening the session with a prayer. Mom stopped listening to baseball on the radio because of Mr. Gordon, whose style does the nearly impossible, making the most beautiful game all but unlistenable. (Mom would have been properly impressed with how you can now follow a game, pitch by pitch via the Internet.) Of course the current state of affairs was ironically emphasized that evening with the Twins 7-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, an end result that probably will be all too typical this season .

Spring is supposed to represent a time of new beginning and aspiration, an annual opportunity for renewal of anticipation and change. And baseball plays a major part of this seasonal hopefulness in our nation's consciousness. Unfortunately for Minnesotans interest in the local baseball club has reached an all time low. Ask the average person to name five Twins' players and you are likely to come across a rather glossy look.

Things have gotten to the point where even the three year old University of Minnesota's women's hockey team probably stirs more passion in the state's sports' fans than our major league baseball team. You also know things are pretty dire when the Vikings' quarterback chaos warrants greater interest than the opening day of the baseball season. The Twins are dying on the vine and the indifference is myopically depressing.

Recent issues of Sports Illustrated and Sport Magazine ranked the Twins as the 30th best team in baseball. Unfortunately there only are 30 teams. If nothing else the team will be much bulkier than last year with the additions of Butch Huskey, Matt LeCroy, David Ortiz, and TC the bear (who management seems to think is the most important addition of the group). The team may not be any better but it will be bigger.

Even the manager, the admirable cranky Mr. Kelly, doesn't see much hope for this year's club. The team has six legitimate players to pay to see- Brad Radke, Eric Milton, Eddie Guardado, Corey Koskie, Cristian Guzman, and Jacque Jones. The rest would be hard pressed to make the rosters of other teams. Still it's a long ways from the seasons we had to endure where the quality of players available meant having Rich Robertson and Scott Aldred form 40 percent of our starting rotation. At least we've taken a small step beyond that. What's more troubling is the decline in interest that years of bad baseball has caused. It's difficult to watch the absolute depth of the decay. Once upon a time baseball meant much more around here. It's sad to see it otherwise again.

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