Monday, August 31, 2009

You see something new every day

Last Wednesday I went to the Twins game with my friend Cassie. The game was the series finale against the Baltimore Orioles and the hometown boys were hoping for a sweep. I felt a bandwagoning-effect might be happening after the Twins seemed to turn things around a bit on a solid road trip, and then a chance for a sweep.

Not to mention that fact that they had a walk-off win Tuesday night, a feat seemingly so big that I couldn't recall the last time it occurred. So naturally, I figured Wednesday might be a let down. And the end result was.

I couldn't fault starter Nick Blackburn too much. He wasn't stellar, but I'd seen him pitch much worse the last time I was at the Dome. What hurt the team was its inability to string together some hits. The only run for the Twins came on a run-scoring double. Not that impressive offensively.

A tackle heard 'round the world
Since the game was pretty uneventful, especially for the home fans, the most exciting moment was during one of the later innings when a presumably intoxicated young man wandered out onto the field from the home run porch.

I didn't see him enter, but I heard the commotion and looked down from our Cheap Seats to see what was going on. As I saw the man in his jeans and polo shirt, it wasn't what I expected. Instead of running around the field trying to keep himself free from security, he seemed to gallop around and look back at the stands, where I'm sure his pals were cheering and laughing hysterically.

We all saw the security guards running toward the guy, from all directions of the field, but one in particular was the closest to him. Then, all of the sudden, the not-so-tiny guard put a huge bear-hug-like tackle on the guy. And even from the upper deck, we could tell it was a hard hit.

Any unwanted distractions on the field usually are not shown on television, so seeing something like this in person was quite interesting. It made for some good excitement during a game that wasn't all that exciting on the diamond.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

'Slow'-pitch baseball

Some people don't enjoy sports. Like anything else, it's an acquired interest that not everyone will have.

Some people prefer certain sports over others. An energetic football fan may not care for bowling, or sitting down to a nearly four-hour baseball game.

I once heard someone compare watching baseball to the same level of excitement as watching paint dry. While I think that may be a stretch in general, sometimes it's not that far off the mark. The pace of major league games these days seems to be getting longer and more drawn out than ever before.

I'll even provide you with a couple of real-life examples from this season. A couple weeks ago my family and I attended a Twins game on a Tuesday evening. It ended up being a Royals blowout, with a lot of pitching changes and a lot of runs. The game dragged on so long that we didn't even stay for the duration, leaving before the eighth inning.

That was the third game this season where I left early, which I don't usually do. Granted, the other two games lasted into the 12th and 15th innings, but still. My beef here isn't with extras; although I wouldn't object to formulating some sort of quick-fix tie-breaker.

Pick up the pace
The pace of the game is the problem. This isn't a new concept, and I'm sure I'm not the first one to write or complain about it, but it still is an issue. Most other sports have game clocks, play clocks, time limits. Even tennis has made some good strides with its rules. The clocks are there for a good purpose - to keep things moving.

It may seem unfair to compare baseball to other sports, because obviously they're different. But with no rules in place regarding the pace, players and teams begin to use certain aspects of the game to their advantage.

When I watch games on TV, it's much harder to focus on a Twins game than say, a Wild game which is filled with nearly constant skating, hitting and shooting. First pitch... wait 20 to 30 seconds... second pitch... wait again.

Sure hockey has stoppages in play, but even those have been sped up in the past few years with the "hurry up" faceoffs. In fact, a hockey game is about 2.5 hours. Even with the five-minute overtime and possible shootout, it's still fast-paced with a good solution for a tie-breaker.

Just play the game
Adding to baseball's slowness, why does the batter have to readjust his batting gloves after taking a ball in the dirt where he doesn't move an inch? (And does Big Papi really need to soak his gloves with saliva a handful of times in an at-bat?)

Why does the pitcher have to spit three times, readjust his absurdly large necklace and pace the mound before he's ready for the next toss? (With the exception of Mark Buehrle, who is one of the fastest workers on the rubber.) To me, these little mannerisms can get ridiculous. Throw the ball, take a breath and then do it again.

Even though baseball isn't a timed game, it goes by number of innings, the powers that be should take a hard look at the lengths of games and start making some changes.

Here's my dad's idea: how about a pitch clock? Football has a play clock, basketball has a shot clock and tennis limits the amount of time taken between a changeover and isn't afraid to dish out warnings to players.

Give the pitcher a certain amount of time to throw the ball, or else he assumes some kind of penalty, like a ball added to the count, or a balk. By the same token, give batters some rules too. They need to be in the box within "x" number of seconds or the pitch is a strike.

The amount of time it takes for pitches to be thrown isn't the only contributor to lengthy ball games, but I think by trying to speed this part of the game up, it will help a ton. My plan here isn't a fool-proof and perfect solution, it's simply a brainstorm of ideas in order to speed things up.

