The Twins are a pedestal team — a team other fans respect more than most because of the way the organization goes about its business year in and year out. And despite myriad personnel, financial and ballpark changes through the team’s history, the Twins somehow manage to stay the same, high-character, defensive-minded, superbly managed team they’ve always been.
And as Minnesotans, we take a lot of pride in that.
Examples abound as to how that organizational integrity has manifested over the years, including going from worst to first in 1991, overcoming odds by beating contraction, and selling Hennepin County voters on a tax increase to fund Target Field. But the Twins means something deeper, less tangible and more ethereal to Minnesota and baseball. There’s simply something about this team that provides us that unwavering pride, and induces jealousy in fans elsewhere. And though what the organization means beyond the tangibles is sometimes hard to grasp, we have some idea as to why our team is a little more special.
The Twins means that despite the team’s rocket-like shot to the league’s top 10 in payroll, baseball fans throughout the country and not from New York jump confidently and en masse onto the Twins bandwagon when they face the Yankees in the playoffs.
It means that even though we’ve always been respected for doing more with less, it’s OK when the team tenders the fourth largest contract in baseball history to a player because he’s one of our own. He didn’t just come from our farm system, he came from our soil.
Along the same line, it means that if the first base position becomes a tenuous issue this year (knock on wood), the Twins and their fans wouldn’t feel comfortable making a play for Albert Pujols because we couldn’t justify giving up or spending that much to get a superstar not from Minnesota. Which again, means we are the opposite of the Yankees.
It means the team consciously drafts and develops high-character guys who don’t cause a lot of trouble and respect tradition.
It means that when we lose a Jesse Crain, a Matt Guerrier and a (Big) Jon Rauch, we’re OK because we’ve got a Kevin Slowey, a Jeff Manship and a Matt Capps who, chomping at the bit, come into spring training and light the place up. And, as an extension, it means Dodgers fans are confident they acquired a stud from one of the best breeders around. (Unfortunately, it means White Sox fans will feel the same; you’re welcome, Ozzie.)
It means that when one of the game’s best and most respected managers, Tom Kelly, steps down, he doesn’t really leave the team, but stays on as an integral part of scouting and development. And it means Rod Carew, one of the team’s most-prolific hitters, still comes to spring training and teaches Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla, Denard Span and Ben Revere how to bunt better. And it means so much to Harmon Killebrew, one of the game’s greatest power hitters, that he still insists on visiting spring training despite battling esophageal cancer.
It also means that two years ago we still felt comfortable as a fan base going into the season despite our best player missing spring training and starting on the disabled list.
It means last year as a fan base we still felt confident going into the season despite knowing the best closer in the game for the previous six seasons was not going to throw a pitch in 2010.
And what does all of it mean for this season? It means we believe the Twins knew what they were doing when they rolled the dice on Tsuyoshi Nishioka. And it means we believe that Span, Jason Kubel and Joe Mauer will bounce back from down years at the plate. It means that even if they don’t, we’re deep enough to compensate. It means that we will believe in our bullpen, even if it’s younger than it has been, because our team believes in its bullpen. And it means we’ll be critical when it fails, because we expect so much from this organization. It means even when we’re critical, we know that Ron Gardenhire and his staff are the best men for this job, because that’s what our organization does.
It means that we’re going to trot out a lineup on opening day in which eight of the nine members are capable of hitting .300 or better. So that means we can tolerate and even embrace one shortstop (potentially) hitting at .250, in part because we know he’s swift enough with the glove and capable of covering more ground than his predecessor.
Most teams have moments of brilliance. But a team such as this — a special team, one over whom other baseball fans fawn — has magical moments, like this: As I write, the Twins and Orioles are playing a spring game on TV. For the first time this spring, all position players were healthy and slated to start the game. As if scripted, Casilla followed a Danny Valencia base hit in the second with a walk. Span followed with a base hit. Nishioka then hit one deep in the hole at short, and the throw to second was too late to get Span. Here we had it, the three Twins speedsters all on base for Joe Mauer, who hit one off the base of the wall in left-center to score two. It was a chill-inducing moment. This was new Twins and it was vintage Twins. This was our Twins, the envy of all of baseball.