I'm proud to say that, last year, I submitted the first season-in-review column of any baseball writer, anywhere. This, of course, is mostly because I posted it in April.
However, there's always an "arms race" with these types of things, and if I waited until April this season there's no doubt that some other writer - younger! hungrier! sillier! - will beat me to it. With that in mind, I'm setting the bar even higher: below, you'll find a recap of the 2008 Twins season, eight months early.
The 2008 season officially begins, on a Sunday in....
... as pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers for spring training. Fans, anxious to see the beginning of baseball season, flock to the Lee County Sports Complex, only to be disappointed when they recognize nobody. "Tim over here thought he saw Oswaldo Sosa," says one excited fan, "but that turned out to be a janitor. Nice-looking arm, though."
New Twins Kevin Mulvey and Phillip Humber announce that they are combining themselves into one super-starter, named "Killip Mumbler."
The news of the first week of spring training, however, centers around Boof Bonser, who has lost over 125 pounds and weights approximately 143. Unfortunately, the team soon discovers that Bonser, desperate to lose weight to meet off-season goals, has eaten nothing but water, grapefruit, and cabbage since November, and is barely able to lift his arm above his head. The team's radar gun shorts out before finally clocking Bonser's fastball at 43 miles per hour. Two Fort Myers-area International House of Pancakes locations close, and workers picket Twins headquarters in protest. Twins GM Bill Smith is quoted as telling the picketers, "We signed Livan Hernandez, what more do you people want?"
A seven-year-old boy approaches Pat Neshek for an autograph after a practice. Neshek later ridicules him online for not following proper autograph-seeker protocol.
Full-squad workouts begin, and rumors are rife. Joe Mauer, stretching in the outfield before his first official team practice, catches a wayward pop fly in his hat. Talk show callers demand that Mauer be moved to third base to utilize these fielding skills.
After only two weeks, though, the pastoral hum of February baseball gives way to...
...when the hum becomes more like a buzz, or a rattle. In response, Mike Sweeney goes on Oakland's disabled list with back pain.
Joe Mauer takes a few ground balls at first base, just in case. WCCO's Dark Star spends two entire shows dealing with Mauer-to-third-base callers.
The Twins' batting order endures a setback when it is discovered that Carlos Gomez, instead of being an up-and-coming center fielder, is actually yet another Double-A pitching prospect. Fans groan at the news, but a StarTribune.com poll reveals that 83% say that they "figured as much, all along."
Twins general manager Bill Smith spends an embarrassing night in the hospital after squeezing a penny so hard that the coin actually is forced underneath two layers of skin.
Francisco Liriano gets the phrase "The arm feels great" tattooed on his forehead, in the hopes of heading off questions from the press. Media requests for Liriano interviews dip to only 3,557 per day. Meanwhile, Jesse Crain hangs a sign outside his locker that reads "HEY, I HAD ARM SURGERY TOO".
Pitchers Nick Blackburn and Kyle Waldrop disappointedly reveal that they switched jerseys on February 27, as a prank, but even after three weeks, nobody had noticed.
Confusing everyone, the season starts on March 30. Five Twins, including Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, fail to show up at the ballpark, claiming that they thought "it was Corey Koskie playing a prank." You can hardly blame them; after all, the season usually starts in....
... when the Detroit Tigers set a major league record by winning 52 games in the season's first full month. Says Indians manager Eric Wedge, "I think they may have cheated." Wedge, however, has his own scandal to answer for, as Cleveland sits just two games back of Detroit at 50-0. Unfortunately for Kansas City Royals fans, this means that their team is eliminated from playoff contention on April 23.
In the season's opening series, Torii Hunter attempts to tip his cap to cheering fans, but accidentally hits Nick Punto. Hunter also takes away three home runs from the home team at the Metrodome center field wall, leading Twins fans far and wide to learn the definition of "irony."
Meanwhile, in his first three official weeks as a Twin, Livan Hernandez eats up three starts, nineteen innings, and an entire fried chicken.
Joe Mauer stands very near third base during Twins batting practice. Twins fans inundate local radio shows, demanding a permanent move.
Mike Redmond, showing early signs of a possibly-loosening grip on reality, puts up a poster of Gary Busey in his locker.
