Photos and Stories by Gordy Jones
The Twins find themselves, at the 2013 All Star break, almost no better off than they were the last two seasons, when they lost a combined 195 games. It is extremely tough on optimists and on Twins fans who grew used to the success they found nearly every year between 2001 and 2010. The only year in that stretch when they found themselves under .500 was 2007, when they were 79-83, or .488.
True fans realize that most teams don’t have that type of success year after year, and that it takes a lot of work to get to that level. Right now the Twins are working to get back to that level, but it is not going too well.
Where does the blame lie? Many people tongue-lash the Pohlad family. The Twins can usually get a lot done with a smaller payroll than the so-called “big-market” teams. The Pohlads are sharp businessmen. This year, the more-for-less philosophy isn’t working, and the fans are growing impatient. But in defense of the Pohlads (not that they need Gordy Jones to defend them), I have to ask: Who is there to buy? A team can’t just say “Let’s spend money” and suddenly be winners. There have to be players on the market.
Some people blame Gardy, and they want him fired. But he’s the same guy who brought us all of the winning teams. The fact of the matter is: We have a team of average ballplayers. The only big star is Joe Mauer, and he can’t get RBI’s if there’s no one on base. And people complain about his salary. The Pohlads are shrewd, and wouldn’t give him such a contract if he wasn’t worth it. Why, they’ve probably made half of his salary back in t-shirt sales.
The Pohlads have never said they can’t sign a pitcher because they have to pay Joe. I believe they would sign one if he was a good candidate. They don’t want to lose games, which leads to losing fans, which leads to loss of revenue. And even if they offered big bucks to a pitcher, that doesn’t mean the pitcher would want to sign with a team that is in its third year of losing.
All I can say is this: If they ever do sign or trade for another star, I hope he’s a fireball; someone who will wake those guys up. They are all average ball players (except Joe and Justin, and I believe Justin still isn’t 100%), and they are not real outgoing. They are great guys. Joe Mauer is a marvelous guy; he takes a lot of time with new players, but is very polite and not a yeller. The Twins need a crazy guy, one with a sense of humor, intense and very positive. Kirby Puckett was outgoing, and would be laughing, shouting, and would always fire up his teammates. His “Climb on my back, and let me carry you guys!” is one of the greatest World Series pep talks ever.
Nick Punto and Mike Redmond were so intense during a game they would have the entire bench leaning forward on the dugout rail and spewing out comments with them.
I think the answer to the Twins’ problems would be to find a couple of crazy guys: one who can pitch, and one who can play in the field and hit. The rest of the team can remain the same. They should keep Gardy, Justin, and Rick Anderson. Just find a couple of nuts who can play ball, and let their enthusiasm be contagious. Right now they are quite lackluster — and losing games to boot. But with a fired-up team, Gardy can do his magic, and get $1.50 out of a $1.00 player. At the very least, they’d have fun again.
The Umpire was at Home
That was Jeff Nelson umpiring at Target Field during the Yankee series last week. As he grew up and played ball in Cottage Grove, he had no idea he’d someday be a professional umpire. “I knew I wasn’t good enough to make the majors as a ballplayer. But we loved baseball! We played with our friends and neighbors, and kids around the block. We played it all of the time. Sandlot, and baseball with the Cottage Grove Athletic Association. When I was a sophomore in high school, I started umpiring games for the local Little League, and it took off from there.”
Jeff befriended Butch Fischer, who was a former professional umpire. Butch mentored him, and then Jeff entered Joe Brinkman’s Umpiring School in Florida. His prep education from Butch helped groom him for the school, and he was immediately hired to ump in a low level of the minors. He spent 10 years in the minors. I asked him exactly when his first major league game was, and he immediately fired off, “May 9, 1997, Expos at Dodger Stadium. I was at third base.” He was a bit nervous that night, but he had a call to make early on, and he said that it broke the ice. The rest is history. He went on to remember how he didn’t feel like he was walking on the ground. “It was kind of surreal, it was my first game!”
Jeff was in awe of the pristine field at Dodger Stadium that night. “The grass was so nice and manicured. All of my bubble gum went back into my pockets after I chewed it.”