Friday, December 15, 2006

One Day Only Sale!

Fear not, faithful readers (all 10 of you)! Twins Chatter is back, albeit for a limited time only. In fact, that time is limited to... Exactly one day! Before I get started on the post, I just want to go over why I am writing today, of all days. Here's the story: For the Journalistic Writing class I am taking, we recently held a class period on blogs. Naturally, being a *former* blogger myself, I professed to know a little bit about the subject. Our assignment for this week was to start a blog and write a short entry. I already have the blog started (and over 200 archived posts!), so I thought that I would simply add to that number and bring you a little bit of off-season chatter.

I realize that it has been a few months since I posted anything new on Twins Chatter, but rest assured, I've been just as obsessively keeping up with all the latest Major League Baseball news. The playoff sweep, the Tigers roll, the Tigers roll over, Big Mac not in the Hall, price inflation, D-Mat signs.... You all know the storylines by now. It hasn't been a particularly eventful Hot Stove League thus far, but things have been happening pretty consistently, with much more to come no doubt.

On the Twins' side of things, nothing too earth-shattering has happened (hey, imagine that!). Francisco is out for 2007, which we all kind of assumed back in September, and Morneau won the MVP award, which only the most die-hard fans saw coming (I know that I sure didn't). However, the signing of Jeff Cirillo the other day has made me stop and think about what the Twins' 2007 roster might look like. While no one expected Terry Ryan to make any major moves, I think that some fans half expected the team to have acquired a legitimate starting pitcher by now. Those same fans obviously did not anticipate the ridiculously high prices for mediocre starting pitchers this winter.

My opinion? I honestly don't think that the Twins will sign viable starting pitcher to compete with the young kids in the rotation right now. And I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing. Yes, the rotation looks thin after Johan, but is it worse to take some chances with (very talented) kids or overpay for a veteran that will limit you financially when it comes to other priorities? Personally, I'll take my chances, and I think Trader Terry is likely to do the same. Here's the rotation that I see the Twins debuting in April:

1. Johan Santana - No worries here... Cy Young frontrunner again in '07
2. Boof Bonser - How is it that a previously-unheralded guy like Boof is now "untouchable"? Such is the market these days.
3. Carlos Silva - Yuck... But he almost looks like a bargin now.
4. Matt Garza - This guy has all the talent in the world, and I have a feeling that he's going to put together a solid 2007 campaign. Not that he won't struggle at times, but the "Garz-dog" has the stuff to survive and thrive.
5. Glen Perkins - Left-handed and throws 92-94 mph? What more could you ask for!? Okay, a little experience might help, but this guy knows how to pitch.

Alright, I admit it would look a lot better if a name like "Jason Jennings" was penciled in there at number two or three, but the Twins' rotation still compares favorably with the rest of the American League. Ryan might be able to swing a deal for another starter (Joel Pineiro?) but I'm not holding my breath. We'll just have to wait and see what the rest of the winter holds.

And that's it for today's chatter! There is a potential development that may allow and/or encourage me to actually start this blog back up in the coming months, but if that happens I will alert the proper channels. Thanks for stopping by Twins Chatter today!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

That Magical Season

Hi there folks, I realize it has been many, many months since I put something up on Twins Chatter. However, the fact that I have a new column available and the recent link from Will Young inspired me to put up a new post. Enjoy "That Magical Season."

Make no mistake: Roller coasters aren’t for everyone. People with heart problems, weak stomachs and young children probably should avoid the unnecessary risk of these up-and-down thrill rides.

But for the rest of us? Call me crazy, but I think today’s gravity-defying, nausea-inducing coaster rides are just about the most fun a human being can have on this earth.

The 2006 Minnesota Twins season has been reminiscent of a crazy roller coaster ride in many ways. Things looked bright enough before the season began – the team returned every key player from a year ago and added a couple of veterans to plug various holes. But by May, instead of battling with the surging Detroit Tigers and World Champion Chicago White Sox for the AL Central crown, the Twins found themselves languishing near the Kansas City Royals with the other dregs of the American League.

Yet as everyone in Twins Territory should know by now, the story since that time has been an absolutely incredible one. Lead by a pack of “Piranhas,” a hometown hero, a burly Canadian and two magical left arms, Minnesota has been nearly 40 games over .500 since June 8, shaving 12 games off the Tigers’ lead in the division and cruising to their fourth playoff berth in five years.