New Twins left fielder Craig Monroe plays in 18 games, hitting .183 with no home runs and one RBI. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire raves about Monroe's "veteran presence" and continues to include Monroe in the lineup. Gardenhire also reveals that, in order to "save Kubel's knees," the young slugger will play only against over-30 right-handers on Catholic feast days.
The team works to bring starter Francisco Liriano along slowly. In his first three starts, Ron Gardenhire removes the young star after his pre-game warmup tosses, citing the need to "not take any chances." Glen Perkins and Matt Guerrier file for hardship pay.
Though the Twins sit far back in the standings, the team remains optimistic for a rebound in....
... when the Vancouver Canucks make an improbable run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Justin Morneau goes on the 15-day disabled list with an unspecified injury, saying cryptically, "Those games are late - I mean, foot pain."
Mike Redmond stays awake for eleven straight days, "just to prove it can be done."
Minnesota makes their first summer visit to Kansas City, and only 10,000 Twins fans show up for a taste of outdoor baseball. The Royals file a grievance against Minnesota for not bringing more fans, noting, "It's not like people from around here are going to show up."
Joe Mauer holds Mike Lamb's glove in his hand, briefly and in the dugout, while Lamb adjust his spikes. The petition at movemauertothird.com reaches 100,000 signatures, 91,534 of which are discovered to be from various identities of a mysterious figure, known only as "jsouhan643."
Roger Clemens remarks to his wife for the 432nd time that he, quote, "feels like the phone's going to ring any minute now" and that he "can't understand why Cashman won't call me back."
The team makes its first-ever visit to Coors Field. The team, forgetting about the vaunted humidor, takes batting practice Friday night with regular, unaltered baseballs. At least one plane is diverted from Denver International Airport after Justin Morneau hits a batting-practice homer that curves slightly foul.
The Twins are off on Memorial Day, giving the beginning-of-summer holiday a slightly less pastoral lean. Despite this scheduling oversight, summer once again continues apace in....
...as the team renews the annual six-game series with Milwaukee. Attempting to "get inside the head" of hefty Brewers slugger Prince Fielder, Livan Hernandez eats an entire two-pound bag of Peanut M&Ms in the dugout, before a still-dieting Boof Bonser snaps and clobbers Hernandez with a bat.
Mike Redmond is suspended due to "an internal matter" by GM Bill Smith. The internal matter is later revealed to involve several incidents in which Redmond blindfolded the bat boys, then shot at them with a pellet gun while shouting, "DANCE, PARAGONS OF YOUTH, DANCE! REDMOND SMASH!"
The Twins coaching staff follows through on their threat and uses Michael Cuddyer in center field. Cuddyer is later suspended ten days by the American League for playing three innings on a Segway.
Scott Baker sets a major league record for 26-year olds by getting carded at a bar for the 53rd time before the All-Star Break.
In left field, Craig Monroe starts fourteen straight games despite hitting .132 for the season. Ron Gardenhire rationalizes his decision to give Monroe more at-bats than Jason Kubel and Delmon Young combined by saying, "I dunno, I just like guys who can remember when 'Back To The Future' came out."
Joe Mauer mentions third base in a post-game interview, leading to rampant speculation that a move is imminent.
Livan Hernandez throws eight solid innings at San Diego, giving up 16 hits, three walks, and striking out one, yet somehow allowing just one run. Hernandez also throws 173 pitches and gets four hits at the plate, and celebrates by eating twenty-seven fish tacos in the dugout the next day.
The Twins lose ten straight. Management deals with the slide by handing out free sunglasses with pictures of the new ballpark printed on the inside of the lenses. When asked about the move, team president Jim Pohlad says, "BALLPARK BALLPARK BALLPARK BALLPARK."
Coincidentally, the lack of a roof on said ballpark starts to look like a bad idea in...
... when a 100-degree heat wave hits the Twin Cities. Ron Gardenhire gets in trouble with the uniform police when it is discovered that, underneath his omnipresent windbreaker, he is wearing only three ice cream sandwiches strapped strategically to his chest.
Joe Nathan attempts to calm his many nervous tics by taking three consecutive deep breaths. He is later treated for several burst blood vessels, and other various internal injuries.
