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Walking the Line

April 10, 2015 12:51 AM

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you're mine,
I walk the line

So, a new season has begun and I'm at a loss for words. That's why I'm using somebody else's words to prime the pump.

Maybe it's because optimism is a little hard to come by in Twins Territory these days, having been kicked in the teeth by Stanozolol -- and pretty much every baseball analyst with access to a keyboard. The over-under on the Home Town Nine can only generate resigned sighs and, if anything positive, vague delusions that maybe, just maybe, we might be able to snatch a wildcard spot in the watered-down MLB postseason bracket.

In March, as the season began to loom closer, and the prognosticators seemed to be onto something, for some reason Johnny Cash's signature song, with its bluntly beautiful lyrics, kept floating through my mind. He wrote the song for his first wife, who eventually divorced him (for good reason), but it remains one of the most bare, if plaintive and fatalistic, love songs ever committed to magnetic tape.

You've probably heard this song, and maybe never thought much about it. But as I've been thinking about the plight of the Twins, I've been turning these words over and over in my head. It feels like the team's plight belongs to all of us, and that this song has something to say about it.

You can almost hear the future written in between the words, and yet it's not. It's only the rich spectrum of possibilities that are there, none of which are inevitable. If Cash's first marriage had also been his only one -- that is, if he had never strayed -- it feels like that possible future could have been found in the song as well. (Call it "quantum songwriting.")

It's actually a little difficult to figure out exactly what the phrase "I walk the line" means in this context, and trying to extract what it meant to Cash isn't much help. His explanations in interviews were short, vague, and varying. Much of the story of the song has fallen into folklore. His explanations largely amounted to, "You know what I mean." And to a degree, we probably do.

Like all great art, the thought has to be completed by the audience/listener/observer -- in other words, in contact with the real world. It could mean different things to you than it does to me, and different things to each of us on different days. But it clearly means something, and probably something universal -- another hallmark of great art.

I've always heard it to mean that love, like everything in life (including baseball) is a great balancing act. You're basically spinning plates all the time, and the slightest wrong move can result in a great crash. But no great crash is inevitable. It is possible to keep the plates spinning, and even to get good at it.

But it's still spinning plates, no easy task. If there's a moral in the song and its backstory, it's that walking the line -- whatever it means -- is possible, while also being unlikely, essential, amorphous, difficult, complicated, and leaving you deeply vulnerable.

Somehow I think Johnny Cash would understand what it means to be a Twins fan right now. No matter how you define it, there seems to be a lot of line-walking associated with the 2015 Twins.

I find it very, very easy to be true
I find myself alone when each day is through
Yes, I'll admit that I'm a fool for you
Because you're mine,
I walk the line

Opening Day 2014

Intend Toward the Positive

I am optimistic by nature. Tell me that the projections and expert opinions are dire and I still want to set it all aside for that magical chance of catching lightning in a bottle. Mauer will have a comeback year. Hunter still has something left in the tank. Molitor is the right guy to bring all the pieces together. The rotation is starting to look more like what we need. The kids are almost ready in the minors. I want to believe all these things.

And I'm a fool for baseball. Even when my team is rough around the edges, it's still the Great Game and I love watching it no matter what. My team might win today. Anything can happen on the next play. Somebody out there might do something amazing, so now is not the time to look away.

In some ways, following a lousy team seems like it has real value because it brings out things that a winning team cannot. Can you even call it "optimism" if you believe in a team that is likely to win? Aren't you actually forced toward pessimism? ("Ah, these bums. They'll blow it.") If your team wins all the time, does it change your relationship with winning? It goes from being a wish to an expectation. Don't we live with emotions just a little closer to the surface when wishes don't (or at least might not) come true? If I'm a Dodgers or Yankees fan, and I know that the season will be considered a complete failure if they don't win the World Series, do I even care about what happens before October 1? Don't the small joys get short-circuited that way? Can't I just enjoy what happens today?

Pardon me if this sounds like a Cubs fan talking. I'm not exactly trying to find the silver lining, but I am seeking to understand why I still care about the team -- which I most definitely do -- when the chance of making big noise this season doesn't seem to be there.

I'm walking some sort of line, though I don't know exactly what it is.

As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness I've known proves that it's right
Because you're mine,
I walk the line

I think these are just beautiful in September. How would they look in October?

Hold to Your Foundation

We do love the Twins, you and I. It's a weird kind of love, to be sure, but it's sort of like your first home, or some other special place from childhood. It's like that friend who sometimes bugs the hell out of you, but you'd miss.

