Monday, October 18, 2004

Cabin Fever Strikes in Late October

I think I might have a problem. Recently, I have been acting a bit abnormally. This past weekend, upon discovering that the Twins would be bringing back Henry Blanco, I did the only thing I could do: I tailgated in my driveway to celebrate. It was kind of cold outside but the grill kept me warm as I laid back in my lawn chair and waxed poetically about the season that had just ended and what 2005 would bring. The people walking by didn’t seem to understand the significance of my catcher’s gear garb and my funky mullet hairdo. They gave me weird looks; my neighbor even asked me why I was having a "pow wow".

Can you believe I even received a noise complaint? They said I was playing “We’re Gonna Win Twins” too loud. Is that even possible? As far as I’m concerned that song could never constitute a civil disturbance.

What am I going to do all winter? At least I still have the $6 I won from a bet with Ryan during Game 4. While the going was still good I told Ryan that Blanco would hit a home run in an upcoming at-bat. Of course he didn’t believe me; lets be honest: no one in the whole place would have believed me. I could have easily made a cool million had I pursued it further. Then the mighty Henry "Babe" Blanco stepped to the plate and fulfilled my prophecy by slamming a go-ahead homerun to left about 100 rows lower then where we were sitting.

My sister keeps asking me if the Twins are going to bring back Doug Mientkiewicz this offseason. She says the team just wasn’t the same after his departure. For once, I would have to agree with her. There was a lot less noise eminating from off the field, while at the same time the team began to win more on it. Without controversey, what are would-be journalists like myself supposed to write about?

This also begs the question of what to do with the three Mientkiewicz jerseys/t-shirts in my closet right now. I tried ripping the name off the back of one of them but "Mientkiewicz" does not become "Betzler" as easily as one might think. In fact, all it really becomes is a more tattered-looking version of itself. Cutting the name off the back all together just looks tacky (it also really hurts the durability of the shirt). I ended up using the front of one as decoration in my bedroom because it said "Twins" and I had a large open space where I had taken down my "Free Mientkiewicz" poster. I am thinking about taking it down now though as my room as been radiating some bad karma ever since it went up.

Maybe I’ll just pack them all away and in 20 years or so if they still fit I can wear them and say they are retro.

Cristian Guzman may not be coming back to the Twins next year either. I have to admit I was pretty upset when I heard the news. I can’t help but remember him making that bionic sound as he ran the bases back in 2001, especially in that one game against Cleveland. Then I recall the creaking sounds he has made more recently as his game has significantly slowed down, despite the fact that he is still a very young man. Does anybody know what kind of sound Jason Bartlett or Nick Punto make when they play?

I’ll tell you one thing, the name "Omar Vizquel" sure has a nice ring to it, and "Edgar Renteria" just rolls off the tongue. I can see it now ...Radio guy: “When Edgar Renteria runs it makes that championship sound [cue Queen's 'We Are The Champions” as Renteria rounds the bases]". Too bad it will take another sound to sign either: "Cha-Ching!"

I have so much time on my hands that I actually do my homework these days! Unfortunately, it isn’t going as well as you might expect. Seems my teachers liked me more back when I was the quiet guy, riding the pine, waiting to get home for my next Twins baseball fix. Now they have to put up with questions about where Brad Radke fit in with the founding fathers and how the physical geography of Venezuela helped to produce great pitchers like Johan Santana and Juan Rincon. (I also asked what role continentality played in Rincon’s Game 4 implosion; still waiting on an answer for that one).

I was at the casino the other day and I could have sworn I saw Terry Ryan playing the slots. Maybe he was holding out hope that he could win enough to make up the difference between what old man Pohlad would be giving him for a budget and what it would take to resign Brad Radke and Corey Koskie with a little on the side to fill other needs. It didn’t look like he was doing too good. Joe Mauer may have to wait another year for that knee transplant we’ve all been waiting for.

