I'm not sure why anyone voluntarily chooses to live in this god forsaken place. After enduring another winter of trudging to my car in a thousand below zero weather; worrying every moment while I'm behind the wheel whether or not I'll continue to be facing in the right direction; somehow getting home safely only to face a $5,000 heating bill; trying to dress for 70 degree weather one day and eight feet of snow the next day- wouldn't life be a lot easier in say sunny San Diego?
But as spring slowly unfurls, the whole rebirth thing around here has to get to you. And for us baseball fans this is the time of year full of hope and joy (well, full of something...). And for Minnesota Twins' fans this season has the promise of something extree special. Not that I exactly have an unbiased opinion here but the Twins have one of the most entertaining teams in the league. Watching them play defense is just about worth the price of admission itself.
It's hard to believe it was merely a year ago that the threat of contraction loomed over the franchise. Twins' owner Carl Pohlad was willing to turn his Mr. Burns like back to the fans and accept a big fat check from business partner/commissioner Bud Selig to fold the team. That baseball was using the threat of contraction to hold over a threatening to strike players union with the possible loss of 80 jobs (two teams) and was willing to offer Pohlad more money to fold the team than he could possibly get selling it, of course left some Twins fans feeling a bit cold even as spring sprung.
Having survived Pohlad, Selig, and the rest of the corporate owners plan, the Twins went on to have a great season complete with a successful first round of the playoffs beating a highly favored Oakland Athletics team. In doing so they actually proved that not only should they never have been poster children for contraction but they actually are a franchise others should model themselves after. Building themselves from the draft and through shrewd trades and developing a nucleus of talent that focuses on playing the game the right way and not like slugging softball players the Twins are one of the most fundamentally sound teams around (and we can probably thank Tom Kelly for that). Sure it took awhile to find the right mixture (failing miserably through the Scott Stahoviak, Rich Becker, and Frankie Rodriguez era) but the most promising thing of all is that the talent in the minors appears to be even better than the current major league team. That the Twins can afford to keep Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Michael Restovich in the minors shows just how far the team has come in the last ten years.
On the other hand if you were to objectively examine all the teams and look for a logical candidate for contraction the Milwaukee Brewers would have to be on the short list of teams. The team was as bad (if not worse) than the Twins throughout the 90's and shows no signs of turning it around anytime in the future. The current team is so bad the only thing their fans have to root for is a foot race after the six inning between four people dressed up in sausage costumes.
What separated the two teams in the contraction scheme was that Milwaukee was able to finagle its way into getting a new stadium built and the Twins have failed miserably in their efforts. If you have a revenue generating facility (even though the fans are avoiding it in mass) means more than if your fans are willing to sit and watch an exciting team in one of the worst places ever built to play baseball (for Pete's sake most of the seats are facing the wrong way!).
Over the course of my life baseball has probably taught me just about as much as anything and that could explain why people get a dull ache in the side of their head after they walk away from a conversation with me. Arguably one of the better (and thus most dangerous) lessons the sport has ingrained in me is a sense of loyalty and regionalism. Yeah the Twins aren't really Minnesotan but I've lived and died with their plight for the past thirty years. You can insult me, you can insult my friends but you best not insult the Minnesota Twins. I could be wandering the mountains of Tibet one day and I'll still be looking for a place to look at a box score.
This weekend Laura, Julie, Gary and I drove to Milwaukee (where they play tie All Star games!) to see the Twins play the Brewers in a two game exhibition series. It was a chance for me to see my first games in one of the new "retro" stadiums. We had great seats right behind the first base dugout with a terrific view. When manager Ron Gardenhire called in Carlos Pulido to pitch an inning I was probably the only one in the place whose jaw dropped in total amazement. Pulido started a few games in 1994 apparently because he was left-handed, not because he seemed to have much talent, and then dropped out of sight. To see him nine years later (same uniform, different universe) was a nice reminder of how far the team has come. Miller Park didn't wow me in the way I expected it to but it certainly was a much better place to watch a game than the antiseptic Metrodome. The teams split the series but we'll see where they both are at the end of the year.