There's just something about that logo, those uniforms, the characters and the history, that's wound into our DNA. We'll be there on opening day, if we can, and likely many other days too before the plaza planter pitching mounds turn gold again. We'll still be a little giddy for the next ten days or so, even if it's as we announce our disgust at the rancid start, until the rhythm of the marathon settles in. We will still get to know 'em, despite the fact that some of 'em feel like placeholders.

If I were to ever move away from my home state of Minnesota, it might be for San Diego. Beautiful climate, nice people, good economy, great seafood. But I could never be a Padres fan. The logo is all wrong. The vibe is weird. The history is sort of uninteresting and arbitrary. This reaction has nothing to do with the actual Padres, of course. It's just that I'm a Twins fan, and the Padres aren't the Twins to me and never could be. Forgive me, but I was born this way.

Still, one thing is for sure: We don't love the Twins because they win -- even when they do. The reasons are like the song: real but hard to pin down.

We wonder at times like these whether it's best to keep the faith or turn our backs (and withhold our money), if only to make the point that we aren't satisfied to lose, even if we do still get some enjoyment out of it. We want to win. We expect to win. And we need to know that it's still possible, that The Management wants it as much as we do, and knows how to get there.

In other words, we're not satisfied to enjoy the Great Game without also knowing that one day soon we will again be watching our team play it on the Big Stage. Hope is an integral part of the enjoyment. We need hope, real hope, or it's all just playacting. It's where that desire for the future meets today's line-up that walking the line gets complicated.

Noah asked me yesterday if I thought the Twins would ever win the World Series again. "Oh, sure," I replied without hesitation.

There was a pause.

"When I'm still alive?" he asked. Ay, there's the rub. (He's nine.)

We won't give up on them, and we expect that they will not give up on the goal. But it's a fine line that we're walking on both sides of that equation.

You've got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can't hide
For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide
Because you're mine,
I walk the line

Genuine excellence: Kuhel, Myer, Cronin, and Bluege (The 1933 Washington Senators infield, click to enlarge)

Stay on the Straight and Narrow Path

When I look at the 2015 Twins roster, I see an organization trying to walk its own line. On the one hand, they have to develop their talent, and allow it to take the time it needs. On the other, they have to put asses in the seats, which requires some nods to marketing, like Torii Hunter. They have to field a reasonably competitive team which they know is really a roster-in-waiting.

It's easy to forget that the product being marketed is not entertainment, and it's not even baseball, specifically. There are lots of places to watch baseball for a whole lot less money.

No, the product is excellence. That's what crowds want to see, and what we want to root for. Put together a truly excellent team, and whether they win or not isn't the point. The point is that humans crave excellence, and that's what we go to the ballpark to see. The minute an organization forgets this central concept is the minute they devolve into something no one cares about.

So if "walking the line" means "staying on the straight and narrow," then the only option is to let excellence drive every single decision -- especially those regarding the roster. Making even a single roster decision where excellence isn't the primary motivation is unacceptable.

This may very well mean that it's almost time to let the kids play, and let the chips fall. That's better than something which aspires only to be "good enough" to cover some marketing need. When you field a team more for its marketing value than its chance to truly excel, you are no longer "walking the line." I have a feeling that this question will hover over this year's team, given the roster choices that favor veterans known for mediocrity over potentially excellent upstarts.

Remember 2001? There weren't any Hall-of-Famers on that team, but damn they were excellent. And it was a blast to watch them play, even when they lost. Those four guys pictured above lost the World Series in seven games, but damn were they good -- arguably the best at what they did in the game that year. That's worth aspiring to.

Hunter himself said once that the Twins are always about "next year," and that's a problem for those of us who live in the present. It feels a little like we're desperately close to the abyss right now. Not that it's a teetering between excellence and wretchedness, or even good-enough versus not-good-enough, but more like between dignified irrelevance and outright embarrassment. We're counting on these guys to give us at least the former, while we continue to trust that they aspire to something more, which we will need to see in order to believe. (And just so we're clear, we're not talking about the early games of 2015. It's so much bigger than just a few bad games.)

I do trust that the Pohlads value excellence. I believe they know from the franchise history that if you suck long enough, the money will dry up. So if money is the primary motive, maximizing it will require sustained excellence. They know that prioritizing short-term cash over long-term investment is a recipe for failure. And I hope they know that prioritizing anything over excellence is deadly. Unfortunately, it's only even up for discussion because we're very near that threshold right now.

