Oh hey there! It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
For reals. I took a months-long hiatus from writing. I don’t know about you guys, but in the midst of all the things going on in the world over the last year or so, baseball just hasn’t been at the forefront of my headspace. Like, I LOVE baseball. I’ve loved it my whole life. But not being able to go to live games, watching the owners and players bickerer how/when to play during a pandemic, and the Twins crumbling in the post season yet again, I just haven’t cared enough about any baseball stories to write anything remotely interesting.
Once the Twins were the first team out of the post season again, I didn’t care much about the playoffs or World Series (though, I gotta say congrats to the Dodgers for ending a 34 year drought!). I didn’t care about awards season (2020 stats are going to be worthless/inflated/deflated unless you’re trying to get a big contract). Free agency and signings seem trivial in a time where much of the world is struggling to even keep a job or stay healthy (read the room, people.. nobody wants to hear about a player making $300 million right now). So really, what is there for me to write about?
A lot has happened in the world – baseball or otherwise – over the last few months. Much of it I was ignoring for reasons above. But, the eternal optimist in me wants to start 2021 in a happy place. We all have fresh hopes for our teams. Everyone’s record is reset to 0-0. There’s the hope of going to a live game this season (maybe???). Women are being introduced into the sport – most recently with Boston hiring the first black woman to coach on a minor league coaching deal. I can’t keep ignoring baseball if it’s something that has always brought me so much joy. So, without further adieu, here are the top ten things that I’m excited to see in the 2021 season:
10: Alex Kirilloff, Royce Lewis, and Trevor Larnach
We all got to see Alex Kirilloff make his big league debut to play in game two of the AL Wild Card game (grumble grumble.. see #8 below). But our other big shot prospects, outfielder Trevor Larnach and number-one 2017 draft pick Royce Lewis have been chomping at the bit to get their feet in the bigs.. or at least out of AA. Whether or not they make it on the Twins roster in the first few months of the season, we will still likely get to watch them in action at CHS field if 1) they are promoted to AAA with the St. Paul Saints (see #9 below) 2) fans are even allowed in the stadium (see #1 below) or 3) at the very least making the 60-man player pool if such a thing has to happen again in 2021. With Eddie Rosario released and the Twins down an outfielder, there could be opportunity to have one or more of these guys to rotate in when Buxton inevitably injures himself, and Lewis could easily come in when Donaldson’s calf causes him to sit out a few games or Kirilloff could cover first when Sano hits a slump.
9: The Saint Paul Saints
Seeing as I live about 15 minutes from CHS field, catching the AAA games will be much easier and cheaper than hopping a flight to Rochester, NEW YORK. (Many people, myself included for a short time before being told otherwise, assumed the team was located in Rochester, MN since you know.. Minnesota. But this was not the case.) The fate of 2021 minor league ball is up in the air still, but supposedly AAA will be a thing this season. While Saints games have always been fun, it will be infinitely cooler when we get to see the guys we’ve been waiting to watch (see #10 above), players like Willians Astudillo that we love but just don’t have a permanent place on the 26 (is it still 26? I can’t keep track) man roster or players that we miss when we are waiting for them to come back from an injury.
8: A Normal (?) Postseason
I don’t know about you, but I was not a fan of the mega-expanded post season.
Granted, 2020 was not a typical baseball season, but did it really mean we had to let Manfred sneak in his shitty plan to expand the post season while we all pretended we hadn’t hated the idea just a few months prior? Teams with no business being in the post season (ahem.. Houston) took out teams that earned a spot (cough cough Twins.. I’m not bitter or anything), and the expanded format was confusing and drawn way out. Sixteen teams making it in? A two game wild card series? Teams that won their division being cast out after two effing games? There’s still the possibility that we could see an expanded format, but it likely won’t be the 16 team free-for-all that we were stuck with in 2020.
The only thing about the normal postseason I don’t want to see? The Twins being the first team out.
7: Spring Training
Every year I daydream about going to a Spring Training game. It’s been 10 years since I’ve actually been to Hammond Stadium for a mid-March game, and it’s going to be at least one more year until I actually get to go. (Let’s be real.. it’ll probably be more than the global pandemic that keeps me from getting there for at least a few more years.) Even though I can’t be there this February/March, if Spring Training starts when it’s supposed to next month, that means that we’ll actually be likely to see a full season (see #2 below). And if/when Spring Training comes back in February (oh please oh please oh pleeeeeease!), we can watch live baseball on TV again rather than reruns. The classic games used to bring me great joy during the off season, but after watching months of said classic games during quarantine, the magic has nearly completely worn off. The only times that I will never be tired of the classics are game 2 of the 1991 World Series and we are watching Kent Hrbek ‘help’ Ron Gant off the base, Kirby Puckett’s game 6 homer, or Joe Mauer’s last game when he comes out of the dugout in his catcher’s gear. Those moments will never, ever lose their luster.
