Why I'll Always Come Back

Copyright Betsy Bissen
It hasn't been easy being a Twins fan the last few years (though if you're committed enough to the team to find my little corner of the blogosphere, I hardly need tell you that).

It's been even less easy to be a positive Twins blogger, to dedicate time and energy to finding the silver linings in a team that often looks outmatched in almost every facet of the game. My writing life would be easier, and probably more pleasant, if I could just sign off from the blog, let it wither and dry up like the husk of so many other abandoned websites in internet ghost towns, and find something else to occupy my time.

But I keep coming back. I can't seem to stop. No matter how long I go between posts, I keep turning up to write something. Just like I keep turning up at Target Field to see something, anything that resembles baseball.

My father-in-law, the Gouger, had tickets for last night, and I was, as ever, excited to go. But with Mrs. Peanut off in Los Angeles studying to become a yoga teacher, my Parental Units (Mr. No-Ass and The Knitting Queen) in a jet lag stupor after a 40th anniversary trip to Barcelona, my little brother exploiting his fraternity, and my best dude friend on a date, it was just the pair of us. Weaving our way through a packed downtown, we were both grimly aware that the Twins, these Twins, were as likely to provide an evening's entertainment as the stand-up comedy stylings of Joe Mauer. ("Hey, have you ever noticed how things are...you know...things?")

Heading down to Target Field plaza, we saw a mother shepherding a pair of logo-bedecked boys into an elevator. The boys were glowing with excitement, all smiles and bouncing knees. Gouger asked "are the Twins going to win tonight?" The littlest boy replied "YEAH!!" with the kind of absolute certainty that you only hear in children and religious fundamentalists. We could have shaken our heads, or muttered something, but instead we high-fived, and cheered and headed on to the gates.


Since we arrived an hour early (preemptive parking before the Wolves and Twins fans descended en masse), I actually had time to peruse the clubhouse store, and all the food offerings I wanted. Part of me always thinks that, as fun as baseball can be, working in baseball (or at least in a baseball stadium) could leave you tired and dismissive. And yet I found myself hearing cheery recommendations from the beer vendor (Day Tripper APA: solid and satisfying after a long week), getting sincere service from the food vendors and sharing jokes and memories with clubhouse store cashiers. Everyone had a smile on their face, everyone seemed excited to see you, and more than willing to pause their work to appreciate a little sunshine and the promise of baseball ahead.

So hopeful...so, very hopeful...
And while the top of the first put me in mind of a long, bumpy road ahead (Pedro Florimon's sudden apathy had something do with that), it was easy to push that aside and appreciate the little things: Jason Kubel chugging as only Jason Kubel can on a triple, Josmil Pinto's big screen photo looking like nothing so much as a forlorn Teddy Bear, Joe Mauer's robotic RBI delivery system and awkward 1st base chatter, Kyle Gibson finishing a fine performance with a strike out and a standing O, Brian Duensing dropping the hammer, Kurt Suzuki joining a long list of players whose early performance pauses any cranky critique I could make.

It was a beautiful night, feeling warm and welcomed, watching a solid game of baseball and finding, five seats down, a likeminded fan in our old pal Betsy Bissen (her photo graces the top of this post...unless she tells me not to use it, in which case, I'll delete this sentence). Seeing her and talking (in person) for the first time in years, I got to hear all about her life as a photographer in the well, her stories about cupcakes and curveballs, pranks and--above all--positivity: why she always stays optimistic about the players, why the only people who drive her nuts are the people who can't stop complaining (and occasionally those who use ipads to take pictures), and why I should keep on keeping on with quirky little photoshops and random observations.

The whole night was a long, joyful reminder of why I come back to baseball and blogging again and again. It's easy to get sucked into my own private world: my house, my Netflix queue, my scotch bottles. But baseball makes sure I remember everyone around me: the little kids abuzz with excitement; the random strangers who have a smile, handshake and piece of advice; the players who become constants in your life; the other writers, photographers and talkers who share in the silliness with me; and the family who are always there.

