Knuckleballs at the Ballpark with the Internet (bloggers)

Blogger Day with FSN (L to R: John Bonnes, Me, Bill Paker, Aaron Gleeman, Nick Nelson and the FSNorth Girls, Angie Avestruz and Kaylin Cockriel)

This past Thursday I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a baseball game at Target Field as the guest of Fox Sports North. In addition to myself, Twins bloggers Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Nick Nelson, and Bill Parker were all in attendance to take in a day game against the Orioles and help Fox Sports promote their recently upgraded GameConnect service.*  A great big thank you to Becky Ross and Laura Beshire from Fox Sports for hosting us, and Robby Incmikoski for stopping by the suite to talk to us and share some of his humorous baseball stories from the recent past.

I brought my father along with me last Tuesday.  It was nice to bring him along as my guest, an opportunity for me to repay him for bringing me to so many Twins games in the Metrodome in the early/mid 90s when I was a young boy.  We arrived on the suite level (just above the Legends Club) about 40 minutes before the first pitch so we took some time to wander around and check out a part of Target Field where we had never been before.  The suites are arranged around the infield lines from first base, back to home plate and then over to third.  In addition to being numbered, the suites are named after Minnesota lakes. My father and enjoyed looking at the images of the lakes and reminiscing about fishing trips at Pelican Lake or a vacation up north at Kabetogama Lake, as we walked through the halls.  On the wall opposite the suites were pictures, poster sized baseball cards, and paintings of great Twins players and management dating all the way back to the origins of the Minnesota Twins franchise as the Washington Senators.  I knew the names of a lot of those Twins greats (Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Bob Allison) but my father could remember watching these guys at Met Stadium.

My father and Danny Gladden (who may or may not be my step-mom’s all-time baseball crush).

Eventually we made our way into the suite, introduced ourselves to the rest of the bloggers and their guests and settled in with a couple of beers and brats to take in a game of baseball.  In the past when I have attended games I am usually locked into the on field action.  I know who is on deck, who is warming up in the bullpen.  I like to watch the ways that players communicate with each other between plays and I am always trying to decipher the signs coming in from the dugout or third base coaches.  Up in the suite, hanging out with the bloggers I found myself spending time socializing and talking about baseball things not necessarily happening on the field below.  Numerous times I found myself searching the scoreboard to find out not just what the score was, but what inning it was and who was ahead.

After the game was over (the Twins bullpen ultimately coughed up the lead in the 8th) we joined the Twins Geek, Aaron Gleeman and Nick Nelson at the Fulton Tap Room for a beer (compliments of Mr. Gleeman) before heading back to the car and returning to Wisconsin.  All in all it was a really fun day and I cannot thank FSN enough for giving me a chance to spend a day doing the things I love: tweeting, watching baseball, and spending time with my father.

*The GameConnect webpage designed to be a tag-along feature to enhance your game watching experience.  It is updated live and provides a plethora of stats and has an integrated twitter feature to connect you to social media.  While you are not going to grab a bunch of advanced stats GameConnect gives you enough information to heighten your awareness of what is going on in the game.  The Twitter feed is a little clunky, but it searches Twitter and pulls in tons of tweets referencing the current game.  It is a great place to find new twitter followers and gives other Twins tweeters a chance to find you.  

-ERolfPleiss

Last Man Standing… and Other Peoples’ Words

Just under a year ago in my post-mortem of the Twins’ 2010 season, I reviewed the list of players that we were likely going to be saying good-bye to over the offseason and offered my own humble predictions concerning which would be returning and which would not. I wasn’t far off, either. Then again, how tough was it to predict that Randy Flores wouldn’t be coming back to Minnesota?

As things turned out, by my count, the Twins parted ways with 11 Major League players between the time they were so rudely dispatched by the Yankees in the ALDS and Opening Day 2011. Most of those players managed to find some form of gainful employment with other teams. In addition to the aforementioned Flores, here’s a list of others that Twins fans bid farewell to last offseason:

Ron Mahay, Jon Rauch, Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek, Orlando Hudson, Brendan Harris, and JJ Hardy.

Do you see the common thread running between all of these players?