I won’t go into the typical media-covered storylines in this space. By now, hopefully you know that Joe Mauer is a great hitter (and the dream husband of thousands of young Minnesota women), Justin Morneau should win the MVP award, Johan Santana is a lock for the AL’s Cy Young, and Mike Redmond has the olfactory fortitude to somehow “smell” RBIs (yeah… I don’t quite get that one either). If you’ve been paying any attention whatsoever, you’ve heard a dozen times how pesky Ozzie Guillen finds the Castillo-Punto-Tyner-Bartlett combination and that the Twins’ bullpen is the real secret behind their success.

Instead, I’m going to point out something that these 2006 Twins have given us that isn’t necessarily obvious at first glance: The gift of relevance. Seems like an odd thing to say, doesn’t it? Let me break it down for you: Twins pre-June 8 = Not fun to watch at all. Twins post-June 8 = Story of the year/Most fun you’ll have all day.

After reaching the playoffs three consecutive years (2002-04), for one 14-month stretch (April 2005-June 2006) it seemed like the Twins would challenge the Timberwolves for the title of “Most Irrelevant Sports Franchise in Minnesota.” World Series talk in ’05 translated into a mediocre (83-79) season, and after a 25-33 start to 2006, Vikings training camp was quickly becoming the most popular topic on local sports radio. My worst nightmares appeared to be coming true, as the performance of the local nine brought back memories I had repressed since those forgettable days when Scott Stahoviak roamed the artificial plains of HHH Metrodome.

This gift, more than anything else, is what I will take away from the 2006 season. The Twins may go on to win the World Series, or they might get swept by the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter – the buzz of baseball is back and it’s here to stay. Even if the Twins can’t win it all this year, with young players like Mauer, Morneau, Santana, Liriano, Nathan, Cuddyer and Bartlett, they’ll undoubtedly field some excellent lineups for years to come. By the time the team’s new stadium opens in 2010, the Twins could very easily have three more playoff appearances under their belts.

Baseball is in the hearts and minds of millions of fans around the Upper Midwest, and all is once again right with the world. The reason we follow sports teams in the first place is because they provide a release from the tedium of everyday life. Sports are exciting; work/school/life usually isn’t. And when a team proves itself actually worthy of that devotion (unlike a certain scandal-ridden gridiron gang I’ve heard is quite popular this time of year), it makes the end result all the more satisfying. Johan and company gave us a genuine reason to care about baseball this summer, and no matter what happens in October, it sure was one helluva ride.

Weak stomach or not, this is one roller coaster I’m glad I stayed on.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

So Close, Yet So Far

Wow, a column that is actually up-to-date! I just wrote this the other day, and it contains information that is actually current through today. If you're looking for more commentary on the stadium issue, Twins Chatter is your new source! Look for a response from my partner in the coming days.

With the Minnesota Twins playing some of their worst baseball since the “Dark Years” of 1993-2000 (perhaps there are a few of you out there that still remember those infamous days of Scott Stahoviak, Rich Robertson and Butch Huskey), for much of the past month, baseball fans were able to console themselves with the fact that the Twins’ stadium deal seemed to be making real progress in the state legislature.

Unfortunately, like the outcome of a typical Rondell White at-bat (the Twins’ designated “hitter” that has six RBI in 95 plate appearances), even that tiny bit of positivity seems to have been left stranded on base.

Baseball supporters in the Northland have been fighting for a new outdoor venue for the Twins since 1997. Before the Minnesota Senate essentially killed the most promising stadium plan (to date) on Monday, it looked like 2006 might finally be the year our government actually got something done, for a change.

Before this week’s events, there existed a palpable feeling of optimism amongst baseball purists (including myself) that openly despise the musty confines in which the Twins currently reside, a.k.a. the Metrodome.
We should have known better.

Despite the passing of a workable bill through the House last week, the Senate, in the true spirit of Minnesota political indecisiveness, has halted the plan’s momentum by bogging it down with numerous add-ons, all but nixing our already faint hopes for a solution.

Nearly everyone who has ever taken in a baseball game at the Dome can agree on one thing: The facility is most assuredly not a suitable home for our national pastime. Baseball is meant to be played on green grass and under the sun, not on synthetic fibers with a dirty white roof obstructing the sky. The need for a new park is absolutely undeniable, but as is the case with every political issue, the real question is this: Who’s going to pay for the thing?

