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Author Archives: Chuck Terhark

The hardest part of watching the Twins so far this year hasn’t been suffering through the losses. It’s been learning to love the losses. The transformation from a fair-weather fan to a true lover of a team through thick and thin is a painful one, and I for one am still in the larval stage.

But how do you enjoy watching a terrible baseball team? What I wouldn’t give for a longtime Royals fan to hold my hand through the process. Lacking that, reader, I present to you the following five ways to continue loving the Twins—nay, love them even more—despite the fact that things are indeed as bad as they seem.

Self-effacing humor: The last refuge of scoundrels

Louis CK is the funniest comedian on the planet right now, and the majority of his comedic arsenal comes in the form of self-ridicule. He doesn’t so much tell jokes as make himself the butt of them, and in him we see our worst selves and laugh. It’s like therapy. The Twins, too, are making butts of themselves this year, and it’s not wrong to laugh. They’re like the Louis CKs of the major leagues, and once you embrace this fact, watching them becomes enjoyable again. Try it: Next time Liriano gives up a homerun to a former Twin, or Clete Thomas [Update: So long, Clete] strikes out, or Willingham lets a ball bounce a foot in front of him and then 20 yards past him, or Span gets picked off at first, or Blackburn does what Blackburn does, or Gardy demands Butera be called up, or Yahoo “accidentally” calls Ryan Doumit “Ryan Doormat,” or Dick and Bert refer to Pavano’s flat 84 m.p.h. pitch as a “fastball,” or any Twin at all goes to the DL: don’t get angry. Just laugh. Because it’s funny.

Another bonus: I’ve never worn a Twins jersey, but I’ve always said that if I did, I’d want it to be an Al Newman jersey. The joke is that Newman wasn’t very good, so it’s funny to be the guy wearing his jersey. You can now get the same comedic effect from wearing anything with a Twins logo on it.

We get to spend time learning the names of minor leaguers

Trevor Plouffe’s .121 batting average got you down? Bummed about Danny Valencia’s .622 OPS? Fret no more, and sigh along to the soothing salve of this number: 1.008. That’s the OPS of one Miguel Sano, third-baseman for the Beloit Snappers, the Twins class-A affiliate. Or how about this one: .900. That’s Eddie Rosario’s OPS. What does that mean? It means the Twins have a stud infield in the making. Sure, it also means that it’s about two years away from becoming reality. But that’s two years of checking minor league stats and taking road trips to places like Beloit, Wisc. And you wanted a new hobby anyway, right?

We get to complain.

Nothing better for the soul than unloading invectives and Blylevenian curse words at the television night after night. Do this in moderation, however, lest you turn into a crank who trolls comment threads instead of picking the kids up from soccer practice. The word “Blylevenian,” though, should not be used in moderation. Have at that one.

The team’s failure illuminates the tenuous hold on adequacy we’d always taken for granted.

Every day’s like Mother’s Day now in Twins Territory—that one day every year when Mom got to kick her feet up and make her ungrateful kids fold the laundry and wash the dishes and make the dinner and see just how easy they normally have it. The Twins have had their quirks and false starts these last 10 years, sure, but on the whole they’ve made winning look relatively easy, to the point that Twins fans started to view the postseason as their birthright. Now, so deep down in the shit-cellar that most feasible ways out seem implausible if not impossible, we get the daily gift of perspective. Never again will take for granted a win against any team—even the Royals.

We can blame it on a curse—and then hunt for its cause.

The Twins won 94 games in 2010. They won 30 fewer a season later. What happened in between? A few personnel moves, sure, but clearly there’s a darker sort of juju afoot. When a team goes into as deep a funk as the Twins appear to be in, it can only mean one thing: A curse is brewing. And curses, as baseball historians can tell you, always have a root cause, from the Bambino to the Billy Goat to … whatever it is that makes the Royals the Royals.

So: What happened between October 3, 2010, and April 1, 2011? Let the hunt begin.

  • As someone noted on Twitter, Kelly Theiser left her post as the Twins in-house beat reporter. Kelly was good, but Rhett Bollinger, her replacement, is fine too, and this is hardly an outrage worthy of karmic retribution.
  • The Twins signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka. This clearly made them a worse team, but curses don’t work that way. The dots aren’t supposed to be so easily connected. Whatever the root of the Twins woes, it doesn’t have anything to do with any actual team maneuvers (unless of course Tsuyoshi brought with him some ancient Japanese amulet, or a box of cuddly Asian mini-bears and fed them after midnight).