Consider that it was 22 years between the '65 Dodgers and the '87 Cardinals, then a scant four before the '91 Braves. That's enough to make pattern-seeking mammals reconsider their notions of the character of a franchise. Couple those wins with some fine teams in the '00s, and we all started to think that a culture of excellence had been firmly established.

But now it's been 24 years since Dan Gladden crossed that Game 7 plate, and going on five years since we last crossed the magic .500 mark. This franchise has turned back into a pumpkin. We are now in the second longest drought in franchise history (the longest being the 32 seasons between the '33 Giants and Sandy Koufax). Is it still about excellence? (It was when they built that beautiful ballpark.)

Admittedly, as the dry years have mounted, some of us tend to notice the pile-up just a little bit less because we are all older. As everybody knows, when you're nine years old, each season seems like a lifetime. Not so as you skim through middle age. Now it takes five or more seasons to have the same impact. However, it must also be acknowledged that trends which took that nine-year-old mind a long time to spot, and even longer to accept, now seem to emerge in the space of an at-bat. My natural optimism for 2015 took an instant serious hit the moment I spotted an email containing the words "Santana is suspended." I can only imagine what that did to the Twins clubhouse.

So here is where the boys who wear the TC logos -- all the way to the top -- have to walk the line and hold to the highest standards. If you want our money, if you respect our faithfulness, if you want us to come along, there is work to be done, a culture to be established and maintained. Remember, the actual future is not in anybody's forecast any more than it was in Johnny Cash's lyrics. All we have in the present is the spectrum of possibilities. We need to know that you aspire to the excellent end of that spectrum.

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you're mine,
I walk the line

Inhabit the Devotion

So, if we don't love the Twins because they win, then why do we love them?

I can't answer that. Here is about as close as I can get.

A couple of weeks ago I needed some special paper, and I called around to see which office supply store had it in stock. It was a depressing task because all of those office supply stores are now part of the same great big company: The Office Staple Depot Max. I found what I needed at the Roseville store, and I hopped in my car and went, without thinking twice about where I was going because I knew where it was.

Well, they didn't have it, and a clerk saw my puzzled look. I had called, but it wasn't there. It turned out that I needed to go to the other Office Staple Depot Max Roseville store. Unfortunately, even they did not have the exact paper that I needed but, being on a deadline, I found myself having to take a calculated risk that it would work with my printer for the task at hand. I emerged sort of disgusted and rather grumbly.

But two doors down in this little strip mall -- you know the one -- was the Twins Pro Shop. I remembered that I had thrown away my Twins cap at the end of last season. Despite the fact that it was a somewhat expensive and recent ballpark purchase, it had faded and completely worn out in just one season's use. (Planned obsolescence? Maybe that's too cynical, but this is the fifth or sixth hat which didn't make it through a single season. I was a lot harder on these caps when I was a kid, and they'd always last through three seasons easily.)

I entered the store and was greeted by a very chipper clerk who showed me to the hat section -- which is pretty much scattered throughout the whole store. There are about a thousand variations, as you probably know. I fished through them, eventually finding the hat I need -- the only one I ever buy: traditional colors, original TC logo. (I can forgive the red button.) It was reasonably priced. It fit well. It looked much better made than last year's hat, despite having an ugly manufacturer's logo stitched obnoxiously large just off to one side of the brim.

I paid and popped it on my head, exiting the store by sharing a "Win Twins!" with the clerk.

Now, I suppose you could argue that any old baseball cap could have caused what happened next, but I don't think so. My mood lightened. I could swear that the sun emerged from behind a big cloud in that very moment. Everything seemed a little brighter. What was it I had been grumbly about? Uh...I'm sure I'll remember...eventually.

The Twins have the ability to make me feel. Sometimes it's good, sometimes not. I value that, either way.

Field Sobriety

Johnny Cash fought many demons, and he didn't win every time. He had issues, but also self-knowledge. In that song, he all but comes out and says, "I'm going to do this as long as I can, but it probably won't last forever." It's there in the lyric, but emphasized even more in his singing. He knows what he wants, but he also knows who he is. (He was supposedly already cheating when he wrote it.)

He also strove for excellence in his chosen field. He didn't always achieve it, but that's not what matters. He strove.

And, somewhat astonishingly, he managed to achieve more than he should have been able to.