Gouger said it at the start of the night. There's no where else in sports where you can feel as tied into the community as you do you do at a baseball game. There's no where else I feel like my writing has as much chance to connect with like minded readers and thinkers as in this baseball blog.

It's not easy to be a Twins fan right now. It's not easy to be a Twins writer right now. But no matter how hard it gets, it's worth it, to be tied in to a community of the excited, the kind, the constant, the silly and the family that makes baseball great.


Early Days: Using A Made Up Stat to Make Silly Predictions

So there's a down side to the start of the baseball season, as fun and exciting and thrilling as it is to watch baseball games be played, live and in your home town and with actual meaning associated with their outcome, it's also a reminder that you have a long, looong way to go until the season ends.

And as a Twins fan who has to expect mathematical elimination from the playoffs around the same time your tax returns are being mailed in, it's a very, very loooong time.

So, you'll forgive me if I spend a little bit of this time doing something silly. Instead of breaking down failures with runners in scoring position, or obsessing over arm slot, I prefer to just be an idiot. Baseball is there to entertain us, and when the product is a little less than riveting you have to make your own entertainment.

That's why I introduced a totally made up and completely subjective statistic: Amusement Above Replacement Player or AARP. This is a statistic of my own invention quantifying several unquantifiable things about players: performance, nickname, physical/personality traits, attitude/demeanor, and oddities.

AARP is fundamentally a way of quantifying just how much fun I personally feel while watching players or teams. You can certainly disagree with them, but good luck proving that I'm wrong because--as I mentioned before--it's all made up.

They could probably still beat the T-Wolves
Since this is the time of year for baseball bloggers to make rash and unfounded predictions prior to any kind of justifiable proof, it seems like an ideal opportunity to use a fictitious stat to make facetious predictions!

But how? After all the most amusing players are not always the best performers, nor are the teams with the most entertaining teams the eventual World Champions (sorry Harlem Globetrotters). So how can I use a stat about amusement to predict anything (even sarcastically)?

Like this, dear reader, like this: say that an average contending team would have a host of average AARP performers (.5-2.0) and a few players who are closer to transcendent talents who can capture the public interest/media spotlight (5.0 or better). I'll identify a few likely candidates in my next post and from that pool pick a preferred winner (again totally subjectively)

Meanwhile for individual players it's instructive to look at those who are either high on the performance metric, but low on experience (meaning they're about to get attention and grow into an interesting personality); or those who are high on the attitude/demeanor but low on talent (meaning that a good run of performance can make them more interesting). I'll take a look at some Twins players and assess how likely they are to curry public favor in the last post.


Minister of Excitement Proclaims "Opening Day!!"

Minister of Excitement Nolasco Proclaims Opening Day!
Also Proclaims Baseball's Awesome!! and Glory to Twins Territory!

News for the Consumption of the Loyal Population of Twins Territory
Chicago, USA

The newly independent state of Twins Territory has begun their campaign to bring the message of unity, equality and sideburned-based socialist paradises to the masses of Americans who still live in ignorance of their shackled existence.

Minister of Excitement Ricky Nolasco has proclaimed an Opening Day for all of Twins Territory and the adjacent lands, should they accept the greatness of baseball in their hearts. "Baseball's Awesome!!" Tweeted Minister Nolasco, "So pumped to be pitching for the glory of Twins Territory!!!"

The benevolence of Twins Territory's leaders will soon be on display for all America to see, beginning in the grim, dystopian hellscape known as Chicago. The great unwashed of the windblown city will be privileged to behold the glory of our marvelous leader Chairman Mauer, and his assorted Nine Stars of Excellence who take the field at his side every day. They might not always be the same stars, but they will immediately become stars simply by standing in proximity to the great and glorious leader.

First amongst the firmament of excellence today will be Minister Nolasco, who was drawn to Twins Territory for its lush green spaces and perfect temperatures as well as the chance to reform our world in a more perfect, Twins-like image. While his powers on the field of battle are prodigious, they are secondary to his powerful excitement and enthusiasm.