It's a great game, but who has three to four hours each night to devote to watching your favorite team?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The good of the Dome

Since I did some Dome-bashing last week, now would be a good time to pinpoint some of the good memories.

First of all, I enjoy the fact that the venue has a roof. This is absolutely necessary for the weather roller coaster that is Minnesota.

I am very disappointed that Target Field will never be able to add an overhead shelter. Every major league stadium or ballpark should be equipped with a retractable roof, if I had my way. But I'm not an idiot; I know it comes down to the all-mighty dollar.

OK, enough of that. I'm supposed to be positive in this entry. (Can you tell I can be a negative thinker?)

Time at the Dome
I've been to a good chunk of baseball games at the Dome over the years, even more so when I began seriously following the Twins during my middle-school years. I've seen wins, losses and a couple of playoff games. I've donned fanatic apparel, and unfortunately was never circled by Bert.

I also spent my sweet sixteen at the Dome with my entire family and friend Emily. And I headed back for my 20th as well. Both times I received a scoreboard birthday greeting from my parents.

But all things aside, one of the most memorable moments for me at the Metrodome was attending the May 25, 1997 pre-game ceremony for Kirby Puckett where his No. 34 jersey was retired. The biggest thing I remember is standing up as he entered the field, and then applauding for a really long time. I remember thinking that I had never clapped that long in my life (I was only 10, but still...).

I don't recall a lot of the specifics of the ceremony, except for a video tribute with the Mariah Carey song "Hero." I knew enough about the Twins at that time to realize what a great player and icon our state had in Puckett. I'll also always take with me the voice of Twins public address announcer, the late Bob Casey, when it was Kirby's time to go to bat. "Kirbeeeeeeeeeeee Puckett!"

Back-to-back-to-back
There was also another game that sticks with me. I believe it was during the magical division title run of '06. The Twins were at home to finish the regular season against the White Sox, and they were chasing Detroit for the division title. The Twins dropped two of three games, but won on the final day. And the Royals ended up sweeping the Tigers to help the Twins to the title.

I just remember being at the Twins game during one of the two losses, and cheering for Kansas City. In the later innings, more focus seemed to be on the scoreboard with the Royals/Tigers score than the game in the Dome. It was very exciting and exhilerating to be a part of those moments.

Of course, I also went to the AL Divisional playoff games between the Twins and Oakland A's. The swept series was a huge letdown after the exciting regular season finish for Minnesota. But being able to be a part of that historic run in some way was amazing.

World series memories
Although I am too young to remember, I'm sure the two world championships the Twins won in the Dome bring out some of the best memories for a lot of people. I wish I could recall what that was like.

I guess the iconic piece that stays with me (and I'm sure for most fans) from watching highlights of the 1991 series is Kirby's game-saving catch against the glass in center, and of course his home run to force a game seven. If Joe Buck's famous tag doesn't stay with you as a Twins fan, I don't know what will.

"And we'll see ya... tomorrow night!"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Heading down to the Dome

The Twins are in town tonight as they kick off a six-game divisional homestand. First up are the ever-at-the-bottom Kansas City Royals, followed by the fire-sale Cleveland Indians. I'm headed down to the Metrodome this evening to enjoy a game with my family (and on a day like this I wish we were in the new outdoor stadium).

This is the final season for the Twins in the Dome. After September (presumably) the team will be leaving behind a history that spans back to 1982, just before my time. The building bursts at the nylon-roof seams with memories, or as they have been dubbed, "Metrodome Moments."

Probably the greatest of these came in the form of two world championships in 1987 and 1991. The Twins are the only "Big 4" team from Minnesota to have accomplished this feat. While I was walking the planet for both of these memory-making years, I am sad to say I was too young to remember the glorious championship seasons.

Since I will only be going to the Dome for maybe a couple more Twins games, I got to thinking about some of the things I won't miss after the Dome chapter is closed.

Reasons I don't like the Dome:

No. 1 and forever the most important reason: It's not a baseball stadium. Let me repeat this so you comprehend its importance. It's NOT a BASEBALL stadium.

The Dome was built for football games; it's as simple as that. The powers that be cooked up a great money-saving two-for-one-deal in order to get their hometown teams into new facilities. The problem for the Twins was that the final product was a football stadium which allowed baseball to be shoehorned into the venue.

No. 1a: The baggie
This goes along with reason No. 1. In order for baseball to be played on the football field, rows of temporary seats are folded into a vertical position in right field. With them comes a large wall affectionately known as "the baggie."

Instead of fencing, a bullpen or spectator bleachers, we get the baggie. Sometimes it can be your friend, and sometimes it's a hindrance. Many potential homerun balls have been stopped short, hitting off the top of the bouncy baggie, and landing the runner at second base. On the defensive side, you can misjudge a ball so bad you'd think you were up against the Green Monster.

Plus, it's a huge advertising block. But who's paying attention to the name on the wall when they're trying to see if the ball clears the top of the bag?