Delmon Young is suspended for 15 games when, after a long night of revelry, he throws up, accidentally hitting an umpire.
A squirrel wanders onto the field at Jacobs Field. Mike Redmond horrifies thousands by killing the squirrel with a bat, then drop-kicking it into the Cleveland bullpen.
Without Johan Santana to vote for, a major-league-low five All-Star fan ballots are turned in at the Metrodome. "I got confused," says one bored-looking fan. "I'm not sure, but I might have had a flashback and written in a vote for Tom Brunansky."
Over the All-Star break, Pat Neshek is caught on hidden camera throwing with a normal motion. When confronted, Neshek admits that his trademark sidearm pitching style was, quote, "all just a prank to get some attention."
Joe Mauer, while shopping at a St. Paul-area SuperTarget, is seen stooping to retrieve a dropped apple. Talk-show callers offer proof of Mauer's infield skills.
The Twins announce that the cost of the new ballpark has again increased, this time by around $1 million. The Pohlad family announces that they will once again be paying for the cost overruns, costing the state nothing. Jason Kubel, coincidentally, is given his outright release the same day. "That should just about cover it," says Jim Pohlad.
The season lengthens into the dog days of...
... when Minnesota is, unfortunately, mathematically eliminated from contention in the AL Central, thanks to record 89-game winning streaks from both Detroit and Cleveland.
Joe Mauer solves the Wednesday crossword in the New York Times. Callers to "PA and Dubay" threaten a boycott of the team if Mauer's intelligence is not immediately utilized at third base.
After three days in which Mike Redmond refuses to leave the Twins dugout at any time, even at night or during games, the team finally sends the catcher for evaluation, where it is discovered that part of a foul tip is lodged in Redmond's frontal lobe. The tough-as-nails - but sheepish - Redmond is quoted post-surgery as saying, "At the time, I didn't think it was a big deal; I've hurt worse."
Juan Rincon goes three appearances without retiring a batter. Gardenhire contacts George Mitchell in order to "get some phone numbers for Juan."
In a brief, tearful ceremony during the fifth inning of a game in Seattle, Bert Blyleven receives a special award from Fox Sports Net for his one millionth use of the phrase "major league level."
The Twins coaching staff is embarrassed when they realize that, despite the fact he's been on the roster since the start of the season, Nick Blackburn has yet to pitch in a game. "We just plumb forgot about him," say the coaches.
The team heads off for a fourteen-day road trip that stretches into...
...though the team flight is delayed until it is fully ascertained that a suitcase tagged "L.H." contains, not an incendiary device, but 103 pounds of Snickers bars and beef jerky. An unnamed player is quoted as explaining the bag by saying, "Supplies, man. Can't be too careful on the road."
At the Republican National Convention, Sen. John McCain gets into the local spirit by donning a #7 jersey for a photo op. Confused callers to several FOX News shows demand that the candidate be moved to third base.
AL Central have-nots are briefly given hope when reports surface that both Cleveland and Detroit have been destroyed in bloody, home-run-filled offensive explosions. Unfortunately, these rumors are denounced as a product for an increasingly sensational-minded media; the media immediately blames bloggers in columns that liberally use the words "unemployed," "basement," and "underwear."
Glen Perkins finishes an amazing season in which he made more trips to the disabled list (five) than appearances on the mound (three). Clubhouse managers are seen wheeling an enormous roll of bubble wrap into the clubhouse.
Joe Mauer is seen walking and chewing gum. KFAN's switchboard is swamped.
Nick Punto, making a free-agent push in the final month of his contract, slides into first base 433 times. Meanwhile, in September call-up news, Darnell McDonald gets his 5,000th minor-league at bat. As a reward, the Twins promote the veteran, allowing him to reach 50 at-bats for his major-league career.
Johan Santana wins his third Cy Young award, going away. The Twins issue a statement: "We congratulate Johan Santana on his accomplishments and wish him continued excellence in the BALLPARK! BALLPARK! NEW BALLPARK! LOOK! NEW BALLPARK!"
Which is about all Twins fans have to look forward to in...
... as a rebuilding year comes to a close.
Or does it close with the playoffs?
Well, it's not likely. But even this season reviewer - who has jumped the gun by eight months - can't say that for sure.