"Everybody's so great! And I know that with hard work and determination we will conquer the realms of the unbelievers and bring about the glorious morning of revolution in the hearts of even the dissolute and despairing! Also, there will be hotdogs!!!"

Added Minister Nolasco: "AWESOME!!!"


Chairman Mau-er Conquers First Base

Supreme Chairman Mauer Conquers First Base
"All is...uh...good" Glorious Leader Announces

Fort Kelly, TT

Following our secession from the United States of America last October the wonderful nation of Twins Territory has been savoring the sweet nectar of freedom bestowed upon us by our one and only glorious leader: Joeseph Mauer.

While the Supreme Chairman surprised many by announcing his transition from the position of "Catcher of All Furious Projectiles That Endanger Our Safety" to "First Guardian Against Infiltrating Base Runners", the change has been an unequivocal success.

"Our enemies may claim that I am a, uh, you know...tyrant," reported his eminence from the southern military strong hold where he is leading training drills. "But, Twins Territory is proud to be a democracy where all those selected to shoulder the burdensome honor of leadership can, ummmm, select those who are best for our nation, and stuff."

Our marvelous minister of all things good and decent has continued his reign of beneficence and generosity by sharing his knowledge with the heirs to his title while simultaneously adapting to his new position of prominence on the basepaths. Reported Field Marshal Gardenhire, "he's learning a lot out there, you know with [Field Marshal Emeritus] TK and [Chief Instructor of Scrapitude] Paul-ie and [Grand Poobah of Pabst Blue Ribbon] Hrbie. It's gonna be real good."

Some of the embittered and jaded citizens of Twins Territory may claim that this is merely propaganda for the regime, such criticism is unwarranted and merely serves to comfort our rivals. Should you know of anyone who doubts the power of our Premier Potentate, you need only direct their gaze to the glory of his regal visage, shining like a beacon of safety and security.

As Supereme Chairman Mauer has himself said, "All is...uh...good, you know. I feel pretty good, and you know, all glory to the citizens of Twins Territory."


The Newest Twin

By now, you may well have heard about the Brewers' newest addition, an adorable stray dog the team has adopted named Hank.

Because dogs take a lot of time and energy to own (and are an unreasonable expenditure of payroll) the Twins will not be following suit. However, our own cat Mini has agreed to be an adorable representation of the team's hopes, or lack there of, this season. Starting with this, in the wake of the announcement that Miguel Sano will undergo Tommy John surgery.


The Peanuts from Heaven Hall of Fame

Once again the sounds of horsehide hitting leather mitts is resounding throughout the sunny fields of Arizona and Florida, and if we ever get to turn off our snowblowers we might just hear it up here in the towns teams call home during the summer.

As is our custom every year at this time, we're spending part of spring training remembering those who make the game such fun to watch. So we're holding elections to the Peanuts from Heaven Hall of Fame which honors not baseball excellence but generally being amusing. Let the gatekeepers of Cooperstown worry about whose numbers are the best and who's morally pure enough worthy to enshrine, we'll just remember the funny things players did and make a goofy photoshop for them on Opening day.

As we suggested back in October, there's only one way to adequately judge a player: our totally made up and in no way scientific statistic AARP (Amusement Above Replacement Player [scale -10 to 10]). Below are this year's nominees and their AARP. Reminder, to be elected you must have either 75% or the highest vote total in the class, and to be held over to next year's ballot you need at least 5% of the vote--which is usually one vote or more.

You can vote through the poll on our personal website or leave a comment below to give your opinion added weight.

