I Survived #GrandDrunkRailroad

It probably shouldn’t warrant a headline, but given that I have 20-30 years on almost everyone else who participated in the light rail pub crawl co-organized by the folks at TwinsDaily.com and Aaron Gleeman, I know there were some people out there that did not believe my survival was going to be a given. Some of them are related to me.

I can honestly say that I have never had such a great time attending such a really bad baseball game.

I drove up from Cedar Rapids Friday night and by about nine o’clock Saturday morning, I was ready for breakfast. I grabbed an all-day light rail ticket at the Mall of America and by 10:30 or so, I was sitting down at a table at Hell’s Kitchen, which has become my favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities and especially so for breakfast on the weekends.

HellsKitchenBreakfastI’m no rookie at this pub crawl kind of thing (though I’m certainly a bit out of practice). We didn’t have a name for it back then, but I’ve been moving from one bar to the next with a group of friends since the early 1970s and I learned early on that if you know you’re going to be doing that kind of thing, eating first is a really good idea.

Thus, the breakfast quesadilla, bacon and bison sausage from Hell’s Kitchen. When you’re listening to a guy on stage singing “Sitting on the Dock at the Bay” as you’re being seated for breakfast, you know it’s going to be a good day. I probably didn’t absolutely need the second screwdriver with breakfast, but I figured, “what the heck.”

After breakfast, I hopped back on the rail to head back out to the Fort Snelling stop, where we were scheduled to “check in” before moving on to the first stop on the crawl. I’ve never “checked in” to go drinking before so I wasn’t sure what this involved, but the Twins Food Truck was supposed to be there (not that I was feeling the need to eat more).

Upon arrival, I immediately found a couple of familiar faces in Jeremy Nygaard and Topper Anton. I was relieved to discover they didn’t know any more about what getting “checked in” meant than I did.

I was also relieved that I didn’t count on getting my pre-crawl food from the Twins Food Truck, because they were a no-show. The word we heard was that the truck showed up and left because they couldn’t find a place to park, despite a half-empty parking lot next to the light rail stop.

Before long, Parker Hageman, Nick Nelson and John Bonnes of Twins Daily showed up and we all filled out name tags. So checking in wasn’t too complicated, after all.

My plan going in to the day was simple. I would have a beer at each of the four stops, maybe some water, as well, and generally just pace myself.

That plan worked well right up to the point where we bought pitchers instead of individual beers at the Cardinal Bar across the street from the 38th Street Station. Oh well, best laid plans, etc.

Harriet Brewing, near the Lake Street Station, was the next stop and I was doing a much better job of limiting myself to one beer, partially because there was a pretty long wait to use the one uni-sex restroom. But then Bonnes made me buy another beer, so again my plans were going down hill. The Korean BBQ from the Gogi Bros food truck was excellent, though.

Waiting for a beer at Harriet's. The line for the restroom was longer.

Waiting for a beer at Harriet’s. The line for the restroom was longer, but just as gender-diverse.

Moderation was finally achieved at the Franklin Street stop due in large part to the lengthy walk from the station to The Joint. By the time I finished one beer, it was pretty much time to hike back to the rail line and the ride to the Warehouse District stop and Mason’s Restaurant Barre.

By this time, the Iowa-Iowa State football game was starting and it’s pretty much impossible for me to watch the Hawkeyes these days without drinking to excess, so there was no way I was going to get by with one beer, even though I’d only be able to watch about half the game before the Twins game was scheduled to start.

Of course, the fact that the organizers had arranged keg of free beer for everyone wearing the GrandDrunkRailroad t-shirts made sticking around for a few rounds a pretty easy decision.

I did find some fellow-Hawkeye fans in the group (and even a table of women who were Cyclone fans, but at least one of them had the smarts to marry an Iowa fan and they were on a Twins pub crawl so I guess they weren’t all bad) and even one of the crawlers wearing a Cedar Rapids Kernels’ cap.

It started to rain, so that meant an even longer stay at Mason’s than planned. Eventually, I did make my way over to Target Field and to the center field section where our group had tickets. I picked up some Walleye and fries, which was very good, despite being pretty wet by the time I finished eating it. I also did, finally, have that water that I’d been promising myself I would drink.

It’s funny. I’ll sit in rain and watch football, but I have trouble bringing myself to enjoy doing that when it’s baseball I’m watching. If it’s a good game, sure, but on Saturday night, the Twins were not playing a good game. So I found one of the phone-charging stations located on the concourse and had a beer while I charged my phone.