Now that the season is over I have been trying to experience the rest of life. Did you know that college students actually go out and socialize on the weekends? It has been a little hard though. Every time I meet a girl and she wants to dance I ruin it by trying to show her my Torii Hunter-inspired "leap against the walls" move or my Johan Santana windup. These dance moves don’t mix well with the latest Jay-Z song. When I get the chance to talk to a girl I drive her away by describing why Michael Cuddyer is a better second baseman then Louis Rivas. Someday I will find a girl that understands.

I did have some luck one night though when I accidentally put on one of the aforementioned Mientkiewicz jerseys. I don’t know what it is, but girls love that jersey. I did not have as much luck the next night when I wore a Ron Gardenhire one for some reason.

It is only October, the playoffs are still going on and I’m already struggling with withdrawal. Every time David Ortiz has another big hit I go cold, then hot and then back to cold again. I got the shakes, which probably explain any punctuation problems inherent in this piece. I just can’t bring myself to let go and put away my 2004 Twins schedule for the winter. It hurts too much. I tried watching football instead, but unlike baseball you only get one game a week. I get all excited when Daunte throws 5 touchdowns and then I have to wait so long to see it again. There just isn’t enough to keep my interests in that game. So here I am, growing my hair long like Blanco waiting for Brad Radke to sign so I can throw another tailgating party. Anything to make the winter go by a little quicker.

Here is an excerpt of the conversation I had with my sister regarding Dougie "Baseball" Mientkiewicz:

My Sister: Do you think the Twins will resign Doug? I mean, he’s kind of cute and I miss him.
Me: *shudder* As far as I remember he is not a free agent…
Sis: Well I just bought a bunch of Mientkiewicz jerseys on sale; they are so cheap right now.
Me: You did what?
Sis: You know Justin Morneau is great but I think Doug got a real bad deal. He just wanted to play and let’s face it, he is a winner. I heard the guys on TV last night talk about how he is really a number three hitter for a playoff team! I’m pretty sure those guys know what they are talking about. Can’t we just trade Morneau for Doug? Do you think the Red Sox would do it? Maybe we could throw in Kubel or that one minor league pitcher guy whose kind of cocky.
Me: Well, you see the Fox announcers aren’t exactly right…
Sis: You can say a lot about Doug but at least he was never cocky, just confident. No team can have enough confidence. Maybe that was what we were missing against the Yankees.
Me: (Staring in disbelief)
Sis: Didn’t you see Doug get that big hit last night? Where was that last week when the Twins needed it? I’ll tell you where it was: in Boston!
Me: You mean the one in extra innings that nothing came of? He was in the on-deck circle when Ortiz won the game!
Sis: No I think Dougie was the guy and that, John, is why you will be receiving another Doug Mientkiewicz jersey for Christmas. You are going to look so cute!

(Note: There is absolutely no chance the Twins will sign Edgar Renteria this winter and Joe Mauer does not need a new knee just yet. Also, I need to admit that my sister is a very knowledgable Twins fan and in no way should this post take away from that.)

2004: A Mauer Odyssey

2004 began as a year of unknowns for the defending Central Division Champion Minnesota Twins, but many fans consider that to be a source of excitement. One of the (few) joys of rooting for a small market franchise is the heightened sense of anticipation that surrounds the new team each spring. The most pressing concern for Yankee fans, for example, is whether the team will win 100 or 105 games during the regular season. Such is not the case here in the land o' lakes. The words “high expectations” and “Twins fan” have not traditionally gone hand in hand over the years.

This spring, we had many important questions that could only be answered over the course of 162 games. Could Carlos Silva develop into a serviceable starter? Would talent translate into performance in the Twins’ bullpen? Would the offense finally develop some consistently? The answers to those questions were determined (yes, yes, and no), as were the answers to dozens of others. However, one of the spring’s most intriguing issues was not fully illuminated: How would Minnesota favorite son and ├╝ber-prospect Joe Mauer handle his role as the team’s everyday catcher?