Returning Nominees
Joe Nathan
The Good--Gung ho closer with a penchant for made up rock anthems, facial hair, making farting noises with his mouth while stressed and piracy.
The Bad--Occasionally a little too fond of giving himself a higher degree of difficulty in saves.
AARP: 8.7

Denard Span
The Good--Steadily excellent play in center, quiet consistency at the plate, perfect nickname tie in with Menards.
The Bad--Chilled out attitude made him seem a little more aloof and harder to love than peers
AARP: 3.8

Delmon Young
The Good--Falls into the "So-Bad-It's-Good" genre of fielders...like Sharknado but with a glove. Mediocrity always masked slightly better than mediocre talent.
The Bad--Toolish behavior, general anti-semitism.
AARP: -0.9

Carl Pavano
The Good--Durable, reliable, has a heckuva mustache
The Bad--Not much personality to be noted beyond the mustache.
AARP: 2.7

Jesse Crain
The Good--Patches of impressive pitching, solid goatee and general kindness to the bloggers of this site.
The Bad--Few standout characteristics.
AARP: 2.0

Francisco Liriano
The Good--Flashes of brilliance, other flashes of stupidity, attributed silly amount of success to chewing gum, devastating slider
The Bad--Cranky and surly at times, as unpredictable as your crazy-ex but without any of the attractiveness.
AARP: 2.6

Tsuyoshi Nishioka
The Good--Briefly seemed like proof the Twins were going world wide. Tried really hard. Falls into the "So-bad-it's-still-pretty-bad" genre of fielders...like MegaShark versus Crocasaurus stuck on just the Jaleel White scenes.
The Bad--Created a lot of animosity pitting furious fans against merely exaperated fans
AARP: -0.6

Scott Baker
The Good--Consistent and solid starting pitcher. Once had his protective cup get lost in his pants.
The Bad--Injuries made his recent impact as a source of amusement minimal.
AARP: 2.1

Ben Revere
The Good--Thoroughly exciting and excitable fan favorite who loved to play the game
The Bad--Not around long enough to really make an impact or get a nickname
AARP: 2.3

Alexie Casilla
The Good--Absolutely passionate, strangely clutch, responsible for some of the most exciting moments in team history
The Bad--Generally an unknown in town, too inconsistent to become beloved.
AARP: 1.9

No longer eligible: Kevin Slowey, Luke Hughes, Jason Marquis, Matt Capps, Jason Kubel (resigned)

New Nominees
Justin Morneau
The Good--An MVP, a perennial all-star, a tenacious club-leader (even getting punched by Torii Hunter), goofy canuck, and the possessor of a widely admired backside.
The Bad--He hasn't quite been up to the old Morneau-snuff since a concussion, and despite his widely beloved nature his nicknames (Dr. Neau; Brawny; The Canadian Club) don't quite measure up.
AARP: 3.0

Ryan Doumit
The Good--Consistent refusal to button all his uniform created our nickname  "Ryan Suave", occasional outbursts of power were sincerely appreciated, penchant for eye black
The Bad--Consistently inconsistent. Poor defense and feeble hitting gave him little playing time and less love
AARP: 1.9

Jamey Carroll
The Good--Responsible for an often enjoyable game we played on this site called "Country Superstar" Jamey Carroll--which involved inventing silly psuedo-country songs based on being an aging middle infielder like: "My Defense Looks a lot Better After a Couple Beers".
The Bad--The whole playing thing wasn't his greatest strength....shame that was so important to the game.
AARP: 1.6

Liam Hendricks
The Good--Australian always seemed promising, and offered lots of Australia related jokes
The Bad--Never lived up to promise.
AARP: 0.7

Andrew Albers
The Good--Terrific story of triumph over adversity and dedication, including a scintillating stretch of scoreless innings.
The Bad--Everything after the strong start.
AARP: 0.9
This year, in addition to the recently released and traded players we're also running a veteran's ballot (in honor of the five year anniversary of our first inductee: Bert Aberforth Blyleven (whom we never saw play, but found hilarious anyway).