6: Possible Signings
We all know the Twins are historically
stupid cheap when it comes to off season signings/free agency. Last year, we magically won the Josh Donaldson race - whether or not his calf makes it worth it is yet to be seen, but hey, we actually made a move! We also managed to snag Kenta Maeda (see #5 below) in an uncharacteristically good trade move. The new era of Twins front office might just be willing to make another big move or get a really good player for a relatively low (and Twins friendly) price tag during this sluggish off-season. The lack of income from 2020 (and likely a part, if not most, of this season) is making it really hard for most teams to shell out serious cash or multi-year deals, and the shortened 2020 season skewed player stats a bit and maybe lowered what would have been their higher price tags this off season.
Will we try to re-sign Nelson Cruz or Jake Odorizzi now that they’re on the free agent market? And if not, who will fill their shoes? The veteran DH Cruz was a godsend to the 2019 Twins, and a steady presence in 2020. If we don’t bring him back, who will DH for us this season? Would we have Donaldson be a really expensive DH while he nurses his calf injury and we wait until next year when we have more cash to spend? Or would we bring in another guy to a one year deal? I’d like to see him stay on as our DH, as he was a valuable leader to a lot of the young players in the clubhouse, and brought a lot of power to our lineup.
Who will fill Odorizzi’s rotation spot? To be honest, I like the guy but would be ok if the Twins didn’t extend a new contract to him - as long as they fill his spot with someone who can pitch and will be healthy to start the season. I REALLY want to see Trevor Bauer come in to make a 1-2 punch with Maeda, with Berrios in the 3rd spot. I swear, we’d win the Central by 50 games - and probably wouldn’t even ever have to face Liam Hendriks in a save situation for the White Sox. A pipe dream? Maybe. But I am looking forward to seeing who we do sign, now that we know the team has it in them to shell out some dough and make a statement signing.
There are other good free agents on the market this year with maybe a lower price tag than they’d have normally gotten - which might be more palatable with the budget conscious Twins: Houston’s Michael Brantley and George Springer. Brantley and Springer are both outfielders that could feasibly take over Rosario’s spot and their ages and injury histories could bring down the price/time in a contract. Former MVP George Springer’s price tag goes down even more when you take into consideration that he was part of the Astros scandal - even if he was still really good without having to cheat.
Marcell Ozuna is another outfielder looking for a new home this year. His bat? Goooooood. His glove? Meh. That ‘meh’ glove could bring down his price tag and even make him a good candidate to take over the DH role if we don’t bring Cruz back. With the universal DH (hopefully) being just a 2020 thing, he’ll likely end up somewhere in the American League - why not with the Twins?
I doubt if the Twins would actually sign any of these guys but man.. just thinking of all the possibilities is making me giddy.
5: Kenta Maeda
God we got lucky with that trade. I have to admit, I was a bit worried about it when it first went down - we gave up Graterol and I thought for sure it was going to turn into one of those trades that would look really stupid to us 10 years from now. His best year with he Dodgers was his first in 2016, and then his ERA was slowly creeping up and his win count was going down in the seasons after that. But dude ended up almost winning the Cy Young award in 2020, and made me eat my words. I really hope that his badassery continues on this season.
4: Twins Broadcasts
I miss the soothing sounds of Dick Bremer’s voice calling the play by play action of Twins games constantly in the background of my home in the summer. Now that Bert Blyleven is completely out at Fox Sports North, we’ll likely get a mixed bag of voices again this season that give us the color commentary. I may be in the minority here, but I actually rather enjoy listening to Justin Morneau’s soft spoken Canadian accent giving us the ins and outs of the game. He gives a lot of depth and insight with what the players are thinking, how they’ll turn plays, why they do certain things on base - all things that I think are great for my kids who are still learning the game to hear. I also love hearing LaTroy Hawkins’s voice and his pitching knowledge, and I reeeeally love when Torii Hunter fills in. Mostly just because it’s Torii.
3: The Cleveland Baseball Team Giving Up Before Spring Training Even Started
Not sure what I can say here that Twinkie Town’s own Jonathan Gamble didn’t say already. Without Lindor or Cookie to beat up on the Twins, the AL Central is really going to be a two-team division: The Twins and the White Sox. Detroit and Kansas City are waiting at the bottom of the toilet to be joined by Cleveland as they’ve flushed away any support Shane Bieber had to win more than a handful of games.
