Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Thank You Victory and Cable Companies for Giving Me My Life Back

Dear Victory Sports One and Charter Cable,

I'm writing to express my sincerest thanks for having been relieved of my worst addiction: Twins baseball. For the last 11 years I have spent my summer nights in front of a television, watching the games with my mood hinging on every pitch. I thought I was happy, but I had no idea. I would struggle through the winter months waiting for opening day and dread the November boredom. Then you guys came along and took it all away. Finally, now I'm free.

Did you know there are actually things to do at night during the summer? Only recently have I realized that by doing my homework in the month of April I get better grades come May. Some people even go out to movies and visit with friends around a friendly table of cards. I'm still learning, but cribbage is quite riveting, and I've only lost $200 so far playing poker. Every now and then, someone will mention the Twins and for a second my affliction returns. However, soon I'm able to put the quickly fading memories away and get back to what I am told is “real life”.

Never before have I had a better relationship with my family. It's been months since I've made them angry by shushing them right in the middle of a big pitch. We no longer have conversations where I'm half-listening and mostly just watching the game. I used to be really confused when they would come home and bitterly inform me that I had missed another wedding: this time my own! Turns out all the conversations had taken place during the game! What did they expect? Now, I actually respond to their questions. Today, I found out that my sister is actually 17 and not 12 as I had previously thought! I guess when you put back all those summer months they add up in a hurry. There is even a little time left over in my nights to do some chores for my dear mother, who has mysteriously gained a new bounce in her step of late.

My acne has cleared up with the decline in my stress level. Because I cannot watch the games, it is very difficult to feel connected to the team. Without this connection it’s not quite as terrible when Radke gives up 6 runs in 2 innings or Rivas grounds into yet another double play. The box score is just not as brutal as seeing it happen live. I tried getting my fix from the radio back when I was still addicted. Wouldn't you know it, Radke gave up the 6 runs and all they said was "Oh, by the way this just happened while we were talking about Dazzle's playing days or some guy Gordo sat next to on the plane." With the drama and the climax gone my blood pressure has decreased and I'm sleeping again.

Because of you I feel like a normal person. I can sit quietly in my room and not wake anyone by cheering on a game winning double. When I talk to people I do not over-whelm them with fast facts about players that really no one should know. For once, even I can communicate with the casual fan and have him understand me. It’s quite liberating to say the least. I wake up in the morning and I don't have to correct the newspaper game recaps. There is no more hurrying as home as fast as I can to catch the first pitch. Did you know that there are actually roses to stop and smell? Strange.

Most of all though, thank you for taking away Dick and Bert. Dick has steadily improved throughout the years but for someone who watches a lot of baseball, it’s amazing how little he understands. I can't tell you how frustrated I would get listening to him talk about how Guzman was “right up there with Garciaparrra and Tejada for best major league shortstops”, shortly after he had grounded into a base loaded double play. Bert on the other hand was getting me in trouble at school. Someone would claim that he didn't belong in the Hall. Since I spent so many hours on that couch listening to his commentary, I had grown attached and thus an obligation to defend him. Next thing you know (and 287 wins later), I've got a bloody nose and the other guy can't see straight. Since he and I have become estranged my medical bills have drastically declined.

Now I'm asking you to please take your time getting any deals done. Baseball may be in my blood but I'm really enjoying seeing my friends again. The time I have spent with my family is creating lasting memories and girls are actually noticing me now that the nervous ticks have gone away. Because of you guys I can actually say five sentences without mentioning the Twins, which has greatly improved my performance at job interviews. I must admit I miss Dick and Bert, but I think I was growing a little too attached; I was even starting to dress like Dick, tie and all. Thank you for freeing me of the countless hours that I would otherwise have spent following the team that I love so much. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover you also took the time to ensure that I would not be tempted by the Channel 45 game of the week since we don’t get it here in Mankato. That's right, I'm an addict so I can't have any Twins but I can watch the White Sox- the fastest way to a cure such an addiction I’m told. I have seen the light and now I must go towards it.

John Betzler
Recovering Twins Addict

Bonus Material: Who Are These Guys?