Yes… they are all going to have the same view of the MLB post-season that their former Twins team mates are going to have… from the outside looking in. They may not have all ended up playing for last-place teams as bad as the one they left behind in Minnesota, but none of them hitched their wagon to a playoff team.

Nick Punto

But there is one name I left off that list. Yes, one player that the Twins could find no use for will be playing extra baseball this season.

Nick Punto is going to the playoffs.

Punto had a pretty typical Puntoesque season for the St. Louis Cardinals. By that, I mean he spent a  fair amount of time not playing baseball, appearing in only 63 games. But when he played, his numbers were more in line with the 2008 version we saw in Minnesota than what we had seen in his last two seasons. He hit .278, got on base at a .388 clip and had a respectable .421 slugging percentage. That’s good for an .809 OPS.

That’s nothing to scoff at, especially when you put it up next to many of the members of the chorus line of mediocrity that populated the Twins infield this season.

Anyway… like it or not, if you’re a Twins fan that likes to root in the playoffs for teams with guys you’ve come to know because of their recent service with the home town team, Nick Punto is carrying that banner.

Delmon Young

Of course, Nick isn’t entirely alone. The Twins did, after all, make a couple of in-season deals that sent players to contenders. Things didn’t work out the way we hoped they might for Jim Thome in Cleveland, but Delmon Young and his Tigers will be in New York on Friday night to do battle with the Evil Empire. I’m hoping he and his new team have better luck in that crusade than he did with the Twins a year ago.

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Finally, it feels like I’m not doing my job as a blogger if I don’t mention something about Wednesday night’s baseball games on the final night of the regular season. In fact, I really wanted to write something about how I sat watching four games on my laptop and a fifth on the television all evening long… how I cheered for my adopted Orioles and for the Rays (someone has to, because nobody seems to do that, even in the Tampa Bay area, right?). It was an amazing night of baseball, but words escaped me on Thursday.

It’s just as well, because as is almost always the case, the people who get paid to do this kind of thing captured everything much better than I could have anyway. So I’m going to just drop a couple of quotes on you from Joe Posnanski and Jim Mandelaro and urge you to go read their stuff.

Mandelaro is the Rochester beat writer for the Red Wings and an unabashed Red Sox fan. As you read his “Heartbroken” post, I’m sure the frustration will sound familiar. He’s hurt, he’s angry, he kicks ass and names names. It’s not all that different than the feelings so many of us expressed about the Twins for the past several months. He finished with these sentiments, with which I believe most Twins fans can relate:

My Red Sox heart is broken. I’m not embarrassed to be a Sox fan, but I am embarrased for this edition of the Sox. I hope they are, too. It will be a long winter. In the meantime, I will now pull for my second favorite team in baseball: The APYs. Never heard of them? Stands for Anyone Playing the Yankees.

When you’re finished with Mandelaro’s post, go check out Joe Posnanski’s. He pretty much always captures these events perfectly and this time is no exception. The entire “Baseball Night in America” post is worth reading, but since Joe’s posts are even longer than mine, I’ll just give you a little taste here:

Funny, if I was trying to explain baseball to someone who had never heard of it, I wouldn’t tell them about Wednesday night. No, it seems to me that it isn’t Wednesday night that makes baseball great. It’s all the years you spend waiting for Wednesday night that makes baseball great.

I couldn’t have said it better, myself.

So I won’t even try.

– JC

Offday “Blog Club” Discussion: Hating

Since the season started, I’ve been trying to come up with new ideas for posts on offdays. Last season, we had a “This week in Twins History” series. I listed all the interesting things that had happened in Twins history during a particular calendar week. I liked it. It was fun. But a funny thing about history is that it tends to stay the same so writing the same sort of series THIS year would have been, well, redundant. Maybe I should have thought about that before starting that series and just listed a couple of things every week, so I’d have more stuff to mention THIS season… and next season… but, seriously, who among us really thought this blog would survive for a second season? Thank God there’s no Nielsen Ratings for blogs, right?

Anyway… I’ve come up with an idea.

