Alexander Pope was a Twins Fan
by Dirty Niner
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast
Man never is, but always to be blest
The soul uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come”
~Alexander Pope An Essay on Man, Epistle I (1733)
How Pope, an 18th century poet, was able to so clearly capture the absolute soul of the modern day Twins fan is beyond comprehension. One explanation abounds, Alexander Pope was a Twins fan. Hope and baseball have gone hand in hand since there has been, well, hope and baseball. The battle cry of the 20’s and 30’s vintage Brooklyn Dodgers, “Wait till next year!” has experienced a Midwestern revival in the Twin Cities. A quick history review is in order to understand our modern day hopes and pains:
2002: 94 wins, Division champs, advanced to the LCS, staved off colonization…eeerrrrr…contraction attempt by Bud Selig, beat Oakland and lost to the Rally Monkey in Anaheim. Twins fever rose to a level not seen in ten years. With the youngest team in MLB, and the “Soul Patrol” manning the OF grass, ~ “WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR!”
2003: 90 wins, Division champs, lost to the hated (but better team) Yankees 3 games to 1. Consecutive division titles, you just “WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR!”
2004: 92 victories, 3rd consecutive division title, Johan shoves it up the Yankees ass in game 1, now we go!… Yankees close out series 3-1. Again… but you guessed it, we’ve got this, Johan is only getting better, “WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR!”
2005: 83-79, Oof. Gut punch to all of us whose hopes were lifted by the three consecutive division titles hoisted in the Dome. Down, yet not out! With a rotation of Johan, Radke, Silva, Lohse and Baker coming back, the American league be wary and “WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR!”
2006: 96-66, In a season beginning with the death of Kirby, the Tony Batista debacle, and complete collapse from four of the five starting pitchers, the Twins struggled out of the gate. “Smell ‘em” became the motto that the Little Piranha’s rode to a 4th Division title in five years… Same high playoff hopes, same crushing defeat in a three game sweep by the Oakland A’s. It’s ok! The M&M boys have arrived! Morneau is MVP and Mauer is batting champ- signifying that the rest of the world better just “WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR!”
2007: 79-83, A 3rd place finish is the best this squad could muster in a season of even more renewed hope. In the wake of the 35W bridge collapse, the Twins broke ground on a new outdoor state-of-the-art field. Despite the enthusiasm thousands of new season ticket holders generated, the Twins weren’t able to overcome the revolving doors the retirement of Radke and Liriano’s elbow injury created in the rotation. New ballpark full of Twins fans right downtown only a few seasons away! – reason for hope. “WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR!”
2008: 88-75, Second place. Jim Thome’s 7th inning leadoff shot accounted for the lone tally in a 1-0 Nick Blackburn vs John Danks duel. This was Bill Smith’s first season, and some will say, the beginning of the end as Twins fans know it. Despite trading Johan and Garza, the team scraped together enough baseball to contend in a down year for the AL Central. 2008 also capped a very iron man like 4 year run for Justin Morneau, where he played in 141, 157, 157, and 163 games. Tough way to end the season, but with all the things that went wrong next year can only be better! “WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR!”
2009: 87-76, Despite playing 163 games and winning the one game playoff, the Division champions won 1 fewer game than the 2008 squad. In the final season of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome the Twins advanced to the playoffs by winning a controversial game 163. The Yankees would sweep (again). Although… there was the 11 inning battle where we left 17 men on base and Mauer’s ball was called “foul.” Just think if we start getting the breaks! ~ “WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR!”
2010: 94-68, Target Field. Welcome to outdoor baseball and a new era in Minnesota Twins history! This version spent 127 days in first place, and never really looked back after opening the year with a series win over the Boston Red Sox. At Target Field, the turnstiles averaged just under 40,000 spectators a night. Spectators with so many new toys to play with at their new home of downtown outdoor baseball. Oh yeah, there was a team playing, and they got swept by the Yankees; a team that has ended 4 of the Twins last 9 seasons… Hey, we are rolling! If someone can beat the Yankees for us, then just “WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR!”
2011: 63-99, Not counting strike-shortened seasons, this was the second worst year in the history of Minnesota Twins baseball. The 1982 version featuring stalwarts such as Drew Butera’s Dad, Pete “Where the” Redfern “Grows,” Terry Felton, and Randy Johnson (different… ah never mind). The 1982 version was also chock full of guys who would go on to become the heart of championship teams: Tim Laudner, Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, Randy Bush, Frank Viola. The 2011 version would have lost as many games in AAA as they did in MLB. Injuries, underachievement, and possibly a major lack of mental and physical toughness wore this team down. It wasn’t too difficult to pick out when this squad officially gave up. Shortly after reeling off 15 wins in 17 games and moving into third place, the wheels started to fall off. Mauer came back and was rusty, Morneau and Span could never shake the head injuries. It was a lost season all around.
Hope! There is hope for 2012. 2011 has just concluded, and to be perfectly honest dark clouds are forming over the outdoor home of our hometown team. Large, threatening, ominous clouds. Despite the obvious omens lurking around every corner, it is not in the nature of a true Twins fan to give up the one thing Alexander Hope described. Hope. Unrealized and unlikely to produce lasting results, nevertheless hope is alive.
