The Great Tree Debate of 2011

This is what happens when your favorite team has an uneventful off-season and treats every bit of information about what’s really going on in the organization as if the fate of civilization rested upon that information not getting out . The fans are left with no alternative but to treat the drips and drabs of stuff that the team does release to the masses like it’s important.

That’s how we end up with Treegate.

The big news leading up to Twinsfest was, “Hey fans! Guess what! These two guys we didn’t think would be coming back this year are going to be back after all!” That apparently wasn’t enough to get the fanbase excited.

The Soon To Be Departed Trees (Photo: Baseball Prospectus)

So instead of real news, we got an announcement that the 14 spruce trees planted in front of the “batters eye” backdrop are going to be removed. As expected, the announcement was followed by dutiful reporting of such by every media outlet with a Twins beat reporter and just about every one of the 4,291 Twins blogs… including this one, finally. But if I’m going to write about some trees, I’m going to at least try to put this issue in to some perspective.

The trees were a nice little bow to the state’s natural resources when the plans for Target Field were developed. When the designers were asked to include something distinctly “Minnesotan” in the plans, I’m sure the first thought was to include a nice sized lake, fully stocked with muskie and trout and maybe some bullheads. Then when they were shown the size of the lot they had to work with, they decided there might be room for a few trees… maybe.

Seriously, though, I think everyone involved realized that there were bound to be some adjustments made to the ballpark after they spent their first year holding real live Major League baseball games there. It’s not until after a full season that you can analyze what didn’t work out as planned and come up with ways to improve as many things as possible.

Some Twins’ hitters publicly expressed disappointment that the organization’s postseason analysis didn’t result in a decision to bring the fences in a bit. I don’t recall the pitching staff expressing disappointment, however. Maybe I just missed it.

The Twins did listen to their hitters, however, on the subject of the “batters eye”. The problems hitters were having picking up the ball out of the pitcher’s hand arose almost immediately last season. The glare off the green back drop during afternoon games made it difficult to pick up the ball right away. The Twins tried repainting the panel in center field a darker green, but that didn’t help much. Apparently, the presence of the trees made a bad situation even worse. The trees not only captured and reflected more glare and shadows, but they also tended to sway in the breeze (as trees do at times).

The glare and shadows are bad but maybe they should have tried just removing that bear first? (Photo: HardballTalk)

So the trees are going away and some sort of honeycomb-textured covering is being added to the panel that hopefully will address the glare issue. The Twins sent a message to their hitters that, while they weren’t going to turn the ballpark in to a Little League field like the White Sox and Rangers have, they had listened to their concerns and were taking action that benefits both power hitters and not-so-power hitters, alike.

The thing that has really surprised me about all of this has been the number of people who have written comments akin to, “the trees are an important part of the experience of going to the game and these overpaid ballplayers should quit making excuses for not hitting the baseball.”

Look, I understand that the trees were nice to look at. I get that having that big old green square in dead center field is not the most aesthetically pleasing feature of Target Field. The trees dressed it up a bit. It would also look nicer if they brought in a famous Minnesota artist to paint a pretty picture on that green thing. But that’s not the point.

That green square is one of the few things in the ballpark that’s there for one reason and one reason only… to better assure the safety of the players on the field. To some fans, it may not seem like a big deal if it takes a couple hundredths of a second longer for a hitter to pick up the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand, but when you only have a few hundredths of a second to decide whether, when and where to swing (and more importantly, how to avoid getting hit in the head), those are a couple of precious hundredths of a second.

Frankly, if our players weren’t such “nice guys”, I think people would have showed up for a game some time last year and found 14 trees laying on the ground in centerfield, victims of a midnight chainsaw party. Instead, it sounds like the trees will be “humanely” transplanted so they can live out their lives in less troublesome locations and we can anxiously await the next big “news” to come out of the Twins media office. Maybe they’re going to cut the grass differently this season. That would get us all fired up again!

- JC