Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Losing Games, Blowing Calls, and other Twins Notes

Unfortunately, the Twins seem destined to spend 2011 learning the hard way how many different ways they can lose a baseball game. In Monday’s game, the Tigers broke a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the 8th inning when a grounder bounced, hit a fan in an orange shirt and the umpires called it fan interference even though it should have been a ground rule double. Johnny Peralta, who had been on first, was awarded home base instead of third, and thus scored the winning run. When asked about the seemingly inexplicable call after the game, crew chief Gary Darling explained: “We ruled spectator interference and we ruled the runner would have scored without it. [You know, because we said so.]”

The bad call provided baseball writers with fresh fodder to once again bemoan the fact there isn’t more instant-replay in baseball. Although I didn’t like Monday’s call, my position on expanded instant-replay remains the same—I don't like it. As I explained almost exactly one year ago:

Personally, I find anything that makes baseball any bit more like football revolting. When Gardy goes out to challenge a close call, do I want to see all the umpires run off to a little room where they will huddle around, watch a video tape, and decide what to do? Heck no. I want Gardy to be ejected, everyone to throw their hats on the field, and then be able to blame all of the Twins’ misgivings on the umpires. After all, it wasn't all those missed chances that lost the game for the Twins last night, it was that one blown call.

Come on guys: was it really that one stupid call that lost it for the Twins yesterday? With Kubel and Thome already pulled from the game, Matt Tolbert and Drew Butera the only available pinch-hitters, and the Twins already three-relievers deep into the 2011 Twins bullpen, were they really going to pull out a win? Maybe... but maybe not.

However, a tearful apology from Gary Darling tonight when Jerry White or whomever trots out to present the Twins lineup card would still be very welcome.

Guess Who's Hot...

Between May 1st and May 30th, when it comes to Twins players who had at least 20 at-bats, guess who had the highest batting average (.302), on-base percentage (.362), slugging percentage (.444), and OPS (.807)? If you guessed Jason Kubel... you’re wrong.

It’s Alexi Casilla.

I know—you might retort that Casilla has a smaller sample-size due to having fewer at-bats than some regular regulars, or that these stats aren't advanced enough, or the fact Casilla led May in all these categories just shows how bad the 2011 Twins are. But Casilla actually has been looking confident and playing well lately—take advantage of a hot streak. Casilla's certainly looking MUCH better right now than Trevor Plouffe, who has been repeatedly failing to catch the ball, repeatedly air-mailing throws, and repeatedly not hitting.

Over the past week I've seen many people suggest benching Casilla and starting Plouffe instead, but there is simply no reason to be doing that right now.

Nishioka Nearing Return

Tsuyoshi Nishioka played in his first extended spring training game last Saturday at shortstop, and he got a hit his first two at-bats, ultimately going 2 for 3 with one RBI. On Monday Nishi went 0 for 3 playing second base, but did turn a double play without breaking a leg. The training staff has been helping build Nishioka's instinct to jump while throwing to first on a double play—something not normally needed in Japan—apparently by chucking big rubber balls at him.

The Japanese media originally reported that Tsuyoshi would return to the majors on June 9th, but it appears it could be a couple days later. After running out a grounder to shortstop at full-speed on Monday, Nishioka told reporters, "I wanted to test my condition during the game. I still feel a sense of discomfort. After I finished running, I still felt some pain."

In any case, it appears Nishioka will be back within the next two weeks, and probably before Mauer—who is still suffering from some mysterious knee problem/leg weakness/flu. It makes me worried, knowing Mauer is never one to not want to play, not work hard, and not want to be back ASAP.

In any case, here is a photo of Nishi and Joe exchanging hellos at practice on Tuesday.

Mom's Finnish Language Lesson

Mom, who is from a large Finnish family, says there is a word in the Finnish language that means "ish," "ew," or "yuck." The word is "hyi"—pronounced quite a lot like "Hoey."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Remembering Harm'

For the Twins and Twins fans, this week has mainly been about celebrating the life of Harmon Killebrew.

Wearing 3s

On Monday night—the first home game since Harmon’s passing—everyone was encouraged to wear number 3’s in Harmon’s honor. I visited Harmon’s statue before the game, where it was surprisingly quiet for the amount of people gathered there.

I was very impressed with the amount of people who wore 3's.

Denard Span got in the spirit before the game, signing many autographs for fans.

The team also paid tribute.