Unfortunately, a definitive answer to that question never came. Below is a timeline of Mauer’s rookie season. As you can see, while there were some ups, they were far outweighed by the downs.

April 5: Went 2-for-3 with two walks and two runs scored in major league debut.
April 6: Injured left knee sliding while chasing a foul pop.
April 7: Placed on disabled list and underwent surgery to repair a left medial meniscus tear.
June 3: Returned to active roster.
June 6: Hit first major league home run, off Detroit's Esteban Yan.
June 11: Went 3-for-3 with a homer and two RBI to raise average to .346.
July 2: Elevated to No. 3 spot in Twins batting order.
July 7: Went 4-for-5 to push average to .340.
July 15: Struck out as pinch hitter in last regular-season appearance.
July 19: Placed on disabled list for second time.
Aug. 12: Passes two kidney stones and has a third removed.
Sept. 24: Exam ruled out additional surgery on knee, and rehab intensified.
Oct. 14: Experiences discomfort after light-to-moderate catching activities in Florida
Oct. 16: Given clean bill of health after scare, will play in Instructional League games this fall

Here are Mauer’s final totals for 2004:


The Verdict: The sample size was very small (about 1/5 of a season) but Joe was clearly one of the team’s best players when healthy this season. Very few people thought that he would hit for much power as a rookie, especially considering that he just four homers in 2003 at AA, but Mauer surprised us with six home runs and an outstanding .570 slugging percentage. He was also extremely good behind the plate, committing just two errors and throwing out 7 of 18 potential base stealers (39%). Longtime Orioles scout Deacon Jones summed it up perfectly earlier this season: “Everything you’ve heard about this kid is true.” For those 35 games, almost everyone’s expectations were exceeded. Mauer had been moved up to the #3 spot in the order and was actually producing (unlike Hunter, Koskie, and Mientkiewicz). He was even drawing some Rookie of the Year interest, despite the fact that he had missed the previous two months.

Unfortunately, it was all too good to be true. I guess it was too much to ask from the baseball gods that everything would go right this season, although we did catch our fair share of breaks overall. Mauer didn’t play after mid-July, and it was feared for a while that he might never catch again. While that doesn’t appear to be the case anymore, 2004 was pretty much a wash for Joe. We glimpsed his potential, but he simply wasn’t healthy enough for anyone to fully determine how he will perform at the major league level over the next few years.

The Future: We may not have a seasons-worth of information to go off, but that’s not going to stop me from speculating about 2005 and beyond! I firmly believe that Mauer will be the team’s Opening Day catcher once again next year. The fact that he was able to overcome this most recent hurdle is a very good sign for Joe, as he’s shown that every little setback is no longer a possibly career-threatening turn of events. Everything I’ve heard about the nature of this injury points to a full recovery. The knee can function normally without the meniscus for a very long period of time; it just takes a while for the body to get acclimated to life without it. Mauer is slowly getting used to this, and he seems to be making good progress.

I fully expect to see nearly a year’s-worth of June/July numbers from Joe in 2005: batting average around .300, perhaps 20-25 homers, and 85-90 RBIs with an OPS around .850. I had tempered expectations entering 2004 because I wasn’t sure how long it would take him to adjust to big league pitching, but the old axiom proved true: with the right swing, you can hit at any level. Joe’s got one of the sweetest swings around, and I can’t wait to see him put in a full season.

Major league pitchers, consider yourselves forewarned. You ain’t gonna be so lucky next year.

This was a scene we saw far too seldomly in 2004—Joe Mauer on the field.

If you're actually still reading this far down the page, you might be interested to know that I went 12-1 this week with my football picks over at Seth Speaks (outdistancing a talented field of 11 other "experts"). I am one of those unfortunate people who never wins anything, so please allow me a brief moment of celebration: Boo yah!

Thank you. We now return you to your regularly scheduled Twins discussion.