Note: I have been having some computer problems tonight and don't have time to formulate a proper entry. I'm going to the game tonight (hopefully) so that will make for an interesting column tomorrow I hope. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy the following, scheduled to appear in the April 22 issue of the St. Olaf school newspaper "The Manitou Messenger". I had to dumb down the content a bit to appeal to a wider audience, but I still think its a pretty good summary of the Twins season thus far.

Quick, name the Twins’ top performers so far this season. Torii Hunter? Not exactly. Corey Koskie? Not even close. Johan Santana? I wish.

The surprises keep don’t stop there. The Twins are only 13 games into this young season (through Monday) yet they’ve already had five key players land on the disabled list, including one-third of their entire starting lineup. And here’s perhaps the biggest surprise of them all: the Twins are still remain tied for first place in the American L Central, and they wouldn’t be there without major contributions from such household names as Henry Blanco, Jose Offerman, Lew Ford, Joe Roa, and Aaron Fultz.

I know what you’re thinking: didn’t Jose Offerman retire like, four years ago? Since when do the Twins have Henry Blanco? Who are the other three guys? Who the heck are ANY of these guys?

“These guys” are the glue holding together a team that is only a shadow of its former (2003) self, one decimated by free agency, trades, and injuries. Tightfisted owner Carl Pohlad wouldn’t pony up the dough this winter to re-sign relief pitchers LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski was traded to save money and make way for “├╝ber-prospect” Joe Mauer. Pitcher Eric Milton was also traded for monetary reasons.

The Twins recovered and thought they had adequately filled those holes going into spring training, but then the injury bug decided to bite- and boy, what a bite it took. Fifth starter Rick Helling broke his leg in early March. Reliever Grant Balfour injured his shoulder a week before the season started. Then the carnage turned brutal: catchers Mauer and Matthew LeCroy took the fall in the season’s third and fourth games respectively, and All-Star centerfielder Torii Hunter was injured only a couple days later. The Twins were just entering a relatively easy part of their schedule and could ill afford to fall too far behind in the standings.

As it turns out, Twins fans had nothing to worry about. Blanco, a 32 year-old backup catcher with a career .219 batting average, has looked like the second coming of Johnny Bench by hitting .344 with 3 homeruns and 10 RBI in Mauer’s absence. Offerman has shown a knack for coming through in the clutch and is hitting over .300. “Sweet” Lew Ford (recently called up from AAA) has been absolutely lights-out as Hunter’s replacement, hitting .407 with 2 homers and 8 RBI in his first eight games. Journeymen relievers Fultz and Roa have pitched a combined 15 innings and allowed only 3 runs. Whoever said “help comes from the most unlikely of sources” sure wasn’t kidding!

Meanwhile, the old standbys Doug Mientkiewicz, Shannon Stewart, Brad Radke, and Jacque Jones have also been playing well of late. Set-up man J.C. Romero looks to have successfully rebounded from a sub par 2003 season and has returned to the form that made him one of the game’s top relievers in 2002. Although the starting pitchers have struggled somewhat thus far, the Twins are currently the best hitting team in the American League. This is an offense that has the potential to score a lot of runs this season, enough to make up for any possible shortcomings on the mound.

The Twins may have won the last two AL Central titles, but is 2004 shaping up to be a dogfight to the bitter end. Each of the Twins’ opponents has their own obvious strengths and weaknesses. The Chicago White Sox have always had plenty of talent, but have never been able to put it all together and usurp the Twins. The Kansas City Royals, this year’s trendy pick to win the division, have a potent offense but serious question marks in their pitching staff. The Cleveland Indians have some good young players, but are still at least a year away from contention. The Detroit Tigers made some key free agent acquisitions over the winter in a desperate attempt to improve on last year’s 119-loss season, but they are still woefully lacking pitching depth. The Twins, despite their losses, have an excellent chance to make it three in a row.

Slowly but surely, the Twins are even getting healthy again. Hunter returns this week, and LeCroy soon after (Mauer had minor knee surgery and will require about two more weeks of rehab). In the meantime, our “super-subs” are playing well beyond expectations and keeping the team right were it belongs: at the top of the standings. Personally, I don’t care if these “no-names” are supposed to be good or not. In sports, it all comes down to winning. As long as you win, it doesn’t matter what your name is.