Which brings me to my favorite theory:

  • The Twins moved to an all-cable television schedule. Prior to the 2011 season, I was able to kick back every Sunday afternoon with the game on the tube, reminding myself how ridiculous Bert Blyleven really is but also how nice televised baseball really is too. Ever since the network bigwigs reached over to we unwashed network masses and announced “Let them watch Fox Sports Net,” I’ve had to listen to Dan F’ing Gladden on AM radio (quick hat-tip here to Cory Provus, who’s done a great job in John Gordon’s chair this year), and the Twins have stunk up the joint every day since. I can’t even pay to watch online through MLB.tv thanks to their Draconian blackout rules.

Coincidence? Probably. But whatever. Let’s call it the Curse of Fox Sports Net, and blame Rupert Murdoch while we’re at it. And then let’s get back to rooting for things to get better, and for a Dominican teenager in rural Wisconsin to do the same, and laughing even if they don’t.

Chuck Terhark

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“Don’t wake up the sleeping dragon.”
– Ryan Doumit, April 10, 2012.

Ryan Doumit likely didn’t realize he was creating the next great Twins nickname when he conjured that adorable image before Charlie Walters following the team’s fourth straight loss, the first time they’d opened a season so miserably since 1969. Nor did he likely expect his words to be quite so prescient, despite the fact that rest of the quote makes him look like Nostra-Doumit: “History suggests that we’re going to wake up. We’ve got some thump in this lineup … You look at some of the track records of the guys here, it doesn’t matter (which pitcher) you throw out there, we’re going to get our hits.”

Doumit still hasn’t gotten his hits, he wasn’t around last year so his handle on history is iffy at best, and he’s played his entire career with the Pirates, lending even less credence to his theory that sleeping dragons eventually wake up. And yet he was right.

The Angels didn’t throw just any two pitchers at the Twins during the next two games; they threw two fringe Cy Young candidates in Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. And, remarkably, the Twins woke up and got their hits. Twenty-six in 48 hours to along with 16 runs, two wins, and enough power to make Target Field look like positively band-boxy. I know, it’s just two victories, the Twins still aren’t likely to be a .500 team, and yesterday’s come-from-behind thriller was really just the silver lining on a day already marred with the news that Scott Baker’s season—and his Twins career, probably—are kaput. Still. After muddling through last season’s misery, the restorative effects of visions like this:

… and this:

… are incalculable. Look at that first gif for a while: The sight of Joe Mauer turning on an inside fastball is such a rare and beautiful thing that I could watch it all day. “Smooth” and “sweet” don’t begin to describe it. It’s a glimpse of the absolute, a motion to be preserved and revered, like Da Vinci sketches and saintly relics. Morneau’s swing is the polar opposite: violent and angry, an ungraceful expression of sheer power that’s every bit as fun to watch as Mauer’s if only for the fact that every mammoth Morneau swing might be his last. That’s the sad truth that every Twins fan has to live with this season, and it makes moments like this one even more savory. These early home runs from the middle of the order are all the more cathartic given last year’s power outage and injury problems, which so enveloped the Twins fanbase that we’d all but forgotten what it was like to watch our team hit go-ahead homeruns against good teams. I’d not only lost hope that the Twins could do such a thing, I’d forgotten it was even possible. And then Morneau drove in Mauer. What was once such a natural occurrence, which had become an impossibility, was suddenly possible again. It felt like waking up indeed. Like our long, statewide nightmare was finally over.

Funny how things can turn around. And, of course, they can turn around again just as quickly. I’m not delusional: I still don’t think this is a .500 team. Prior to the season I would’ve told you that in order for the Twins to compete, they would at the very least need Liriano and Baker to be healthy and productive all season long, and it’s looking like neither will be. (There’s still hope for Liriano, but how many times can you say that before it isn’t true anymore?)

But that’s the great thing about a nickname like “the sleeping dragon.” It works even when the Twins slump again, which they will. All teams do. It’s just nice to know that waking up is an option again.

Chuck Terhark

Let’s begin our series on the newest Twins with a look at the player with the best chance to make the biggest impact relative to the players he’s replacing: Jamey Carroll.

“Relative to the players he’s replacing” is the important part of that sentence, because at first glance Jamey Carroll isn’t much to look at, stats-wise or otherwise (he’s a scrawny 5’9” with eyes so wide-set he looks like Rango, which I hereby nominate as his new nickname). Carroll is a career utility infielder who came up with the Expos, made a short-lived splash with the Rockies, spent a little time in Cleveland, and underwent a late-career resurgence in 2010 and 2011 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s a fine fielder, though he turns 38 next week so his range likely isn’t getting any better. He gets on base, but also hits for so little power that there’s a real chance that he’ll never hit a homerun in a Twins uniform despite the team giving him a two-year contract and a starting job as their everyday shortstop out of the gate.