That’s where I was when the umpires apparently decided they didn’t want to watch the game in the rain any longer, either, and imposed a rain delay. It’s also when a number of our group migrated to Hrbek’s bar, just inside Gate 14 at Target Field.

I had pretty much decided I’d had enough beer for the night when it turns out Twins closer Glen Perkins had sent word to Hrbek’s to buy a round of beer for our party. How many times do you get a beer bought for you by a Major League Ballplayer… during a game? So, I obviously had no choice but to have another.

That’s about the time someone had the bright idea to get a group picture.

GrandDrunkRailroad2013Now, I’ve heard there were something in the neighborhood of 100 people participating in #GrandDrunkRailroad and there were fewer than 20 in the bar for that picture, but it was a representative sample of the group. Men, women, bloggers, readers of our blogs, young and… thanks to me… old.

It was a great time. I needed some tylenol on Sunday, but it was more for my back than my head. I realized I haven’t stood so much in a really long time.

It was fun to talk to a number of people I’ve met at prior gatherings and to a number of people I haven’t met before. I’d like to thank Parker, Nick, John and Aaron for putting together a really fun event and for making an old Twins fan feel welcome. Of course, I also want to thank Glen Perkins for the beer!

- JC

GameChat – Rays @ Twins, 1:10pm

well.. the good/bad news is that it’s not raining??

but I’m not going to be able to watch regardless.. home all the folk on the Grand Drunk Railroad tour are hanging in there today after hanging in there through the rain last night.. (that would sober up anyone I think)

Tampa Bay

@

Minnesota
Jennings, D, CF Presley, CF
Zobrist, 2B Mastroianni, LF
Longoria, 3B Dozier, 2B
Myers, RF Doumit, RF
Young, D, DH Plouffe, 3B
Loney, 1B Willingham, DH
Escobar, Y, SS Pinto, C
Rodriguez, S, LF Parmelee, 1B
Molina, J, C Escobar, E, SS
  Price, P   Hernandez, P, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Tampa Bay 0 0 0 2 1 0 0 1 0 4 6 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 4 x 6 10 1

I confess, I gave up following this game about the time I walked away from the bar at Famous Dave’s after watching the Vikings end of the game failure. The last I saw, the Twins were down 3-0 and, according to the Twins beat reporters I follow on Twitter, the Twins hadn’t scored a run in something like two years, so I didn’t see much reason to pay attention any longer.

So, imagine my surprise when I hear they scored six late runs and beat the Rays 6-4!

Trevor Plouffe went 3 for 3 and scored a run in the 8th inning, but it would seem to me that Josmil Pinto’s 3-run home run in the 8th is pretty BOD-worthy. – JC

Pinto

 

GameChat – Rays @ Twins #2, 6:10pm

So it’s raining at my house – we’ll see if they get the game in. I have no idea if the rain is going to continue, for how long or for how heavy.

Good luck to everyone on the Twins Centric Grand Drunk Railroad bar crawl before the game tonight!! Given how the boys have been playing the last few days, they might be the fans in the best condition to watch tonight’s affair.

I’m off to a family reunion so I hope you all have a great night!

Tampa Bay

@

Minnesota
Jennings, D, CF Presley, CF
Johnson, K, 2B Dozier, 2B
Longoria, 3B Doumit, DH
Myers, RF Arcia, RF
Loney, 1B Plouffe, 3B
Young, D, DH Willingham, LF
Rodriguez, S, LF Colabello, 1B
Lobaton, C Herrmann, C, C
Escobar, Y, SS Florimon, SS
  Moore, M, P   Albers, A, P

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Tampa Bay

0

1

1

2

0

2

0

1

0

7

10

0

Minnesota

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

4

1

yeah…  this has not been good baseball..

GameChat – Rays @ Twins, 7:10pm

Ok, I can’t be here tonight.. again.. and I don’t know if that means the Twins won’t do well because the games I see seem to go better or if they just aren’t doing well right now whether I get a chance to watch or not..

Anyway, It’s a beautiful night for baseball so I hope that they do something to add to fan enjoyment!