Somehow, for me, this captures the state of the Twins franchise and its relationship with the fans right now. Things are fragile. This can go either way.

I don't go to games to see them win. I really don't. I go to see them play and to see them strive. That's what is at stake now.

I plan to be there opening day. I will sing and cheer and take a whole bunch of pictures and fill out my scorecard and eat too much. I hope it's sunny, but I'll be OK if it's not. I hope the Twins will win, but I'll be OK if they don't.

Most of all, I want to see them aspire to greatness. That's what I'll be looking for -- on Monday, and the day after, and the day after, through the whole marathon. Knowing, as they surely do, that there are some roster liabilities to iron out, they have a line to walk. I have one, too. So do you.

Life? Art? Baseball? Excellence? Hard to separate. Let's walk the line together.


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Well said, top to bottom, Rick! And I love the Twins musical tag at the end! Who was that?

I'll be in the Overlook Monday, so stop on by 138 if you like. I'll also be meeting up with others in my group at the Fulton taproom after 12. Play ball! Good ball, hopefully, but as snowflakes are flying by my window, playing ball will be good.

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 08:52 AM by fiesta Highlight this comment 1

Tell Noah I was nine in 1967, when the Twins blew the pennant and went into a two-decade slump. Still had a lot of fun watching baseball in those years anyway. Same cycle of hope and despair as bright young players turn up and flop or move on. But they eventually made it back. Turn, turn, turn. There is nothing new under the sun.

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 09:26 AM by ClarkAddison Highlight this comment 2

Weather forecast for The Home Opener is sunny and 60 degrees.

I'll be there, section 102 in the right field corner, hoping to at least see the Twins compete.

Heck, a bad day at the ballpark is (usually) better than a good day at work.

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 10:07 AM by F_T_K Highlight this comment 3


That's one of the little combos playing on the plaza on Opening Day, April 12, 2010.

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 10:09 AM by Rick 4

Section 117 for me. There is no opening day like a baseball opening day.

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 12:19 PM by terry Highlight this comment 5

Nolasco to go on the dl can the twins ever get a break

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 3:12 PM by Leroy Highlight this comment 6

Trevor May will start on Monday. That's something!

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 3:22 PM by fiesta Highlight this comment 7

Call up all the kids now I say!! Lets do this like 1984!! Come on Twins, forget that damn free agency clock and let the kids play!! Mike Trout and Brian Harper were in the bigs at 18. Why can't the Twins do it? Buxton and Sano at least, come on! #shinynewballparkcheapasever

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 3:58 PM by J2K Highlight this comment 8

Nolasco going on the DL may be a good break for once.

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 6:19 PM by Stevie B Highlight this comment 9

Whether Torii did it on his own or not, I credit today's final 3 runs to Molly. THAT'S why I love the game.

Fulton's for the pregame (I suppose we're not going to be alone) and heading through Gate 29 at 1:00, hoping to say hello to Mr. Carew. Section 119 Row 15.

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 8:43 PM by schweady Highlight this comment 10

...well, THAT and your standard 6-2 game-ending double play...

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 8:51 PM by schweady Highlight this comment 11

Seeing Pelfrey blow a lead was quite satisfying I must say.

Posted on April 11, 2015 at 4:44 PM by jctwins Highlight this comment 12

After the last two games, Pelfrey would be well advised not to pout too publicly about not being named the 5th starter coming out of spring training.

Posted on April 12, 2015 at 08:00 AM by terry Highlight this comment 13

An interesting play today in the Cardinals - Reds game. With runners on 1st and 2d, the batter bunted in front of the plate. Catcher fields it and tries to tag the hitter as he started toward 1st. Home plate ump signals safe as catcher throws to 3d for the "force out"; 3d baseman then throws to 1st to complete the " double play". Replay rears its ugly head and after 5 minutes of NFL-like delay and micro-reviewing, it is ruled that the catcher tagged the batter thus removing the force at 3d. The 3d baseman relied on the ump's safe call and so made no attempt to tag the runner, but instead threw across the diamond to complete the "double play". As Doc Brown could have told MLB, when you go back in time and change history, you upset the space/time continuum. I'm sure that 3d baseman would agree with me.

Posted on April 12, 2015 at 4:05 PM by terry Highlight this comment 14

Another day. Another loss.
Tomorrow the AL Champion Royals come to town.
This is gonna be a looooong season.

Posted on April 12, 2015 at 4:30 PM by luke Highlight this comment 15

This page was last modified on April 10, 2015.

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