Aside from what I can only assume is a 180-degree range of vision, Carroll’s main asset is what he isn’t—namely, the players he replaces, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Trevor Plouffe (whose last name rhymes with “oof”—onomatopoeia for what it sounds like to watch Trevor Plouffe play shortstop). Which is to say he can field a groundball cleanly and throw it from shortstop to first base, both big steps up from his predecessors. The fact that he walks nearly as often as he strikes out and finagles his way to first base 35 times out of every 100 plate appearances is merely gravy.

Carroll can play a variety of positions—he even plays some outfield, though you’ve got to be in pretty rough shape to trot him out there these days—with decent enough defense, and he gets on base at a high-enough clip to warrant batting him second, where his right-handed bat falls neatly between lefties Denard Span and Joe Mauer. His versatility means he can play second, which is nice considering you really never know what you’re going to get from Alexi Casilla, as well as third, which is also nice because ditto Danny Valencia. I’m sure the Twins will also have all kinds of nice things to say about his “veteran presence” as well, if you care about those things. Just remember, they said the same things about Tony Batista.

Barring injuries—I know, hilarious!—Carroll will spend most of his time at shortstop, and most of the things you’ll hear about him throughout the season will be in the key of “he battles his tail off” and “he really gets after it,” Mr. Gardenhire’s favorite attributes in a ballplayer, particularly skinny, light-hitting middle infielders (his favorite type of ballplayer as they all remind his own playing days).

So: He’s Punto with bat skills. And he’s a goofy looking dude–all baseball teams need one of those. Not bad for $3.5 million per year while he warms the shortstop gig for Brian Dozier, the hot-ish prospect most likely to assume the position in 2013. And if Dozier flames out, hey, there will probably be another aging, no-power veteran shortstop on the free-agent market to plug that hole. The good news: Punto himself is slated to be a 37-year-old free agent when Carroll contract expires. Twins fans, I’m sure, are counting the days.

Chuck Terhark

Alright, look: There was a time, not long ago, when being a Twins fan was a joy. Like gardening. Calming, occasionally fun, usually fruitful. You could talk about it with other fans and, more often than not, smile. Sure, there were always nagging issues—a pest to be ridded, a promising sprout that didn’t bloom. (Sorry, I’m not actually a gardener, but I’m having fun with the analogy.) Point is: Those days are gone. The era of the fair-weather hobbyist-fan is over. Twins fandom is now a job, and not an easy one. So: Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it.

The first order of business: Some context. In case you’ve forgotten—and Lord knows I’ve tried—the hometown nine spent their second season in their lovely new ballpark spending more money than ever before and came away with a whopper of a season to show for it. As much as I enjoy Burger King and malted milk balls, I’m using “whopper” as a pejorative here. They had 99 losses, but the real bitch: Our beloved “M&M” boys crashed to Earth with such force that they may never recover. Fans booed. It was that bad.

The team’s brass chalked the season up to a perfect storm of injuries, and they may have a point, although injuries don’t completely tell the story of the scouting failure that is Tsuyoshi Nishioka (a former batting champion from Japan who landed stateside and appeared to have never played the game of baseball before). Nor does it account for Liriano’s mental state (foggy, with nary a concussion to blame for it), Nick Blackburn’s contract (among baseball’s starting pitchers who are physically incapable of the feat known as the strikeout, he remains the richest), or the existence of Drew Butera (unnecessary—but then again, they wouldn’t be the Twins if they didn’t roster at least one player who would be lucky to make any other team’s AAA squad. See: Tolbert, Matt).

By wiping away the shitstorm that was the 2011 season by blaming injuries alone, the Twins can claim to be building a contending team again in 2012 simply by bringing back the same squad only healthier. That said, it still won’t be the same squad. Most notably, Terry Ryan is back as the General Manager, replacing Bill Smith—and the crowd went wild. Mr. Ryan got right to doing what Mr. Ryan does, which is search the bargain bins for position players who will likely turn into valuable assets (Jamey Carroll, Ryan Doumit, Josh Willingham—although he stands out as one of the most expensive free agent signings in Twins history, which still doesn’t say much) and pitchers that almost certainly won’t (Jason Marquis).

In the weeks leading up to spring training, I’ll take a look at each of these moves and the players involved, in an effort to deduce just what kind of team the Twins have assembled for us this year. I’ll take a look at the moves made by the other A.L. Central teams as well. And hopefully I can give readers of this fine blog something other than basketball to chew on.

Spoiler alert: I don’t think the Twins are going to compete this year. I’m not alone in that thinking. But that’s what makes being a Twins fan hard work these days. We still have to put in the hours. And some of that hard work comes in the form of remaining optimistic in the face of increasingly long odds. Let’s do this.

—Chuck Terhark