Reasons for hope, in no particular order:
1) Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau combined to play 151 games. 151? Wait… Bacardi should make a drink, wait… follow this link: http://www.drinksmixer.com/cat/2682/ Is it any wonder 2011 went up in flames? I think the “Hell on Earth” cocktail from drinksmixer.com is the official drink of the 2011 Twins. Here is where hope steps in. Blind, irrational, and ill-founded hope. Just what if Mauer and Morneau return to form? These two guys have proven to be very good, big league, professional hitters. Hope that they return to the lineup for 150 games each next year.
2) Denard Span missed 92 games. 92… how about a little numerology? 9 + (1 + 1), 9/11, 92 people on board Flight 11… maybe thats pushing boundaries of reality, but… no matter how you look at it, DSpan missing 92 games was bad news bears. Baseball Prospectus, the statistic geeks that crunch numbers to insanely finite levels, listed Denard Span as having MLB’s 10th highest Center Field VORP in 2010. That is, Value Over Replacement Players, as defined here “The number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances…” (Woolner, Keith). I believe we witnessed this statistic in live action this summer. Ben Revere made an amazing catch, possibly the best I’ve ever seen, but was not able to replace Denard in the lineup. Denard is valuable, and combined with the voluminous absence of the M&M boys takes three big sticks from a lineup. Here is to Hope that we get Denarded in here once again, 2012!
Let’s Get Denarded http://youtu.be/KcJEBVv4qPc
3) Way too much Scott Diamond, Anthony Swarzak, Jeff Manship, and Liam Hendriks kind of guys on the hill. Injuries and consistency from the front of our rotation overworked and extremely overmatched bullpen, and had the Twins lineup in a hole way too early in ballgames. Essentially what I’m saying is this: (pay attention first five seconds)
Twins fans, remember though, Hope Springs Eternal in the Human Breast! As unlikely as it seems, we are going to be forced to tie our hope (get it? Like an anchor…) to a return to form or consistency or health from Baker/Liriano/Blackburn/Duensing/Pavano. This is scary to me. It’s also the most surefire back into contention…. unless….
4) Long shot I know, but the Twins have money to blow, and Pohlad has gone on record saying he will spend a little bit more. My HOPE for this number stems from these quotes by Jim Pohlad in and interview with LaVelle E Neal:
“That money is not just going to go back into our pockets. We want to win. We care about winning and we’re going to try to win. In a lot of cases payroll dollars tend to reflect that.”
“But my guess is we’re probably going to have to do more than one impact player. We’re going to have to bring in more than one.”
As a Twins fan, no matter how difficult it is to believe these statements, we have a sliver of Hope that we pursue that front line starter capable of bolstering our staff. A guy like Mark Buehrle or CJ Wilson would be a dream come true. Target Field is a great pitchers park, and … I’m really setting myself up for disappointment, but Hope springs eternal!
5) Improved play in the middle of the lineup. From 2010 to 2011 the Twins error total increased from 78 to 119 (+41). Their win total decreased from 94 to 63 (-31). These have to be connected, right? It’s just not “Twins baseball.” Fortunately, there are a bevy of talented free agent shortstops. I have convinced myself the Twins will spend their money here; I have also convinced myself we will not even call Jose Reyes’ agent… sometimes hope is tough to find. Consider these options: Yuniesky Betancourt, rafeal furcal, JJ Hardy, Jimmy Rollins, Edgar Renteria, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Santiago. Here is where I take heart and Hope we do something great- Reyes may be too big time for us, but how about Jimmy Rollins? This article suggests he may be willing to leave:
Why not? Dream Twins fans, dream. The addition of a solid, established shortstop even of the Ramon Santiago ilk is such a dramatic upgrade over what was kicking the ball all over Target Field’s infield. Do something Bill Smith, anything…
6) What to do with Kubel and Cuddy? Realistically, Bill Smith has been vague regarding their intentions towards each man. If it comes down to one or the other, Twins protocol would dictate we sign the cheaper guy, which is Kubel (type B free agent). Cuddyer may be slapped with a Type A tag, which means that the Twins will get TWO first round sandwich picks if he signs elsewhere. We all know how much the Twins love their sandwich picks… Twins fans – our Hope in this matter actually doesn’t reside in which guy the Twins re-sign. Cuddy is the more valuable all around player, but the X-factor here is the development of Ben Revere. I highly doubt Revere will ever learn how to throw, but he can run and catch the ball, perfect for left field at Target Field. Detractors talk about his low on-base percentage and poor approach at the plate. People need to give him a break! He is 23 years old, and has a total of 130 games played at the major league level. He already knows how to steal a base (34 for 43 in 2010). Hope here is that Revere continues that development and becomes a good two spot hitter and occasional lead-off man. Plus, we can always look back at this:
Hey- It’s easy to kick the Twins when they are down. No team has ever lost 99 games and won the division the following year. By all outward signs, next year doesn’t appear to be a good one either, but there is hope, and as Alexander Pope wrote~ “Hope Springs Eternal in the Human Breast” Take heart and hope for the best!