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2002 vs. 2012: A stark contrast in Openers

The one we all remember vs. the one we probably don’t

Royals v Twins

At about this time last year I looked at the 2001 & 2011 openers, finding them to be a study in contrasts. This season—continuing my round-number anniversaries niche—I’ll be touching on some of the moments you will likely remember forever (2002) and others you’ve tried to purge entirely (2012). Interestingly, the starts to both seasons once again almost perfectly corresponded to how each respective season would play out.

  • April 1st, 2002

This date might be one of the single biggest reasons why many of us are part of this Twinkie Town community. That offseason, Minnesota baseball fans were on pins and needles over an 11-letter word—contraction—that might as well have been four. Fortunately the Twins survived and arrived in Kansas City with a new manager—Ron Gardenhire—and hopes of capturing their first AL Central crown since—ever (last winning the AL West in ‘91).

On the second pitch of the season, Jacque Jones blasted Jeff Suppan’s offering deep into the Kauffman Stadium fountains. Three batters later, David Ortiz did likewise and the ‘02 Twins were off and running.

Royals v Twins
Everyone remembers the Jones blast, but Ortiz grabbed a share of the Opening Day spotlight too

Somewhat forgotten in hindsight is how Brad Radke was not sharp—4.1 IP, 5 ER—and the Twins were actually behind 6-3 after the fifth inning. But a Torii Hunter bomb started the comeback in the sixth, and another Jones dinger—this time a 3-run job—put the Twins in front for good.

Newly-christened closer Eddie Guardado would of course make things interesting in the ninth, putting a few guys on via walks (including KC left fielder Chuck Knoblauch), but a harmless fly out from Neifi Perez would put an amen to it.

Buoyed by that exciting start, the ‘02 squad posted a 16-11 opening month. Not utterly spectacular, but more than enough to prove the ‘01 uptick was no fluke—this was a team that could take the AL Central.

GENERAL INFORMATION: April 12, 2002 HOME OPENER — Minnesota Twins vs. Detroit IN THIS PHOTO: Left to right, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, his daughter Gracie, and St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning st
Not exactly sure what was transpiring in this photo, but suffice it to say there was a lot of excitement around the ‘02 Twins’ hot start.
  • April 6, 2012

Ten years later, the Twins were trying to climb out of another hole. Not contraction this time—instead, the first truly bad season (2011’s 63-99) in a decade.

Perhaps indicative of the starting rotation’s quality, Minnesota sent Carl Pavano to the Camden Yards mound. He was tagged by an early 2-run blast courtesy of Nick Markakis and by the end of the sixth inning the Orioles were up 4-0 (Jake Arrieta twirling a two-hit gem).

Minnesota Twins v Baltimore Orioles
Probably one season-opener too many for the Pav-Stache
Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

A Joe Mauer walk and Josh Willingham homer put the Twins on the board in the ninth, but far too little too late as Baltimore closer Jim Johnson entered and locked down the save.

The fact that I have absolutely no memory of watching this contest speaks volumes, I think, to what ‘12 ultimately became for the Twins franchise. I know I must have seen it—I haven’t missed a season-opener in decades—but I can’t recall one specific moment ten years later.

The Twins would lose the next game against the Orioles—and the next—and the home opener against the Angels. Sadly, this was fairly representative of what became a season-crippling 6-16 opening month. The kind of April that torpedoes all hope before the temps are reliably above 60 degrees in these parts. See: April 2021, for further reference.

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins
Yeah, Gardy—April ‘12 was that kind of a month
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

As the 2022 team plies its trade, I’ll be periodically taking a look back at some of the memorable—for better or worse—moments of the ‘02 & ‘12 campaigns. Here’s hoping the current bunch is more former than latter on that dichotomy—although the infield defense one week in has me pining for the days of Jamey Carroll as utility man.