2: A Full 162 Game Season
Rob Manfred has apparently said that he’s expecting Spring Training to begin on time in February and that the full 162 game season will be played. Whether or not that’s true, the very inkling that we’ll get more than two months of a regular baseball season warms my cold, jaded heart.
cluster fuck bickering between MLB and the MLBPA and resulting delay to start the season made an already bleak time in the world even worse. Other sports were able to hammer out details and figure out how to safely play their games, but baseball took forever to get their shit together work out the logistics of safety protocols, travel, a schedule, the aforementioned playoff structure, ad revenue, and so on. Once the wrinkles were ironed out and a couple of teams had to quarantine, things were smooth sailing for the most part and we actually got to see the season through to the final out of the World Series.
With a better idea of what to do from the start, there’s very little doubt in my mind that we will get to see Major League Baseball starting on April 1. DO NOT SCREW THIS UP, MANFRED.
1: Being Back at Target Field
Gone might be the days of cardboard cutouts in the stands and creepy CGI fans during national broadcasts. I know, I know. This is a big ask. We are in the middle of a pandemic and half of the country thinks we should open everything back up, while the other half says that if we all just hunkered down for 4-6 weeks as a nation, we might actually start to control this damn virus. Regardless of what side you may find yourself, there’s a very real possibility that we’ll get to go to a live game sometime this summer.
I am the one who organizes my kids’ elementary school’s yearly Twins game outings, and as of right now, our mid-April game is supposedly still on the books. Have I started advertising the date to our student families or selling tickets? Bwaaaahahahahahhahahahaha! Not a chance. The nightmare of sorting out all of our refunds last spring when our outing was cancelled has made me think long and hard about whether or not to even organize a game this season. But, the emails from the Twins keep a-comin’, and we are supposedly still on for an afternoon of fun in April at Target Field. Whether or not it remains on the books is still to be determined, and will likely not happen - at least not in April.
Does this mean that we won’t see fans in the seats? Not at all. I just don’t think we’ll see large groups in the seats.. for now.
There were fans in attendance in the LCS and World Series at the new Rangers ballpark in Texas without news of a major outbreak being traced back to those games, so it’s entirely possible that MLB could see some fans in attendance in 2021. Mind you, Texas has been very relaxed on Covid restrictions, while many states won’t allow for fan attendance at all - even while wearing masks or at a smaller capacity. Also, do we really think if there had been an outbreak being traced back to the games that anyone would have admitted to have been at/gotten sick from the game they went to? Highly doubtful.
Before MLB starts selling tickets, some big questions remain around allowing fans inside the gates. Once baseball season ended and football season began, there was a much better understanding/framework made for team safety and games being rescheduled. However, despite this understanding, the NFL only saw spectators in 13 of 32 teams, and that was only in states that allowed for them to be there (Minnesota was not one of these states). If not all teams get spectators, what affect will this have on home field advantage? Will MLB have to split the earnings among teams somehow if only a handful of teams are making money from ticket sales and concessions, while the rest of the teams are playing in empty stadiums? Or will teams be forced to play in the states that are open to fans? With Spring Training being in Florida and Arizona (Florida saw NFL fans, Arizona did not), will Grapefruit League games get to open up to fans, while Cactus League does not? Will Cactus League games be played in Texas if Grapefruit League allows for fans? Will Covid continue to cause rescheduled games in 2021, or will teams have enough players in reserves (assuming that’s still a thing this season) to keep the schedule (and therefore tickets) from being constantly shifted around?
There are SO many questions to unpack here, but maybe if we are lucky between staying home, vaccinations, and increased mask wearing the numbers will be low enough to allow us to watch a game from the comfort of our favorite seats at Target Field sometime this summer. There can certainly be accommodations made that would allow less crowding at the gates or in the concourses, limited seating available, mask requirements, touchless ticketing/concession payments.... Then again, this would also require MLB to have their ducks in a row, which hasn’t proven to be their strong suit during the days of the ‘rona. In any case, I’d like to think that I’ll be able to watch a game from Target Field at SOME point this summer.
So there you have it, my friends. My triumphant (?) return to the keyboard. I know that baseball season is still a long way off, and things could really change between now and what’s supposed to be Opening Day on April 1, 2021. But for now, I’ll be dreaming of sitting in the stands, with the sunshine on my (someday unmasked) face, watching the boys of summer locked up in extra innings amid a race to the post season - where they’ll last longer than two games, with a beer in one hand and a hot dog in the other.