In my last post on this site, I was angry. When the phrase “institutional failure” is bandied about—rightly or wrongly—it’s never a good sign. Since that Shoemaker-and-Happ-inspired rant, I had to take a slight step away from analyzing this team’s faults and gnashing my teeth over the losses piling up.
Because I’m apparently a glutton for punishment, part of that “step back” included three in-person Target Field contests. I was in the house for the improbable comeback in the Yankees series finale, felt all the energy of that win dissipate the next night in the face of Shoemaker’s inaugural bullpen outing, and sat through the Sunday slog of noncompetitive bullpen arms (Shoemaker again, Dobnak, & Colome).
What have I learned from all this? The 2021 Minnesota Twins are a bad baseball team— expectations be damned. Though I probably could have realistically made that statement in early May, there’s no more “squint or glance askew and maybe there’s hope”. In terms of competing for a division title or a playoff spot, that competitive portion of the season has been given last rites.
So what happens, as fans, when 90+ games remain on the schedule but our favorite squad is DOA? In all the losing campaigns I’ve lived through, there are four areas in which the lack of competitive, “meaningful” baseball can be somewhat ameliorated:
- The stakes are lower
I imagine a professional sports season like a game of poker. Everyone wants to be in on the final hand with a big pot in the middle. Each turned card, potential bluff, and eventual reveal is the utmost of drama.
Yet, at the same time, there is a lot of pressure inherent in such proceedings. This year, Twins fans won’t be holding their collective breath hoping for a playoff win because, well, you know (current .394 winning percentage). Instead of the pressure of that “final hand”, we can watch it all play out with none of the expectational burdens or stakes.
- Young players are fun (and generally inspire hope themselves)
Professional athletes have such a short prime that youngsters are never too far from breaking through. While those tenderfoots are sometimes overwhelmed—and thus subjugated to veterans—on contenders, the Twins certainly won’t have that problem. As such, names like Kirilloff, Larnach, & Jeffers should, health-willing, be penciled into Rocco Baldelli’s lineup card day-in and day-out. The same can/should be said for Nick Gordon once Simmons is moved. If Cruz departs for a postseason run elsewhere, maybe that means a long(er) look at Brent Rooker.
Similar logic applies to the pitching side of the equation. Due to injury, ineffectiveness, or contract situations, there is nary a slot in the rotation or bullpen that can be categorized as “locked down” for 2022. Once Shoemaker & Colome are either traded for flotsam or given up on entirely, the rest of ‘21 could be something akin to a pitching Battle Royale.
- Target Field will be more chill
Maybe this is just a “me thing”, but my ballpark experience watching the Twins is often put in a separate category from my support of each season as a whole. Some of my favorite at-the-park memories come from the fallow period of 2012-2014; things like an entire crowd clanging Colabello cowbells, the buzz of Andrew Albers pitching two consecutive shutouts to begin his career and everyone thinking he’s the next Johan Santana, or Plouffe & Willingham mashing home runs in losing efforts.
Also, winning seasons bring tight quarters (I’m 6’8”, so I relish every inch of personal space), long lines, and more expensive seats. The down years? I can stretch out, never really have to wait for anything, and splurge a bit when prices inevitably recede and the Twins practically give tickets away. In 2016, I remember sitting 7-8 rows up from third base and watching Brandon Kintzler nail down a save in a (rare) Twins victory.
- Your investment is now 100% your own
What is happening in real-time as I write this post is the best example I can give: Seattle is currently ahead of Minnesota 8-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning. In a competitive season, I’d be more compelled to stick things out to the end (even in a late West Coast start), because a huge comeback win would really mean something.
Tonight—in 2021’s mess? When I’m done with this post I’ll be crawling into bed instead of propping the eyelids open. Though the lack of investment is mostly sad, it is also partially freeing.
(Caveat: This logic does not apply to in-person games, which must be attended until the triumphant or bitter end under penalty of death—or worse.)
One very important note to end on: I don’t really want any of this. I want to be invested—even deep into a work-week night—in a solid, fun, competitive club. I want to feel the buzz of a large Target Field crowd even if it means a few extra minutes for a hot dog. I want a seat at the table for the final turn.
But until the cards shake out differently, pardon the pun, all we can do is take solace in the smaller perks of bad baseball.