Blink, blink. S t r e t c h . . . yawn . . . What? Really?
It's a little abstract, but I hear that there are people actually playing baseball somewhere again. The gloves, bats and balls are out, the jerseys, caps and spikes are on, and the great hibernating bear known as Major League Baseball is gradually awakening once again.
The Metrodome had a sparser feel this year, as if it knows it's not long for the world, but the basics of TwinsFest were the same as always. My kids stood in line to swing at whiffle balls, jumped around inside the giant TC, and spun various wheels for giveaways which barely made it through our back door before hitting the garbage can.
I signed a few waivers, and then managed to strain my shoulder while throwing a baseball (without any warm-up, mind you) at a pathetic 37 MPH.
But the most memorable piece of TwinsFest was the absolutely terrible cotton candy we ate.
It had three colors and, surprisingly, three flavors -- each more dreadful than the last. The first course was blue and tasted like Windex, the second segment was yellow and tasted like Lemon Pledge, and the third was pink with a flavor that can only be described as Coconut Sunscreen. Call me a purist, but if cotton candy tastes like anything other than air and sugar, I'm not interested.
The bright spot was, by far, the guy pitching whiffle balls.
Tru wanted to be helpful, and this guy made it worth his while.
He was having fun with the kids, and trying to make sure everyone got a chance to get a hit -- even if it meant slightly exceeding the allotted pitch count. He was especially kind to 4-year-old Truman, who has a hearty swing which generally only touches air. Whoever that guy is, give him a raise! (I think he was actually a volunteer.)
As for TwinsFest as a whole, the reboot is still needed, and still out there waiting. Maybe it will happen when the event is forced into a different venue. (I should add that I'm looking forward to getting my first look at the new Vikings Stadium during TwinsFest 2016!)
Since TwinsFest, I've had several persistent thoughts about the 2013 Minnesota Twins. The first is that I don't know half of these guys -- including most of the pitchers. This is becoming less unusual, but it does make it hard to connect with the grand past when every year you start with a bunch of unfamiliar faces.
At the same time, since the old faces largely disappointed us, change must be viewed as potential progress -- at least until somebody starts keeping official stats again. Then we'll see.
Second, I'm remembering spring of 1987, but not because of any specific parallels between this year's squad and that one (though they both feature a couple of long-term home-grown stars and only, um, modest expectations of being better than the previous year). No, I'm thinking of that year because this year's team, like that one, will begin the season 22 years removed from the franchise's last World Series appearance.
Somehow the length between 1965 and 1987 seems longer than that between 1991 and 2013 -- a function of my age, no doubt. But 1987 ultimately proved that you never know on opening day who will be left standing at the end of October. The '87 Twins shocked everybody. Could the '13 Twins do the same?
This is the time of year when such questions, even tons of contrary analysis notwithstanding, must be asked and fantasy miracles must be allowed to motivate us as fans.
Of course, I know what everyone out there is saying. So, let's really think about this.
The Twins front office has only made moves that are likely to benefit the team a couple of years down the road. Any remaining moves between now and opening day -- just a few weeks away (!!) -- aren't exactly going to change the make-up of this club in any fundamental way. Even adding back a HOFer for the bench isn't going to change that much. Right now, we pretty much know who we're going to be watching this summer.
But where does that leave us? And by 'us', I mean people like you and me who see the Game as the thing much more than the Win. This is not to say we don't like to win. We certainly like to win more than we like to lose. But we can enjoy -- and have enjoyed/endured -- watching the game being played even when the hometown team isn't all that good. One thing that will certainly still be true on April 1 is that, on any given day any major league team can beat -- or even trounce -- any other major league team.
So, the questions: How much do we watch? How much do we care? How much do we pay? And, just because we're all ballpark geeks here: How much does just being able to go out to a beautiful ballpark figure in to the equation?
When I get depressed about the Twins roster, I think about these things. And right now, I'm depressed about the Twins roster.
My wife became a Twins fan while we were dating in 2001. Her fandom was sealed about the time we got married in 2002. Pretty good place to start, eh? She really has no idea what the 70s, 80s, and 90s were like for Twins fans. I tell her that, with history as a guide, it could be a decade before we get the opportunity to lose to the Yankees again in the playoffs, and our kids may have kids before the TCs bring home another World (Series) Championship.
But she doesn't believe me because that hasn't been her experience. She always thinks, when the new season starts, that the team has a chance, that the Twins will figure out a way to win. And her "has a chance" isn't like yours and mine (meaning, mathematical), but she thinks they really have a chance and will figure out a way to win -- much more like little kids imagine it -- with a mental image of Drew Butera catching strike three of the last out in the ninth inning of game seven and then running and jumping into the arms of Kevin Correia, all on a beautiful, warm October evening at Target Field.
Truthfully, she's in a better position than you and me.
We know that we have to temper our expectations. If we don't want to be crestfallen come Jun-- er, September, we won't set our expectations above those of the professional forecasters. We'll expect the Twins to lose 95 games and pull up last in the AL Central. Anything better than that will be a welcome relief. (For her part, Victoria doesn't get too wrapped up in all the losing. When they don't win, even though she thought they might have, she basically just shrugs and smiles. It's just baseball, she might as well say. Did I mention that she's in a much better place about this than most of us?)