Harmon Killebrew's Memorial

Tonight, the team held a memorial for Harmon. I visited Harmon's statue before the game, and there were even more flowers and notes left. I also noticed, however, several people had taken single flowers out of bouquets and left a few at Kirby's statue. That was very touching to me—what a wonderful organization with the best fans in the world.

I assume those who care watched the memorial themselves. All I can say is this:

My favorite part was when Thome surprised us, sitting in the 523 ft. seat.

The saddest part was when sir Rodney Carew broke down crying at the podium, while recalling his last visit with Harmon.

The most touching part was when Nita—Harmon's wife—gave us his last days, his last words, and his last expression of how thankful he was for his fans.

Nita: You thought you couldn't do public speaking—but you did so, so well. You definietly made Harmon proud.

Other Pictures:

Hank Arron, Jim Kaat, and Michael Cuddyer

Mudcat Grant sings "It's a Wonderful World"

Cuddyer, Morneau, and Tolbert.

Love for Number Three.

Cuddyer steps up to speak

Fans, players, family, and 3.

Baseball listeners.

Thome mourns.

Nita Killebrew.

Thome and Hank.

Hank and Thome celebrate Harmon Killebrew.



Some other bloggers have also shared their thoughts, check it out:
SethSpeaks.net: Thoughts on the Killebrew Tribute
North Dakota Twins Fan: My View of Killebrew's Memorial

Monday, May 23, 2011

Flight of Twins Fans

“I went to all three games!”

“All the pitches he threw right over the plate today and Kubel didn’t even swing at any of them.”

“That Delmon...”

“Oh my god, that was the most disgusting bathroom ever!” the leathery-tanned lady sitting next to me tells her apparent husband. She has been complaining the whole flight. She’s literally now hyperventilating. Or crying. She’s clutching her copy of the ‘Arizona Reporter’.

Probably not Minnesotan.

I’m sitting in the window seat with two empty cans of Leinenkugel's. She’s not drinking, and she has been giving me some disgusted looks. Of all people, of course, she’s the one I get to sit next to.

Clearly not a Minnesotan Twins fan.

This Sun Country flight returning from Phoenix to Minnesota late Sunday is full of Twins fans. Hats, shirts, jerseys, and bags. Everyone’s talking, everyone’s smiling—and yes, even though the Twins actually lost all three games in Arizona against the ‘D-Backs’.

But they were close games. They were exciting games. And Twins fans were certainly there to enjoy them.

The Crowd at Chase Field when the TWINS Score

I went to the Twins game against the Diamondbacks Saturday at Chase Field (yes, with some pretty sweet seats as a law school graduation gift!). AT LEAST forty to fifty percent of the fans there were Twins fans—which I suppose isn’t all that surprising. Phoenix is home to many Midwestern transplants and retirees. Everyone must have gone down to visit their grandma/mom/dad/uncle/grant aunt/etc. and conveniently take in the Twins game at the same time (including myself).

At this point, I could do a run down of the Twins' games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—but that has been done elsewhere. Let me point out my favorite fan experiences at Chase Field on Saturday.

1. Racing of the Legends

Ok, this is really awesome.

Sort of like the sausages in Milwaukee—except even better. Arizona has over-sized Diamondback Legends—Luis Gonzales, Randy Johnson, Mark Grace, and Matt Williams—run a race every game. Then afterward, they go all around the stands cheering on with the fans.

2. Awesome Scoreboard Backgrounds

Chase Field used awesome team-location backgrounds on the scoreboard when announcing all the Twins players. For example:

Target Field

Mall of America

Cherry and Spoon (I know this is a terrible picture!)


3. Scotty Baker is a Monster

Okay, okay... I personally got a kick out of that.

4. So Glad Target Field Has No Roof What-So-Ever

Chase Field has a retractable roof, because Arizona gets pretty inhospitable during the summer time and air-conditioning is needed. Someone on Twitter compared it to the Milwaukee Brewers' stadium. I've never been there.

However, having been to Chase Field once before Target Field opened, and now, I can say I am supremely happy Target Field has no retractable roof. A lot of structure is needed for a retractable roof, which makes the stadium lose that real outdoor feeling. It's like pretending your car with a sunroof is a convertible.

The girl behind me on this flight, now, however, has most her sock stuck up between the window and my seat. A little gross to some, maybe—but she is wearing a Morneau shirt.

And a two (or so) year old child in front of me just screamed for the first time this whole flight—and the leather-tanned woman next to me grabbed her husband's leg in annoyance. The boy keeps looking back at me, but I just smile at him, which makes him smile. And he's wearing a Joe Mauer shirt too.

