Friday, September 16, 2011
I came to an odd realization yesterday, one that will probably mark me as some kind of faux fan or something.
So: the Twins are terrible this year. That's not my realization. I've known that since, like, May. But what I've realized is this: in a very weird way, I'm kind of enjoying it. I've decided that losing, in a highly limited way, is fun.
I do mean very limited. I don't think there's anything fun at all about, say, an 88-loss season, in which your team is out of the race from day one and just pathetically bland and mediocre. And I certainly won't try to tell you that Pirates, Orioles, or Royals fans should be particularly happy with their predicament.
The Twins, though? In the ten seasons preceding this disaster, they've averaged about 89 wins, finishing above .500 in every year save one (2007, when they missed it by two games). They've been about the same team for most of ten years: very good, but far from the best in the league, fighting tooth and nail to near (and, twice, beyond) the very end to secure a playoff spot.
So this, after several months of disappointment and anger and eventually boredom, has become, finally, just kind of a nice break from that. Don't get me wrong -- I'd still much rather they were winning 95 games and the division again, weeks of heartburn and all. But when you're talking about a team that's so uniquely awful (by the franchise's standards) -- such that the question to be answered every day becomes what unique way they're going to find to lose this game, and eventually the results just stop mattering entirely and the only real question remaining is: is this the worst season in team history? -- there's just something kind of refreshing about that.
Here are a few of the reasons:
You watch the games differently. When I do watch the Twins -- which hasn't been often lately, partly because I've been terribly busy and partly because there's just not much reason to -- I find that it's a different experience than most of my last several Septembers. When I'm not hanging on every pitch and also checking the White Sox and Tigers scores and the standings, I notice a lot more about the game itself. And I really love the game, so that's a good thing.
More free time. As I just said, I haven't actually been watching all the games, or even most of them, the way I typically have done. I'm a casual fan, for these few weeks. What that means for me, really, for the most part, is that it frees me up to watch different, and usually better, baseball. But it also means more time with the family and all that, which is good.
The amateur draft becomes interesting. For most of the past ten post-Mauer drafts, the Twins have drafted late enough and their scouting and values have been weird enough that the guy they take in the first round has been more or less guaranteed to be someone you've never heard of. And there's time enough left for the Twins to drop several places, but as things sit on Thursday night, they're in line to pick second overall. It's still more than possible for them to screw it up, but the #2 (or even #5 or 6) guy is almost guaranteed to be the kind of guy whose progress you monitor closely from day one, who you hope to enjoy watching excel at each successive level of the minors before breaking through to the big club. I'm actually really looking forward to this, and rooting like hell that they manage to suck enough to hang on to that #2 slot.
Fun historical comparisons. Are they the worst Twins team ever? I think they might be. The lone 100-game loser in Minnesota history was the 1982 team, that went 60-102. But that was a team that everybody had to know was going to be terrible, from day one, and they had a lot to be excited about for the future (namely, Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Frank Viola, and Tom Brunansky, all 23 or younger). This year's team probably won't match the record (they'd need to go 1-13, which is not implausible), but their level of underachievement is significantly higher, their average age is 2.5 years higher, and (other than getting players healthy and playing at full strength next year) there's not a lot with the big club that fans can get excited about right now. So the '82 squad might hold the worst record, but subjectively, I think you have to conclude that the '11 team is the worst/saddest/most disappointing. So that, in itself, is interesting.
Other teams' fans kind of pity you. At least on Twitter, whatever little rivalries may have existed between another fan's team and yours tend to be pushed to one side when yours is teetering toward losing 100 games. You just get along better with fans of other teams, when they're not playing your team. So that's fun.
You get to see the young guys. This isn't as interesting with the Twins as it might be with some other teams, as noted a bit above, but a dreadful team means a dearth of reasons for a veteran regular to play. Most of the young guys the Twins had close to the majors (a) have already been called up for injury replacement purposes and (b) weren't that interesting anyway, but the last couple weeks has included the debut of Joe Benson, who may have played his way into prospect status with a .285/.388/.495 year at double-A, along with a few other not-totally-lost causes. There's something kind of fun about watching a bunch of guys you've barely heard of run around in your team colors, anyway. Or maybe that's just me.
Beer is good. No matter how badly your own team might be playing, baseball and beer are both still great. The Twins variety of the former has had to be taken with a healthy share of the latter.
That's about it, I think, but that's enough. I'm looking forward to these last fourteen games or so. It's baseball, at least technically, it can be kind of funny to watch these guys at this point, and they might do something (triple-digit losses) that they haven't done since I've been old enough to notice. And it sure as hell beats the inevitabilities -- fall, cold, football -- following way too close behind.
On the other hand, this is all I can take. I think that another reason that I'm able to approach this in this way is that there are reasons to think that it's not a long-term condition, but rather a nice little one-season break: given six months for Mauer, Morneau, and Span to get healthy, depending on what happens with their various free agents (and the money that will no longer be tied up therein), this still just doesn't look, on paper, like a bad team.
Then again, there are plenty of reasons to think they might be bad for a long time to come, and 1994-1999 were just no fun at all. But that's all ahead. I need to keep pretending it's temporary and enjoying the last 9% or so of this pitiful, horribly-designed ride; the alternatives are just too depressing.