But we also have to make decisions about our attendance and ticket purchases (she really does not; she'll probably only go to one game all season, and only if she has the free time to spare). So there's really something at stake for us.
I'm not going to drag out the suspense here. I'll be attending games at roughly the same pace as recent years, and it'll be based way more on my availability than on the team's performance. I've worked my way up to about a dozen games per season, and I'll probably get to that many this year. And I'll probably sit in roughly the same sections and spend roughly the same amount on concessions and souvenirs.
I bet the Twins are counting on a few fans like me, and I'm confident that they'll have more than a few. Despite our reputation as bandwagon fans, I think the reality is that we're way more loyal -- as a whole -- than some other places. Dave St. Peter has widely stated that the team experienced an 80% renewal rate on season tickets (19K FTEs) and the advertisers reupped at something approaching 90%. These types of numbers are almost unheard of in professional sports franchises with two terrible seasons in a row. (Things are not like this in Miami.)
It seems that fans in other markets are far more willing to punish teams for lackluster performance than we are around these parts. So we look good, right?
Well, it turns out (see Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won) that punishing teams financially is actually one of the best ways to motivate them to get better. When wins don't directly and dramatically affect the bottom line, the incentives to improve are short-circuited. Do you wonder why the Cubs haven't won a World Series since the Harding administration? It's at least partly because fans still go out to Wrigley Field even when the team stinks. (Note to the Ricketts family: Don't use this argument when lobbying for funds to renovate the dump! "We want to fix up Wrigley so fans keep coming even when we suck.")
That's part of what makes the new cable TV deals so scary. This is nothing new, but it appears that overall market size is now going to have a much greater affect on each team's bottom line than anything as parochial as success on the field. We could see a new era of competitive imbalance which puts the 90s to shame.
But now, in the first week of March, is not the time to obsess about such things. Now is the time to get ready for some baseball.
To that end, Vic and I have been rewatching the Ken Burns mini-series, I've picked up a few new books about ballparks (imagine that!), and I've printed out my 2013 Twins schedule and started marking in the dates. (You can print out your very own BallparkMagic 2013 Schedule here.)
It looks like I'm not buying the 2013 Baseball Prospectus because it appears, from its online preview, to be a pale and stiff descendant of the snarkier and vastly more entertaining editions of years gone by (the last really good one was, I think, 2005). If you can recommend an alternative, I'd sure appreciate it. (I'm not looking for printed stats or fantasy projections. More the narrative descriptions of what happened within each franchise and division.)
I'd be lying if I said that I feel the same giddy-up about the Twins that I did a couple of years ago, but they're still my team. They still promise to provide me with some sort of awesome narrative this summer, and will still suck up a fair amount of my disposable income.
After all, Joe Mauer is going to need a good nanny, and I feel like I must do my small part.
"You talk about the magic, the aura, but what really makes a stadium is the fans. Concrete doesn't talk back to you. Chairs don't talk back to you. It's the people who are there, day in, day out, that makes the place magic."
– Bernie Williams
Explore the Site
Here are 50 images chosen randomly from the 3019 found on this site. Click the image to be taken to the original post. A new list is created every 10 minutes.
A truck is leaving the HERC plant. Here you can see the proximity to the promenade. For the record, the truck drove right by me and I smelled nothing...
Twins in HD on the big board
This maze of scaffolding is something you'll probably never see again.
Do you think somebody's already cooking hot dogs out there?
Trees now line Seventh Street
The windows have started going in.
Just lighted panels... *sigh*
The Lincoln Saltdogs (and a promotional Nerd)
A view into the park down Sixth Street from just beyond Hennepin. Note that one side of the street contains century-old, classic buildings -- structures which are likely to last another century or more. The other side, not so much. (Click the image to see what it looked like from exactly the same spot 97 years ago.)
The wooden louvers are in on Fifth Street
Now, why is there horse shit on the street next to Target Field? (I saw it in two places. Mounted police maybe?)
Stairs and escalator down to the platform
I will take a picture of just about anything.
The pouring is taking place at the very bottom of this photo.
Let's be honest and say that this promenade, which will face the HERC plant, won't be the most exciting part of the streetscape. It has to be provided for circulation reasons, but there won't be much to see unless vendors and other attractions take root here.
To the left, out of view, was a row of guys in very nice suits. Most I did not recognize.
This is the staircase (ramp?) leading up to the trapezoid. Nice flagpole too. You'll be able to find me and Ben McEvers at the base of that flagpole on opening day in 2010!
From the TV camera platform -- the view you'll see on TV
Scoreboard in profile against the skyline
This was from January 19, 2007, when it looked like wonderful things might never happen here.
For reference, this is that same area as viewed from the seat locator.
Limestone still dominates the Seventh Street walkway from a pedestrian point of view. But brick take over as you move upward -- a concession to cost, no doubt.
Is it possible to take a bad picture of this building?
This is the start of construction on the Northstar platform which will feed under the bridge and to a lobby with escalators and elevators just inside the ballpark's public concourse. Compared to the ballpark construction, this looks kind of puny. But the work just to get the trains to come has been positively Herculean. Future generations will look back at this with awe.
His body language might as well be the box score.
All three seating mounds
The same section seen from Target Center. Yep, looks like bridge supports.
A view of construction from the B ramp. This looks toward Seventh Street, over what will be Gate 34 (the main entrance).