The plan that was so rudely interrupted by the Senate calls for a .15 percent sales tax to be enacted in Hennepin County to pay for approximately two-thirds of the $522 million structure. What is controversial about the plan is that Hennepin’s citizens have no say as to whether or not they will be taxed – the original bill did not require a referendum. As un-democratic as that sounds, realists (i.e. those whose heads do not reside within a certain bodily crevice) know that a referendum would essentially kill the plan – it is nearly unthinkable that people will voluntarily raise their taxes for anything (including education), let alone for something as nonessential as a baseball stadium.

Critics of the plan argue that billionaire owner Carl Pohlad should build his own stadium, and that this money would be better spent on more important things like education or healthcare.

Do you know what I say to those people? You are absolutely, 100 percent correct.
Pohlad is Minnesota’s second-wealthiest citizen, and with the sale of another bank or two, could undoubtedly afford to plunk down the half-billion dollars necessary for a new field. And the state of Minnesota could always use more money for education and healthcare, two areas that are woefully under-funded not only here but throughout the entire United States.

However, the reality of the situation is that neither one of those things are ever going to happen. Pohlad, a notoriously stingy man, has absolutely no incentive to pay for a new stadium himself when his fellow billionaire owners around the country ALL received public funds to aid in the construction of their new parks (some sixteen in all). What reason is there for a penny-pincher like Pohlad to pay up when no one else has?

And here’s an interesting bit of trivia for all you naysayers out there: Guess how much extra money has been spent on things like education or healthcare since the stadium debate began in 1997, or how many extra tax dollars will be allocated for such things this year in lieu of a stadium bill?

If you answered “zero,” “zilch,” “nada” or “nothing” you would be absolutely correct. Such issues will never go away, and if we’re waiting on their resolution before we move forward with any other public projects, then we might as well just shut down the whole government right now. Simply put, the whole “put-that-money-towards-education-instead” argument is quite possibly the most naïve thing I have ever heard. If we were going to put more money towards such things, we would have done it already – the citizens of Hennepin County will just as surely reject a .15 percent “general education” sales tax in a referendum, and the politicians all know it.

I am not anti-democratic, nor am I “against the children” because I’m pro-stadium, but I am a realist. I realize that if we want to keep professional sports (a commodity that a great many people value highly) in Minnesota, we’re going to have to pony up the dough sometime, somehow. The plan that the Senate is doing its best to kill right now makes sense economically and should be workable politically.

Unfortunately, if things continue down their current course, it appears as though the citizens of Minnesota will be left standing at the plate after yet another called third strike, just like Rondell White.

Monday, April 24, 2006

"(Very) Cautiously Optimistic"

I realize that this column, which was published last Thursday, is now a bit outdated, but I thought I'd put it up here anyway for your reading enjoyment. I don't write a ton of Twins-related stuff anymore (mostly St. Olaf-related stuff) but on occasion I do.

And after that weekend sweep, I (unfortunately) look prophetic.

Cautiously Optimistic

I’ve learned my lesson.

It seems as though every time I use this column to sing the praises of my favorite sports franchise, the Minnesota Twins, something inevitably blows up in my face.

In early 2004, still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in my tenure as the Messenger’s sports editor, I proclaimed from my would-be pulpit that the Twins were a “force to be reckoned with” in the powerful American League, even dubbing them the “team to beat” in the 2004 playoffs.

The Twins were then promptly toppled by the New York Yankees in four games during the postseason’s first round.

Last year, still retaining the rosy glow of a cock-eyed optimist, I fell in line with the so-called national “experts” and tagged my Twins for their fourth-consecutive American League Central Division title.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of ignoring emerging powers like the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox, both of whom had left the punchless Twins in their wake by mid-season.

But 2006 is a new year, one in which I am determined not to repeat my past transgressions. After all, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, right?

So even though the Twins made a number of positive off-season acquisitions this past winter, I am most assuredly not going to pick them to overtake the World Champion White Sox and 93-win Indians in the highly-competitive American League Central.

Even though three-time All-Star Luis Castillo (acquired for next-to-nothing during the Florida Marlins’ fire sale this winter) is a vast upgrade from the pitiful group the Twins trotted out at second base in 2005, I’m not going to say that his addition will drastically improve what was the league’s worst offense a year ago.

Although new DH Rondell White (owner of a career .289 batting average despite his miserable start this season) should provide some much-needed protection for young hitters like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in the Twins’ lineup, I’m not going to say that I foresee breakout seasons for these two rising stars.