Veterans on our ballot and their AARP ratings are below.
Early Days
Cesar Tovar
The Good--Aside from the undeniably quirky and amusing playing of every position in one game, "Pepito" actually had a solid career both in the box and on the base paths, helping team to an AL title in 1965 and division titles in '69 and '70. Part of a stellar Centerfield tradition for the Twins.
The Bad--Didn't make much impact in the postseason. Relatively short peak of powers, fading off badly in the early 70s
AARP: 3.3

Mudcat Grant
The Good--Folksy and fun pitcher with a passion for music. Served as a top starter for the 1965 staff. Works to promote the history and future of African-American players in the majors.
The Bad--Three years is a very short run with the Twins.
AARP: 3.8

Glory Years
Dan Gladden
The Good--Tenure with team coincides with both world titles, including championship-winning run in 1991. Forerunner of gritty determined Twins players. AKA "Dazzle". Crotchety but amusing announcer
The Bad--Titles may be timing as much as talent. Hair was a mullet. Crotchety announcing. Grit and pluck are overrated.
AARP: 2.8

Al Newman
The Good--Plucky, scrappy utility infielder. Part of major league record triple-play combinations, later became coach famous for waving players home and butt patting.
The Bad--Again grit and pluck are overrated. Having an 0-31 hitless streak is too often forgotten, many would rather not hear about an association with recent coaching staffs.
AARP: 2.0

Recent Standouts
Corey Koskie
The Good--Excellent defender, solid hitter, founder of a goofy clubhouse-aesthetic, Canadian willingly returns and offers support for the team since retirement. Inspiration for my mother's rhyming game ["Koskie, Koskie, Show Us What you Gots-ki!"]
The Bad--Concussion and frequent injuries ended his career

AARP: 3.7

Doug Mientkiewicz
The Good--Gold medalist, World Series Champion, gold glove winning first baseman, incredibly popular hitter (despite average performance), gladly spoke his mind and inspired most awkward rhyming game [Mientkiewicz, Mientkiewicz...Make me a Sandwhich!]
The Bad--Friend to A-Rod. Awkwardly toolish after helping Red Sox win World Series.
AARP: 3.2


A Game of Cold Weather and Hot Stoves Part III

Lately I've enjoyed toying with the idea of Game of Thrones mastermind George RR Martin would write about key events in the baseball offseason. With the Twins more or less moribund this time of year, it's the best way I can think of to be writing and giggling to myself. (More of the same are available at the sporting outpost Simon and I have set up [http://mackenzielowbudgetsports.tumblr.com/] including the Robinson Cano/Jay-Z Fanfic you've all be waiting for)

This week, George RR Martin writes the Masahiro Tanaka signing

The flickering of the fire off the pin-stripe cloaks armor was inspiring. It glittered and danced most dangerously, reminding all assembled for the royal audience that the king was both wealthy and powerful...and surrounded by a bunch of guys who could kill you just as soon as look at you.

But something made Ser Ivyn uneasy. He had been raised for this, a younger son of an average house he had no claim to property or title, and knew that his only way to survive in this world was to become handy with a sword and set of daggers, learning to hurl and spin them with deadly accuracy, leaving all those under his charge well guarded from the unwashed masses of humanity that hurl insults and feces with equal relish. 

His focus and dedication led him to the highest court in the land, at Yank's Landing, and earned him the noble title of Ser like many of his boyhood heroes: Ser Myke the Wise, Ser Andrew the Unaging, and Ser Rouger the One with Bacne and an Attitude Problem. Ser Ivyn was proud of all he had done, but, still uneasy.

After all, the recent unrest around Yank's Landing had made the King unpredictable, seeking far and wide for sellswords to add to the King's Guard. Some had made themselves invaluable, like Ser SeeSea, but all too often the king ignored the long nurtured, doubtlessly loyal knights (Ser Filip or Ser Jabba), leaving Ser Ivyn forever uncertain about his own future. 

Now there was a special welcome for Ser Teneka, who had been specially sailed across the wide and roaring seas to Yank's Landing. So great was the threat of the insurgents around him that the King sought out the greatest knights in all the world to protect him. And yet, thought Ser Ivyn, how long could you trust a sellsword to remain true? What was to prevent him from turning against you, as Roby had done just months before, vowing that he would be the King in his own way and galloping away with Ser Hova at his side.

There was danger afoot, and Ser Ivyn was uneasy. 

Let me talk about that some more for about 40 more pages without any other events actually happening...