Tampa Bay

@

Minnesota
DeJesus, LF Presley, CF
Zobrist, 2B Pinto, C
Loney, 1B Dozier, 2B
Longoria, 3B Arcia, DH
Johnson, K, DH Plouffe, 3B
Myers, RF Parmelee, 1B
Jennings, D, CF Mastroianni, LF
Molina, J, C Thomas, C, RF
Escobar, Y, SS Escobar, E, SS
  Archer, P   Correia, P

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Tampa Bay

0

1

1

0

0

0

1

0

0

3

9

1

Minnesota

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

5

1

 

I have no idea what happened in this game but the loss isn’t exactly surprising. However, I admit that the shutout is and I’m wondering how long it’s actually been since I saw this very much struggling team shutout… I can’t remember the last time so that in itself is a point for optimism? maybe?

The Twins Way

How many times have we heard someone say, “The Twins need to get back to emphasizing the Twins Way?” Or, perhaps just as often we hear, “the Twins need to forget about the Twins Way crap… it doesn’t work.” Either way, “The Twins Way” has become a cliché and a pretty tired one, at that.

But what is The Twins Way? We have some vague idea that it’s about playing good defense, running the bases intelligently, moving runners effectively and, yes, “pitching to contact” (how’s that for using one tired cliché to define another one?).

TwinsWayBut I think it goes much, much deeper than all of that. I think The Twins Way is a philosophy – a culture that is imbedded at every level of the organization.

It is a culture that has led to a fair amount of success for the Twins over the years, as a Major League Baseball team and as a privately owned and operated for-profit business.

It’s also a culture that has driven many Twins fans to such a level of frustration that they’re almost incapable of having any discussion about the ballclub that doesn’t include a loud cry to get rid of the ownership, the front office executives, the manager, the coaches or, quite often, all of the above.

Of course, taking issue with how those in authority run things is almost as ingrained in American culture as baseball, itself. On the other hand, whether the subject is government, business or sports, those with no clue about how to actually run something are often the most vocal critics of those who do.

But if we’re going to have a dialogue about the pros and cons of The Twins Way, I think we should get our arms around what that actually means, so at least we all know what we’re talking about when we hear the term used or, heaven forbid, use the term ourselves.

In my mind, The Twins Way starts with the concept of getting the best possible efforts and results out of whatever level of talent specific players might possess. The 1987 World Champion Twins. The “piranhas.” Brad Radke and Nick Punto.

Terry Ryan discusses the "Twins way" with a minor leaguer during spring training in 2010. The player quickly tucked his jersey back in his pants.

Terry Ryan discusses the “Twins way” with a minor leaguer during spring training in 2010. The player quickly tucked his jersey back in his pants.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this concept. It’s what every organization SHOULD strive to achieve, isn’t it?

And if you have a baseball team filled with overachieving mid-level talent, you can occasionally catch lightning in a bottle and accomplish great things. When that happens, the entire community and fan base rightfully takes great pride in the accomplishment.

Sometimes, however, it causes those in charge to conclude that catching that lightning is something that can be repeated consistently or, even worse, that what’s been accomplished is not due to something as random as lightning strikes, but was actually accomplished by intentionally identifying potential new piranhas or the “next Brad Radke.”

In fairness, this aspect of The Twins Way has its roots in necessity. Going back to the near-contraction days, the Carl Pohlad-owned Twins had to find inexpensive ways to compete with the rich clubs. They weren’t going to get Roger Clemens, so they needed to figure out how to win with Radke-types.

Scouts looked for a certain sort of “make-up” in high school and college players, not to mention minor leaguers. “Toolsy” position players and “pitch to contact” pitchers with good “make-up” were perhaps deemed more affordable, short term and long term, than top-tier talents who would not only be more costly to sign initially, but would be more likely to bolt for major market teams as soon as they could escape their serfdom with the Twins.

Shopping the free agent market meant picking through the bargain bins once the teams with real money to spend signed all the best available talent. There was never enough money in the coffers to retain the Twins’ own free agents, much less pay for those hitting the market from other organizations.

The move to the Target Field was supposed to change things and, in many ways, it has. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some of the people running the show and they are smart people. They know baseball and they know they need to put a better product on the field. To their credit, they’ve made some of the necessary cultural changes.

Starting with the draft and international signings, the Twins have begun to spend money. The Twins outbid the Pirates for Dominican Miguel Sano and they’ve used the early draft picks that come with having really bad seasons to select what are arguably the best athletes available, such as Byron Buxton, rather than use “sign-ability” as a code word for spending as little as possible on new talent.

