Reframing Playoffs Despair: It's a Gift

This playoff win drought is a gift. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Don’t misunderstand me. It’s not only a gift. It can be one of the most painful things in the life of a Twins fan, an indelible fact of life that seems to loom over the franchise. There are much bigger things than baseball, especially in a world like ours. But the little things help get us through.

I’m sure you’ve read plenty of jeremiads in the past decade about the organization, the team, and the life sentence of singular suffering that seems to accompany Minnesota sports fandom. I write that with respect and understanding; my parents are from Minnesota but I was born and raised in Indiana, so I grew up a Colts and Pacers fan. Indiana doesn’t have an MLB or NHL team, and my late grandparents got their Twins fan hooks into me early. I ended up attending graduate school in Mankato, and I consider Minnesota my second home. So while I experience the crushing depths of Twins and Wild fandom, I’ve been spared the 30 years of institutional doubt and learned helplessness that radiates off of my friends who cheer for the Vikes and Timberwolves. Because you’ve read about the Twins’ playoff drought and you live in its quagmire, I’ll spare you the gory details and hew closer to what I know: psychologically reframing troubling circumstances.

In major American sports, droughts are usually an index of failure to earn: a divisional title, a playoffs berth, a championship. A drought is usually equivalent to poverty of overall success. The Twins’ drought is something altogether different, a unique form of penury. The Twins have had recent success. Regular season success, sure, but regular season achievements still go on your CV. There are teams in other divisions and sports that would give anything for a divisional title. We’ve won two AL Central titles in a row and five since we won a playoff game. It’s been nearly 30 years since we won a World Series, but that’s roughly the median for MLB franchises. We’ve won two in Minnesota. We’ve had nine winning seasons. We set club and league home run records in 2019.

I know, I know. You know all of this. Maybe you have to defend the Twins to rival fans or even friends and family who inexplicably root for Chicago or Cleveland. Maybe you ruminate on these facts as you search for a scapegoat in your hot stove season anguish. It doesn’t make you feel any better.

Losing 18 consecutive playoff games is soul-rending. It’s a fairly inconceivable streak, and is the largest active playoff win drought in any major American sport. Other teams haven’t won because they haven’t played (e.g., the Cincinnati Bengals); we play and we lose. The natural laws of baseball and statistics dictate that we should have won a game in that span simply by showing up to play, if for no other explicable reasons than "luck" or "good bounces" or "karma." As the number of losses ticks up, it becomes even more incomprehensible. We start to assume it’s supernatural.

There is a reason why sports droughts are discussed in such paranormal terms as intrusive spirits and curses. Exorcism is the only cultural language we have to describe the expulsion of neurotic energy you feel when your team finally gets over the hump. The Red Sox lifted the Curse of the Bambino after 86 years. The Cubs killed off the Curse of the Billy Goat in extra innings of Game 7 in the 2016 World Series; they also extended Cleveland’s World Series title drought (which was its own gift to us). For decades, Cubs and Red Sox fans felt despondent. They came close and they fell short. They literally and metaphorically scapegoated people, places, animals, and objects to rationalize their failures. They described the curses as insurmountable, and mythologies sprang up around them.

Nearly 17 years in, we feel the pull of that myth-making. After all, what better word is there to describe our pain than Sisyphean? I’m sure you know the story, at least in abstract, but here’s the tl;dr version. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus irritated the gods by being deceitful; he was punished with an eternity of pushing a massive boulder up a hill, only for the boulder to roll back down the hill each time he approached the top. He toils and he labors, and as he nears his goal, a supernatural power steals satisfaction away from him so that he has to try again, though he can never succeed. That sounds a lot like the Twins playing (usually) 162 games through bad weather, injuries, suspensions, call-ups, home runs, GIDPs, DFAs, and double plays, finally earning a playoff berth after staving off a late charge from Cleveland, and then cratering as we once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And after all of that strife, we’re faced with another 162 games before we can try to exorcise the demons again.

Think of all the pain of the past sixteen-and-a-half years. Think of the time, money, energy, and love you’ve poured into Twins fandom. Think of the dozens, hundreds, thousands of games you’ve watched, listened to, read about. Think of the towering highs of divisional titles and the abysmal lows of faltering as soon as the playoffs begin. That energy does not just dissipate every November; it collects in a deepening reservoir inside the fanbase, waiting to echo through the concourses and across the diamond of Target Field.

That’s why this drought is a gift. That reservoir of energy can start to feel like an albatross around our neck, like a Great Lake of despair. Close your eyes and feel it, because it belongs to us and to no one else. But it is also an eternal wellspring of hope. It is a stockpile of euphoria waiting to be summoned some cool autumn night.

Try to imagine what you will feel when we finally win that playoff game. That stored up energy will be released in delirious celebrations from some of the most socially conservative people in the country. It might not even be the "thrill of victory" exactly, because it’s not joy we will feel after a single playoff win. It will be relief. Pure, uncut, Grade A, 100%-approval-on-Rotten-Tomatoes relief. Twins fans of a certain age probably remember what pure joy feels like from the titles in 1987 and 1991. I was born in ‘91; I can’t remember what a Twins playoff win feels like anymore. But I know that every hot stove season, after the pain finally ebbs, I feel hope for a victory due to us with compounding interest.

I can’t wait for another season of Twins baseball. I think we all need it. I can’t wait to celebrate with friends and family when we finally win that playoff game, whether that is in 2021 or 2051. I can’t wait for the 30 for 30 documentary two years after we win one with the cheesy title punning about droughts and "Purple Rain." The destination is simple enough: one single postseason win. Let’s enjoy the journey together. It’s all a gift.