No. 1b: The view
Have you ever tried to watch the action at home plate from your seat down the third base line? How was your neck in the morning? Since I usually sit in the Cheap Seats in the outfield, I don't really have much of a problem, but certain seats in the Dome truly are the worst seats in the house.

This is because the seats are all firmly planted facing the direction of where the football field would be. But in every other baseball park, seats are always facing in the direction of home plate, and this is how it should be.

No. 1c: Yard lines and turf
Instead of looking at freshly cut grass in cool patterns, the Dome has you gazing at AstroTurf with visible football yard lines. I'm aware that the grass item is impossible for the indoor stadium, but staring at those lines meant for football is not something I want to see. Give me the foul line please (and while we're at it, an actual foul pole).

No. 2: Beach balls
Now I know this probably isn't specific to the Dome. I'm sure these pesky little toys are present at ballparks across the country. But I'll tell you what: I am not a fan. Call me a Debbie Downer if you must; I think they have no business being tossed around in the seats during a major league baseball game.

Of course, it's not the inflatable plastic I'm upset with exactly - it's their owners, and the rest of the encouraging members of the crowd who help the ball along its path. I'm especially talking to the people who are prepared with dozens of back-ups in case their precious entertainment gets taken away, or my favorite, when it falls to a lower deck.

Some end up falling onto the field, delaying the game while a bat boy or security guard rushes to dispose of the nuisance. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the ushers for every beach ball they grab from the crowd.

No. 3: The Wave
Again, not specific to the Dome. My parents always say this went out 20 or 30 years ago. I don't really disagree; let's leave it at that.

I guess that's only a couple of highlighted areas, but you get the picture. Now that I've griped about what really "grinds my gears" regarding the Metrodome, maybe I can take a later entry to share some positive memories, and my thoughts on the new home for the Twins - Target Field.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A (Non) Contending Club

A .500 ball club is a team that looks unstoppable, dominant and on top of its game one minute, and the next looks like a team in shambles with nothing going right. This describes the Minnesota Twins during their last two series against the White Sox and then the Angels.

They came home after a west-coast swing trip, and they managed a sweep of the division rival Sox. Even more remarkable was that the lineup was able to solve Mark Buehrle after he set a record for no-hitter innings. Our classy fans gave him a standing O as he left the game; he gave a tip of the cap. If roles were reversed, I have trouble seeing the Sox fans giving an opposing pitcher a standing ovation.

Momentum was at a high for the Twin Cities ball players, until the Angels came into town. The red-hot visitors nearly set team records for runs and hits during their batting practice... er... I mean three-game sweep, against the Twinks. And all this without their stars Vlad and our beloved Torii Hunter.

The one-sided series holds too many bad stats, memories and pitching performances to relive all the numbers.


Talkin' Trades
The other big talk of the weekend was the July 31 trade deadline. I was surprised, as I'm sure a lot of people were, that GM Bill Smith got a deal done. I had heard from many that the Twins were working, but nothing was going to become official.

A deal did get done. Smith picked up 34-year-old Oakland shortstop Orlando Cabrera and some cash in exchange for a minor league infielder. Cabrera played in his first game as a Twin Saturday night.

So despite all the criticism and even comments from his All-Star players, Smith made a move to help improve the club. He gets a bit of credit for that. That's good...

BUT...

What about a pitcher? After the deadline passed, the Twins wasted no time showing the fans and front office that they are in need of a hurler.

Cabrera was signed just a couple hours short of the deadline. As if that wasn't close enough to the wire, then word was out that Smith was still working to try and land some bullpen help. Why didn't he get it done? Well, I'm sure time was a problem, but it sounds like the main reason was because he didn't want to give up too much, ie. prospects.

As a Twins fan, hearing about minor league prospects and developing your system from within can get a little old. There's some good to that, but sometimes you need to take a chance and give up something to get something.

I understand holding out for your players that are farm phenoms, but apparently the Twins have no one ready to make the jump to the majors. In other words, we have no backup, no help "from within." That leaves the Twins in a tough spot should a pile of injuries arise.

It's already happened some, with Kevin Slowey out for the year, and Francisco Liriano missing his last start due to an injury. You can't afford to just rely on what you have, unless you're not planning on contending down the stretch.

Many are saying the Twins are not a contending team this year. I agree to some extent, but you also have to look at these key factors: The Twins are in the worst division in baseball right now. Despite their .500 caliber and up-and-down play, they are only a few games out of first place. And during the last two months of the season, the team plays 40 out of 59 games against divisional opponents.

I don't think you can rule out the Twins yet, but a few more abismal series like they played against the Angels will have me throwing in the towel. And even if they manage to make the playoffs, they will have a nearly impossible feat in trying to win a series against the leagues top teams, like the Red Sox, Angels or the all-mighty, unbeatable-for-the-Twinks, New York Yankees.

After all, who wants to see a repeat of the one-sided series from this past weekend?