They re-signed the players they deemed the most critical to retain from among their own group of free agents, including a significant extension for Justin Morneau and an eight-year contract for Joe Mauer at $23 million per year.

They’ve dipped their toes in the mid-range levels of free agency, signing players like Josh Willingham and Kevin Correia to multi-year contracts at mid-seven digit levels annually.

As the Twins complete a third consecutive season in which they’re likely to lose at least 90 games, it may not seem like it but The Twins Way is changing.

They’re still teaching the importance of fundamentals at the lower levels of the minor leagues, but they’re teaching those fundamentals to, on balance, a group of ballplayers with more pure talent than used to be the case. In time, we should see these talented players working just as hard as the piranhas did and winning more games, as a result.

As I see it, there’s really one remaining major cultural paradigm within the organization that needs to change and it’s probably the most difficult change for the organization to make. It has to do with being prepared to spend significant money on top-tier free agents from other organizations, even if it means having to risk paying more for their talents than your best judgment tells you they are worth.

Not doing so won’t prevent the Twins from eventually becoming competitive again. Three years from now (maybe even two, if everything falls right), the talent in their minor league pipeline could well have the Twins competing for an AL Central Division title again.

But if they show their historical patience, how many fans will still be showing up at Target Field by then? It’s a lot harder to get fans to come back than it is to keep them, but you need to be willing to give them a reason to keep showing up.

It doesn’t take a baseball genius to figure out what the Twins need to improve significantly next season. It will require the same thing everyone knew it would take a year ago… and the year before that. It will take better starting pitching – much better starting pitching.

Adding the kind of pitching required won’t be easy. They’ll have to outbid teams that have had more recent success for one or more of the best available free agent arms and/or they’ll need to let go of some of their highly coveted young prospects to get pitching help via trade. Either way, they’ll need to be willing to spend money, perhaps a lot of it.

If they add nobody of significance to their roster, they’ll start 2014 with a payroll just slightly more than half of what they had committed to their Opening Day roster in 2011, so there’s no argument to be made that money isn’t available.

The only remaining question is whether General Manager Terry Ryan and others running the organization are prepared to let go of the last remaining tie to the old culture and spend that money.

In his excellent article at TwinsDaily.com, Nick Nelson laid out a number of reasons Twins fans should be optimistic that Ryan will do exactly that.

I hope he’s right. I want so badly to believe he’s right.

But after expecting more aggressive moves the past two winters and being left thoroughly disappointed, I just can’t convince myself to believe it until I see it.

- JC

GameChat – A’s @ Twins #3, 12:10pm

I can’t tell you how glad I am that I missed last night’s game.. I saw the score this morning and I didn’t even want to go find out why it looked like that.. I’m just going to call it a loss and see if we can still take the series in today’s rubbermatch.

The weather is PHENOMENAL here in Minnesota – absolutely perfect day for baseball so for any of you that got out of work and were able to be at the ballpark today? I’m seriously jealous because I’m working and won’t even get to follow along.

Let’s hope Scotty can find some of his old magic, huh?

Oakland

@

Minnesota
Crisp, CF Presley, CF
Donaldson, 3B Pinto, C
Lowrie, SS Dozier, 2B
Cespedes, DH Arcia, RF
Callaspo, 2B Doumit, DH
Young, Ch, LF Willingham, LF
Reddick, RF Plouffe, 3B
Norris, D, C Colabello, 1B
Barton, 1B Florimon, SS
  Griffin, P   Diamond, P

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Oakland

0

0

4

0

1

1

0

2

0

8

11

0

Minnesota

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

1

0

2

7

1

uh yeah… another one I’m glad I missed? *sigh*

GameChat – A’s @ Twins #2, 7:10 pm

After losing a couple million games in a row at home, the Twins are now on the verge of one of those… what are they called?… oh, yeah… winning streaks!

That’s what winning three games in a row would constitute.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, there’s a little matter of actually playing the game.

Josh Willingham is back in the number 6 spot in the batting order, so he should be good for two more home runs tonight, right?

Eduardo Escobar makes his first appearance in the line up in, well, longer than I can remember anyway. He’s playing third base instead of shortstop, however, and Trevor Plouffe is the DH.

Mike Pelfrey is on the hill for the Twins. His 4.97 ERA is roughly twice that of A’s starter Sonny Gray (2.51), so naturally with how backwards things have gone for the Twins lately, they should win this game handily.