Have you ever been a member of a book club? You know… where you all agree to read the same book by a set date and then you get together and discuss the book? No? Well, me either, actually. That always sounded too much like what they used to call Literature Class, to me. I like to read… I just like to do it on my own time.

So, no, I’m not suggesting we do a book club (though it might not be a bad idea in the offseason).

But what about a “Blog Club”?

We’ll pick a blog post… maybe one from another Twins blog… or from a blog focused on another MLB team… or maybe just a general sports blog. We’ll link to it in the morning of a Twins offday and maybe write a bit about our feelings about the subject in the post, then turn it over to you, our readers, to click the link, read the post and give us your comments.

I happen to like the idea, but then it’s my idea and I generally feel a pretty high level of support for most of my own ideas. But, of course, this could be a total disaster. It does rely two things I have very little control over.

1. It assumes we actually have readers.

2. It requires that at least some of those readers participate.

Neither is exactly a given, these days.

Let’s start with this blog entry from my personal favorite blogger/writer/author, Joe Posnanski. It’s entitled The Case For Rooting Against LeBron.

Posnanski grew up in Cleveland, so he’s not a LeBron James fan, but this isn’t really about LeBron. If you aren’t an NBA fan (and welcome to the club, I’m not either), it’s OK… it’s still a good read and worthy of discussion. If it helps you to get more interested in the topic, think of it as The Case For Rooting Against A-Rod. The case, as Posnanski makes it, is exactly the same.

I almost always agree with Posnanski, which is a bit scary, actually. I don’t almost always agree with anyone. So it’s a little comforting that, in this case, I don’t agree with him 100%.

Maybe only 90%.

Posnanski’s argument is that it makes no sense to hate an athlete who is, in Poz’s view, just an entertainer who’s created a character. We like players who play for our team and hate players who play for rival teams.

Obviously, Poz has never read the things some Twins fans have said/written about Nick Punto and Michael Cuddyer.

I just can’t buy the “just playing a character” thing. I know he’s correct in that there’s no way for most of us to know whether a given player is really a “good guy” or a “bad guy” who warrants our love or hate, respectively. But these guys don’t generally live in total isolation from their communities and fan bases, either.

I do think that fans of a team should, at least between the lines, be supportive of their players. It does, in fact, bother me when people say/write ugly stuff about any of the Twins players and I don’t understand how people’s brains can hold such vile thoughts toward some guys, much less how they can allow themselves to openly express those thoughts.

I’ve seen enough of Carl Pavano in spring training to know I don’t particularly care for him, personally. I think he’s overpaid for the value he provides. But I don’t carry those feelings in to a game. When he pitches well, I’m happy about it… I don’t sulk and lay in waiting until he gives up his next HR so I can talk about what scum I think he is. I also give him credit for things like the community work he participated in this past weekend in the Twin Cities. My view of him is based on VERY limited exposure and I readily admit that I could be quite wrong about him.

Compare that to the treatment that Punto and Cuddyer and Butera and, lately, Mauer all get among some segments of the fanbase.

It’s obvious that some people actually sulk when those guys have done well! Those fans aren’t even heard from when someone gets a game winning hit or goes on a hot streak (unless it’s to give a backhanded “building his trade value” comment). Are Cuddyer and Mauer overpaid? Yeah. But I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t take every penny from their employer that they could get. What’s worse is that people seem to hold it AGAINST these guys that they ARE active in the community or have reputations for being genuinely good people. That’s absurd, to me.

Unlike Posnanski, I don’t think our athletes are just playing good and bad characters like professional wrestlers and I don’t feel they should be treated like they are. These people are human and they have families and friends and some of them genuinely care about the fans. They want to be liked. Hell, we ALL want to be liked, so why wouldn’t they, too? Getting booed by opposing fans when you come to the plate is a sign of respect, in a way. Getting trashed by your home fans when all you’ve ever done is give your best effort for the team you play for and they root for… that’s just being hurtful and there’s no reason for that except that someone LIKES being hurtful.

I’ll criticize a player’s performance if I feel it’s warranted, whether it’s someone I like or someone I don’t. I’ll also celebrate a guy’s success, regardless of how I feel about him.

Now… go read Posnanski’s post and let us know in the comments what you think!

– JC