And even though the Twins have overcome a dismal 1-5 start by winning five of their last seven games, with the previously-questionable infield duo of Juan Castro and Tony Batista leading the way (a combined .319 batting average and nine RBI through 13 games) against contenders like the Athletics, Yankees and Angels, I am most assuredly not going to bestow the title of genius upon Twins’ general manager Terry Ryan for allowing these scrap-heap veterans to channel their inner (All-Star) selves.

No, instead I’m going to use this space to repeat what you have heard from all the professional prognosticators this spring: These new-look Twins, despite some intriguing additions and one of the league’s top pitching staffs, don’t have what it takes to contend with the mighty White Sox and über-talented Indians in baseball’s toughest division.

Even though the Twins have looked so impressive during the past week and a half, displaying surprising power and clutch hitting to go along with their trademark pitching-and-defense approach, I’m not going to get all excited and say that 2006 is the year the Twins will finally put it all together.

Instead, I’m going to show a little bit of self-restraint this year, and I invite you to do the same. This isn’t to say you should stop “root, root, rooting” for the home team. On the contrary, these guys need all the support they can get as they do battle with the American League’s best.

But please repeat after me as I say, once and for all, that the 2006 Twins will not take baseball by surprise this season – they will not win their division, cruise through the playoffs or win their first World Series in 15 years.

Who knows? Blind optimism obviously hasn’t been working of late, so perhaps this new approach will work wonders for the hometown nine.

This is one year where I defintely won’t be disappointed if my prediction proves false.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

How Lucky We Were

I know I don't usually post here anymore, and I don't expect anyone to ever read this, but I wrote the piece below for my newspaper about Kirby. I thought it might be appropriate to put here as well. Thank you.

To an outsider, one of the most peculiar aspects of our culture must be the way that we treat people after death. No matter what events had transpired during a person’s life, we are determined to focus on the positives after their passing, sometimes to a fault.

With Kirby Puckett, however, this has not been difficult.

Ever since the greatest Twin of all-time passed away last week at age 46, it seems as though almost every resident of Minnesota has been transported back to October of 1991 at some point or another. That fateful Game 6 when the Legend of Kirby Puckett was solidified forever. As artificially constructed as some of our modern day “heroes” appear to be, Kirby’s World Series performance was truly the stuff of legends.

I hope that you have taken the time to read some of the pieces published in both the local and national media in the days following Puckett’s untimely passing. Both the quantity and quality of the Puckett tributes that have surfaced in the past week and a half has been nothing short of astounding. Almost everything that I have read (and I have read a lot) has been both tasteful and heartfelt, a difficult line to straddle when dealing with a public figure who was both as beloved and maligned as Kirby was.

As merely a would-be sports columnist in a tiny student newspaper, I feel there is little I can add to the many fitting tributes that have been heaped upon our fallen star already. I can’t claim to have really met Kirby personally (outside a couple autograph requests, which he naturally fulfilled) and I am too young to remember his outstanding play during the prime of his career.

As a diehard Twins fan and lifelong Minnesotan, however, I feel there is at least one area in which I am qualified to add to the conversation: Just how much the attitudes and practices of this one man meant to our entire state.

In short, Kirby Puckett, more than any other player in the franchise’s 45-year history, exemplified the “Twins Way” of playing the game. Kirby played baseball the way it was meant to be played – one hundred percent full-tilt, one hundred percent of the time. A product of the Chicago projects, he never took a single day in the major leagues for granted, even when he was earning millions of dollars each season. In a time when so many ethical questions cloud our beloved national pastime, Kirby Puckett will forever stand as a lasting reminder of all that is great about sports – not the money, fame or accolades, but rather the unbridled passion, joy and genuine love for the game.

Minnesota so loved Kirby Puckett not just because he was best player on the state’s only two championship teams. We didn’t love him only because he took Charlie Leibrant deep in Game 6, had a cannon for a throwing arm or smacked a franchise-record 2,304 hits in 12 big league seasons.

We loved him most because he did it all with that magical smile on his face and twinkle in his eye.

"No one loved being a baseball player more than Kirby,” said Orioles Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken about his longtime opponent, and you didn’t have to know Puckett personally to know he was telling the truth.

On the baseball diamond, Kirby seemed invincible. He possessed the perfect combination of talent, work ethic and zeal for the game. Last week, we found out once and for all that, despite our fervent hopes to the contrary, this Minnesota legend was still just a man. And although the man might be gone forever, every Twins fan, young and old, can forever carry with them that swing, that hustle, that passion and that joy. Kirby Puckett was a one-in-million ballplayer, and our fair state was lucky enough to house his brilliance for many, many years.

Only now do we realize how much that really meant.