ATHLETICS

@

TWINS
Crisp, CF Presley, CF
Donaldson, 3B Escobar, E, 3B
Lowrie, SS Dozier, 2B
Moss, RF Arcia, RF
Cespedes, LF Plouffe, DH
Barton, 1B Willingham, LF
Smith, S, DH Parmelee, 1B
Vogt, C Herrmann, C, C
Sogard, 2B Florimon, SS
  _Gray, S, P   _Pelfrey, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Oakland 0 1 2 10 3 0 0 0 2 18 22 0
Minnesota 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 3 5 1

Well, that happened.

Hey Shairon Martis worked a 1-2-3 inning and struck out two batters!

GameChat – A’s @ Twins, 7:10

At least it’s a lot cooler today..

Now we have another California team in Minnesota to see what happens. I wouldn’t mind seeing another victory.

That being said, I don’t trust Liam all that far so I would love to seem earn a few points in public opinion tonight.

Oakland

@

Minnesota
Crisp, CF Presley, CF
Donaldson, 3B Pinto, C
Lowrie, DH Dozier, 2B
Moss, RF Arcia, RF
Cespedes, LF Doumit, DH
Callaspo, 2B Willingham, LF
Barton, 1B Plouffe, 3B
Vogt, C Parmelee, 1B
Sogard, SS Florimon, SS
  Parker, P   Hendriks, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Oakland 0 0 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 3 8 0
Minnesota 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 2 x 4 9 0

Maybe the Twins should petition MLB to move them to the AL West.

And maybe Josh Willingham should always bat sixth. Two home runs is definitely a BOD kind of night. – JC

Josh Willingham

Josh Willingham

GameChat – Angels @ Twins, 6:10pm

so… maybe you don’t remember this but when the Angels were here last, I was joking about how that one Twins commercial about the Angels fan getting his tongue stuck to the flag pole was kind of ironically true… in fact, weather conditions were so inclement that one game was postponed – to today.  Yeah, poor Angels aren’t going to know what hit them when they take the field at a miserably humid 90+ degrees…  they may not honestly believe they are in the same place..

Do I think that is going to help with our guys facing Weaver???  Practically speaking, no, but the Twins fan in me will always HOPE…

LA Angels

@

Minnesota
Cowgill, LF Presley, CF
Aybar, SS Pinto, C
Trout, CF Dozier, 2B
Trumbo, 1B Arcia, LF
Hamilton, DH Doumit, DH
Iannetta, C Plouffe, 3B
Calhoun, RF Colabello, 1B
Green, G, 2B Parmelee, RF
Field, 3B Florimon, SS
  Weaver, P   Hernandez, P, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
LA Angels 0 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 3 12 1
Minnesota 0 0 1 0 2 0 2 1 x 6 11 0

For all the issues with Twins pitching, it’s worth noting that Mike Trout was struck out looking three times tonight, including for the last out of the game.

Trevor Plouffe drove in three runs. Not too shabby.

But Josmil Pinto had three doubles, scored twice and drove one run in. I think that’s BOD worthy. – JC

Pinto

GameChat – Blue Jays @ Twins, 1:10 pm

The Twins will try to avoid a sweep today.

Doesn’t it seem like we’re saying that a lot lately?

I’ll be watching the Vikings, so I probably won’t be paying much attention to what’s going on at Target Field today. Then again, thanks to the Twins and MLB’s blackout policy, it’s not like I have the option of watching the Twins anyway.

As baseball matters go, I’m actually a lot more interested in how the Rochester Red Wings do today. They’re in the 5th game of a best-of-five playoff series with Pawtucket and playing for the chance to advance in the International League postseason.

Anyway, let’s see how Andrew Albers does today. Given how much use the Twins bullpen has gotten lately, I’m sure they could use a 7-8 inning day out of Albers.

 

BLUE JAYS

@

TWINS
Reyes, SS Presley, CF
Davis, R, CF Herrmann, C, C
Lawrie, 3B Dozier, 2B
Lind, DH Arcia, LF
DeRosa, 1B Doumit, DH
Sierra, RF Plouffe, 3B
Arencibia, C Colabello, 1B
Goins, 2B Thomas, C, RF
Pillar, LF Florimon, SS
  _Rogers, E, P   _Albers, A, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Toronto 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 2 7 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 1

Andrew Albers did very well today. Almost everyone else in a Twins uniform did not.

The Twins have now lost 10 straight games at home. Not too hard to understand why there were some audible boos from the Target Field crowd.