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

21 thoughts on “The Great Tree Debate of 2011

  1. make the area where the tree were a campground. People can placed bids for use of the space and the winner of the auction can camp there (Tents only!) for the game. Grillings hot dogs, making Smores, swapping baseball stories. I think a fun time could be had!
    Money goes to the Twins Community Fund

  2. Black Spruce aren’t REALLY native to this part of Minnesota, they live more up north in the swamps. Fun fact, they were used extensively in the crafting of birch bark canoes with the roots as the lashings, and the gum from the tree to seal everything up. /natural resources and cultural heritage lecture

  3. So maybe they could harvest the gum from the trees and “paint” the green wall with it… might solve the glare problem AND keep something “Minnesotan” in that area.

    Nice of you to educate us. You remind me of my 4th grade teacher in Albert Lea… only, you know, about 40 years younger.

  4. I worked for the MN DNR, have an environmental science degree, and it’s my cultural heritage. Also, I did a month long French immersion program in high school that was Voyageur themed. Pretty much ramble on about trees and other outdoor things is what I do.

    I’m not sure how I should take that, so I’ll just say thanks.

  5. My guess is that it was never the intent to represent just the metropolitan/central region of the state – so using something primarily from the NORTHERN part of the state would just be a compliment to the state as a whole.

    I am quite curious as what they will do in that spot instead.

  6. Kirsten, 4th grade is when I first remember studying “Minnesota stuff” in school. Since I moved to Iowa after 7th grade, my education in that area didn’t get much further along. Before moving out of state, my family spent several summer vacations camping, etc., in Northern Minnesota. I loved it… just haven’t done much of it since. All of which is a long way of saying, yes, the comparison to my teacher was intended as a compliment. :)

    Babs, I was wondering about that, too. In fact, I would bet part of the problem was the size and spacing of the trees, rather than their presence, itself. Other stadiums have trees and plants in center field without a problem. But having two alternating rows of 7 small trees obviously allowed a lot of shadows and room to sway in the breeze, etc. If they were bigger and grouped together more… maybe that would work better. Hard to just keep trying new things, however. I also wonder if Target Field’s trees were lower (and more directly behind the pitcher from the batter’s point of view) than trees in other ballparks. Maybe raising the ground level where the trees are planted would work.

  7. I understand that, BUT, I also think people often have a very poor understanding of ecosystems. A fact that is demonstrated by their insistence on cultivating non-native plants everywhere which sometimes escape and become major problems. (dandelions anyone?) Also, eventually those trees would have required a lot of care, it’s a lot warmer in the Cities than it is up in their nice swamps.

    Granted, the average baseball fan doesn’t give a damn about any of that, as long as there’s beer and/or Joe Mauer, they’re happy. Which is fine.

    Have they said what will become of the trees?

  8. they haven’t said specifically yet but they have said they want to do something special for their future location so I’m sure we’ll be hearing an announcement at some point. Given their previous coordination with the DNR, I’m sure that they have something cool in the works.

  9. JC, fair enough. I lived in northern MN for the past two summers, and it was beautiful to be sure. I know more about MN and it’s ecosystems, history, etc than is really good or necessary, but with my jobs, it was often required that I be able to understand the interactions as well as teach about the areas, so I guess I just kind of ran with it. Not to mention I was paid to monitor the ecosystems and deal with invasives.
    I think it’s a really pretty idea, maybe just too many trees. Afterall, they’re going to get much bigger than that, so that could have become a problem in the next few years anyway.

  10. Wait…was Kristen’s suggestion that we plant Joe Mauer and beer? ‘Cause if we could grow some more of that at the ballpark, that would be damn cool.

  11. I’m going to miss the trees in center field, but the Twins would have had to remove some of them eventually anyway. One of the first things my girlfriend said (she’s a bio major) when she saw those trees was, “Those are planted too close, they’re going to need to pull a few out when they get bigger.”

    I think some of us may be forgetting how small this area is in center field. You can’t really add much in there.

  12. If we can grow more Joe Mauers (and more beer), I’m all for it.

    I’m also not sure there’s room for much to go in to that space that would fit AND wouldn’t risk causing the same sort of shadows/movement that the trees did. Maybe they could paint pictures of trees on the green batters’ eye… kind of a darker green on top of dark green kind of thing. It’s just good to know that the Twins’ brass has something to think about besides mundane stuff like roster building.

  13. Bryz-exactly! There were too many of them for the space allotted. They would have crowded each other out.

    I think there are already quite enough Joe Mauers, so we probably can skip trying to breed more of them somehow. There’s more than enough beer too, but maybe we could put a still out in CF?

  14. Yes, I know this is just going to once again emphasize how old I am, but the mention of a still in CF immediately brought to my mind the image of a green army tent out there with Hawkeye and Trapper John, along with their still.

  15. Awesome! Trapper John is easily the best character in that show.
    Maybe we can take some of the gum from the trees and use it to plug holes in the lineup if leaks should spring.

  16. What “show”? I was talking about M*A*S*H the movie. They made a TV show out of it, too? I must have missed that.

  17. Yeah, it’s definitely a show, too. And was on for like 10 years when my parents were in college and beyond, so surely you were around then ;)

  18. Yes… I vaguely recall seeing the show a few hundred times. Sorry, kirsten, you know us old folks and our humor… it doesn’t always translate well to the written word, especially on these new-fangled social media thingies!

  19. Apparently my sarcasm didn’t translate in return. You live in Iowa, not totally under a rock. So I figured you’d heard. :)
    Henry was my other favorite. The colonel just wasn’t as amusing.