Then, of course, we are about to land, and the PA comes on:

"On behalf of Sun County Airlines, we welcome you back to the Twin Cities.

"And if you're just visiting, we hope you enjoy your stay."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Being Harmon Killebrew

I never got to watch Harmon Killebrew play. As a Minnesotan child of the ‘80s, I watched a different hero. But I have always been aware of who Harmon Killebrew was, and what he did, because Harmon was my Mom’s hero, and my Mom is the reason I love baseball.

She has told me her stories many times. Growing up as the youngest of ten children on a dairy farm in northern Minnesota, my Mom and her older brother would listen to games on the radio and act them out in the yard. Her brother—the second youngest, but still seven years older than her—always got to be Harmon Killebrew. “I had to be Bob Allison,” Mom always says.

In 2006, the Twins won the AL Central on the last day of the season, giving them home field advantage against the A’s in the first round of the playoffs. At one of the games, my Mom saw Harmon sitting in the stands a few sections away. Fans didn’t recognize him. My Mom—in her Harmon Killebrew throwback jersey—approached him after the game. “Harmon, you have always been my hero,” she said. She told him her story about acting out the games as a girl. Of course, Harmon replied, “Bob Allison was a great player to be.” And even though he doesn’t usually sign jerseys, he signed her jersey.

My Mom wore that jersey to the Twins game last Friday, and when she turned her back and they put her on the jumbotron at the end of the game, everybody cheered. My Mom didn’t even realize she was on the jumbotron. I had to explain to her that’s why everyone was just cheering.

Of course, the secret is, my Mom, as a girl, also used to pretend to play baseball in the yard by herself, when her brothers were not around. And then, she got to be Harmon Killebrew.

I had the pleasure of meeting Harmon Killebrew while attending a charity banquet for the Harmon Killebrew Foundation several years ago. It is a great charity, and I urge fans to give something in Harmon’s honor, if you can. It would be the type of thing Harmon would do—and we would all be better people if we tried to be even just a little more like Harmon Killebrew.

Thank you, Harmon, for playing the game, and more importantly, being such a wonderful person.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When it Rains, it Pours (but not quite long enough)

Yeah, okay, God hates the Twins. We get it.

For a second during tonight’s game, though, it looked like God might be on the Twins side. Detroit had already piled on 5 runs by the fourth inning, but the sky had suddenly become very ominous. It took on a greenish tint, and the temperature dropped. Rain drops started to fall. I prayed, prayed to god, that it would start pouring before it reached the 5th inning and this became a game.

Sure enough, in the bottom of the 4th, there were a few flashes of lightening, and second base umpire Jerry Lane started walking in.

Target Field’s second ever rain delay! My Mom immediately bolted up to the Metropolitan Club (where she later reported more bars were added over the off-season, and so “it’s a lot easier to get drinks”… and I definitely believed her), but I stayed behind to see what everyone decided to do during the rain delay.

And then it started to hail.

And then a fan decided to run onto the field at the height of the hail storm, which was, sadly, the best part of the entire game.

It was looking pretty good for the Twins… except then it ‘miraculously’ stopped hailing, stopped raining, and the sunset started to come out again.

The field was a total mess—the equivalent of being covered with marbles and golf balls. So obviously that had to be cleaned up, which it was (#$%#%) by a very hard working grounds crew with super awesome tractor-blower things, rakes, shovels, and buckets.

By the time the game got back underway I was still waiting for my Parmesan-garlic fries inside of Hrbek’s, where everyone was infinitely more interested in the Red Wings-Sharks game. In fact, I think there was a mini-riot when workers tried to change the TVs back to the Twins game.

I was impressed with how many fans actually stayed through the rain delay, but as the game wore on, and it got late, the vast majority of them left—which I actually liked even more. By the end of the game all of the nay-sayers, Debbie-downers, and ‘I don’t really watch baseball I’m just rich and this is the place to be seen’ people were gone. The fans who were there were the ones who were still enjoying themselves. They were the ones who weren't going to let rain, hail, or even the 2011 god-damn Twins ruin their night. I could even hear the enjoyable hecklers come out again, the type I haven’t been able to hear since the Metrodome.

On the way home, I said to my Mom, “You know, that was a horrible game... but I had a lot of fun tonight.” She agreed. So hopefully that can be the silver lining—finding a way to use the game as an excuse for having a good time.

Like that kid who ran on the field in the height of the hail storm, because that was awesome.