Let’s start with the brutal truth: This year’s Twins team is unquestionably one of the worst since the franchise moved to Minnesota 50 years ago. They can’t hold a lead, they strike out too much, and their most exciting player can’t stay healthy. Target Field returned to full capacity this week, but there’s no compelling reason to go see a team that’s been out of the American League playoff race since Flag Day. Save your money until 2022.
It’s been a disaster from the first week. The awful bullpen. The avalanche of injuries. Losing their first eight extra-inning games via MLB’s runner-at-second gimmick (please, Mr. Commissioner, rescind this nonsense ASAP). The AL Central-leading White Sox pound the Twins at every turn, and just about everyone the club counted on has underperformed except Nelson Cruz and Jose Berrios.
More former Twins were chosen to the All-Star Game (Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn, Eduardo Escobar and Ryan Pressly) than current Twins (Cruz), which doesn’t reflect well on the front office. Most nights, manager Rocco Baldelli’s lineup includes at least three players who should be at Class AAA St. Paul. That means you’re paying premium prices for less than premium talent.
The Twins are hoping you’re so worn out by the pandemic and so eager for a shred of normalcy that you’ll pony up top dollar to come to the ballpark, savor a hot dog and a beer, see the grass, smell the smells and remember a time when this team didn’t stink. That’s about the only thing the club has going for it. That, and Josh Donaldson, baseball’s sticky-substance scold whose cheeky gamesmanship recalls the best of A.J. Pierzynski. When Donaldson held court on the field before facing Gerrit Cole of the Yankees, an alleged sticky-substance practitioner, it drew the first large in-person media contingent (augmented by the sizable New York traveling posse) since pandemic restrictions eased. Good times.
And yet, we get it. The last 16 months have been awful. The coronavirus scared us all. Our lives were upended in ways we never imagined, and for those who lost loved ones it will never be the same. We all want things to be as they were. We all want to breathe again.
If going to the ballpark helps you in that regard, do what you have to do. No judging. Just know the Twins aren’t your only option.
There’s Town Ball, known officially as the Minnesota Baseball Association, with teams in the Twin Cities and throughout the state. Lots of ballparks are worth the drive, like John Burch Park in Cannon Falls with its mini-Green Monster in left; Tink Larson Community Field in Waseca, rebuilt after a fire; and Athletic Park in Chaska. Tickets are as cheap as $2, and you can stop at Dairy Queen on the way home.
There’s also the Northwoods League for collegiate stars, with Minnesota teams in Willmar, Rochester, Mankato, St. Cloud and Duluth. They use wood bats, and you might see a future major leaguer; alumni include Max Scherzer, Curtis Ganderson and Mitch Garver. (Pro tip: Bring bug spray.)
And, of course, there’s the no-longer-independent St. Paul Saints, in their first season as a Twins farm team. All the Twins injuries brought top prospects from Class AA Wichita to Lowertown earlier than expected, so you can watch “Hamilton” playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda’s slugging cousin Jose Miranda (he homered three times in his Saints debut) and right-handed starter Josh Winder. Beware, though: Saints tickets are no longer super cheap except on the grassy berm ($5) or in the bleachers ($8 or $9). Expect to spend at least $17 for a grandstand seat, plus parking.
If nothing but Target Field will soothe your baseball fix, that’s fine — just be savvy about it. Don’t drop $100+ to score a $1 hot dog or a free T-shirt. Pick a game where there might be something cool to see. Suggestions? Here ya go:
- July 22-25, when once-in-a-generation talent Shohei Ohtani leads the Los Angeles Angels in here. Baseball’s greatest pitching/hitting threat since Babe Ruth, Ohtani’s got it all — power, speed, a great arm. You’ll be telling your grandkids about this guy. And if Mike Trout (calf strain) is off the injured list by then, this is an all-time no-brainer.
- Sept. 23-26, when Triple Crown threat Vladimir Guerrero Jr. comes in with Toronto.
- Any date once Byron Buxton returns from a broken left hand, probably in late August. Buxton’s fabulous April (.426, eight homers, 14 RBI) nearly landed him an American League All-Star starting berth; he finished fourth in the final tally. Not since Kirby Puckett has the Twins farm system produced a player this dynamic. If you haven’t seen him in person yet, do it.
- This is more a personal wish, so indulge me: On that last homestand of the season, Sept. 23-30, the Twins should let popular utility player Willians Astudillo play all nine positions in a game, as former Twin Cesar Tovar did in 1968. Announce it in advance and promote it big. Astudiilo has played every position except shortstop as a Twin and he’s even pitched four times, so this isn’t much of a stretch. If September is La Tortuga’s last go-round as a Twin — and it might be, since he’s out of minor league options after this season — send him off with something memorable. (Psst: The Saints would do it, no question.)