After years as a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, I “let go” for a year and joined Twins Territory. I gave it all I have: listened to or watched most games, participated in game chats, bought Twins gear, went to several games. Overall it was a great season. Certainly, in terms of wins and losses, much better than most Cubs’ seasons.
So why do I feel even worse today, after the Twins were swept by the Yankees for the second ALDS in a row, than I ever did after a Cubs’ losing season? I’m afraid some deeply held beliefs that “true Minnesotans” hold, but that my New Jersey-born/Chicago-raised soul just can’t accept or comprehend, may have infected Twins Territory and are contributing to their inability to win in the postseason. (Perhaps it is also time for me to move, but I’ll save that for another post.)
In his post-game press conference last night, Ron Gardenhire said “I’m very proud of this baseball team.” Yes, he was basing this assessment on winning the division. Well, that’s a goal they’ve accomplished six of the past 10 years. And all but once they have lost in the first postseason series, by either three games to none, or three games to one. SO what exactly makes him so proud? I certainly don’t feel proud of the way the team has played over the past several weeks.
I can only conclude that his pride in his team (and the resignation that many Twins fans express about the Twins’ inability to win in the postseason) stems from one or more of the following common Minnesota Codes of Belief and Conduct:
- Minnesota Nice (my def.: overt polite friendliness and courtesy which is designed to avoid all confrontation and which seeks to conceal a basic passive aggressiveness and resistance to change)
For the Twins this seems to take the form of rarely sweeping a series (it wouldn’t be nice to show up the other team) and easing up in a game once they get ahead by a few runs (ditto). Dear Twins, you are being paid lots of money to win ballgames. Please don’t feel bad for the other guys (who are also being paid lots of money). Sports involves confrontation. If you feel bad about that and bad about winning you are in the wrong business. And Gardy & Andy . . . I don’t care if the pitcher says he’s “fine” . . . it’s your job to pull him BEFORE the other team gets ahead by six runs, even if it hurts his feelings!
- “All our children are above average” an extension of Minnesota Nice which declares it “unseemly” to point out that some people are better at some tasks than others and rewards “trying hard” equally with actually accomplishing a task. (One Minnesota College which shall remain nameless refuses to be part of Phi Beta Kappa because it requires identifying the “best” students and setting them apart with an honor!) Gardy’s most frequent excuses for losses take the form of “we didn’t get it done” (GEE, REALLY? I didn’t know that from the zeros on the board!) I can’t be certain from this sort of response whether the manager and coaches really don’t KNOW what fundamentals are missing from their ball players’ repertoire or whether they just don’t communicate well enough to point out to the players exactly what needs work. I’m afraid that perhaps “just try harder next time” is the extent of the constructive criticism provided. I WAS encouraged to read that Gardy recognizes some of the reasons why the Yankees are so successful: “They’re always looking in. They pay attention to everything. It’s not like they’re robots out there. They pay attention to the game. . . . They do a very good job of getting those guys ready over there.” There is NO reason why Twins can’t achieve the same level of preparation.
- Upon pain of death, shunning, or firing, do not express emotion of any kind. Frankly, baseball can be a rather boring game. For most of three hours, very little happens. One way players can help alleviate potential fan boredom is by acting like they actually enjoy what they are being paid substantial sums of money to do. Say what you will about the faults of Sammy Sosa, but when he entered the playing field (by RUNNING out to RF and acknowledging the fans) everyone knew his attitude was “GAME ON.” Twins fans like to say that the (cheer)leading happens in the dugout and we don’t necessarily get to see it. I WANT TO SEE IT!!! Show me that you care about the game and the fans. Be FIERCE. Not mean, not nasty, but definitely emotionally engaged in the game. (One thing I definitely did NOT miss while Justin Morneau was out with his concussion was that stoic blank stare he usually wears throughout a ball game.) Yes, Gardy occasionally gets tossed for arguing with an umpire, but those rare expressions of emotion are not enough to provide energy throughout a 162-game season.
All of which leaves me with the not-so-long-anymore offseason to contemplate whether to return to Twins Territory next year, or go back to my “loveable loser” Cubbies, who even when they are losing seem to be able to show me that they enjoy this game I love AND that they really WANT to win. Tune back in April to learn my answer.