It had been suspected, but today, it seems official. Joe Mauer has bought an ad to write a letter to fans in tomorrow’s paper to announce his retirement and thank fans. Joe and I have a lot in common. We were both born in April of 1983, went to Twin Cities area private schools, have great hair, and are raising twins of our own. He has considerably more talent and well earned money than me, but there is not doubt about it, his retirement hits me right in the gut. Am I really that old too?
Well, just to get some perspective on how long Mauer’s career was, and to see if, yes, I’m really that old too, I dug up the first thing I ever wrote that mentioned the should be hall of famer. It was from 2006, and the story of an early season game at the Metrodome that went up on the original Geocities site I ran with Steve Pallotto back in the mid 200s. In retrospect, the blurb encapsulates the entire Joe Mauer experience: Subtle, unobtrusive, and the only assertion about him is that he was doing really well.
Enjoy this blast from the past, see some of the players that he played with in only his third professional season. Joe came a long way without ever really changing. That’s something I guess I can say about myself too.
My folks have season tickets, and for that, I am eternally grateful. On days that one of them can’t make it to a Twins game, I typically luck into the spare ticket. This season, the first of their tickets fell into my hands. Since I gave a full season preview over at the Times, I figured I owed it to my loyal readership here at IIS a glimpse of the Twins first hand.
So my day began in tiny Willmar, where I was working at their depressing Home Depot. I had missed the home opener, because the Holiday Inn I was staying at didn’t have Fox Sports, so I listened to it on the radio while I watched Sin City on Starz (I enjoyed quite a bit, which surprised me). The Twins fell behind by four early, and I focused instead on Jessica Alba.
Then the Twins won, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Well, anyways, the day began in Willmar. The job sucked, the store was depressing and I had a 2 hour drive back to the Cities to look forward to. Needless to say, when my mom said we were leaving early in order to hit Hubert’s on Chicago before the game, I leapt at the opportunity. My mom and I, along with some of her friends, were drinking greedily, and going into the game, the result was really unnecessary.
I left Hubert’s early, because I wanted to get to the game on time. I missed the National Antehm, which appeared to have been sung by a youth choir, but made it in time for the first pitch. The honoree was the Target mascot. Needless to say, he threw it to TC Bear. A mascot throwing the pitch to another mascot. It was rather surreal.
Our tickets were right by first base, about 20 rows up, and 19 rows up (right in front of me) were a pair of Oakland fans. Now, these guys weren’t the pompous, drunk fans that everyone has been conditioned not to like. They were good, they talked baseball among themselves, and they cheered at the appropriate spots. Except, the volume of cheers never really fit the situation. For example, on Nick Swisher’s first of two homeruns, they clapped politely and kept talking about Ken Macha. But every time there was a called strike against the Twins, they roared with delight. Maybe they were there for the umpires. I’ll never know.
In any case, with that intro out of the way, I thought I’d give you a few thoughts on the game and both teams in some bullet points. For the record, the final was 6-5 Twins.
• The 34 in centerfield was a fitting tribute for Kirby Puckett. The fact that it was in the dome was the most important part to me. For a man who spent his entire career there, there was no other building I would have rather had it in. Right now, though, now that that is over with, I think it’s time to start considering a new stadium. Carl Pohlad and the Twins started that line about 7 years to soon.
• The sleeveless uniforms, the vests that the Twins were wearing? Most atrocious article of sports clothing I have ever seen, and that includes the 80’s Padres.
• Scott Ullger was the hitting coach for the Twins last year, which isn’t much to brag about. Well, just watching him do stupid things like tell Tony Batista to steal third makes me think last years atrocious offensive performance wasn’t the result of a lack of talent. Fortunately, the A’s also sent Adam Melhuse to steal second, so stupid baserunning decisions canceled themselves out. Nevertheless, if the Twins had lost by one, I would have put it all on Ullger’s shoulders.
• Shannon Stewart, just because he doesn’t jump out at you, seems like a tradeable commodity, or someone to get rid of. But in this game, he just carried himself differently. I think after a couple of years of being an important cog in the machine, he’s loosened up and is now an important member of the clubhouse as well. Of course, I don’t know that for sure, it’s just the way it seems.
• Luis Castillo’s addition will become important, but I think it’s going to be a while. He’s just not seeing the ball well yet.
• Joe Mauer is.
• Rondell White is on the verge of breaking out. He’s batting around .100 right now, but he hits the ball extremely hard and doesn’t give cheap outs. I give I a week before he has a 4/5 game. He may not be the right fit for the #4 hitter, but I think by the end of the season, he will still be batting in the middle of the order, and he stands a good chance of leading the team in RBI. Clearly the hardest hitter I’ve seen with the Twins in some time.
• Torii Hunter is the heart and soul of the Twins. I think with Kirby Puckett’s passing, he is taking it on himself to be a leader in the same manner as Puckett. Easy going but hard working. Also, over the off season, he developed the ability to hit in the clutch. Alas, he homered in this one.
• Justin Morneau has the same swagger as Shannon Stewart. He is visibly more relaxed and playing with confidence. Hopefully that will last and he won’t lapse into a slump like he did for about 5 months last season. It’s good to see him tattooing the ball like we know he can. Morneau will be batting clean-up by the end of the year.
• I don’t know where to begin with Tony Batista. He gets a bad rap as a poor fielder and a poor average hitter. I’ll give you that. But the real problem is, he has no idea what “situational hitting” is. If he sees a pitch he likes, he’ll swing hard at it. It doesn’t matter if it’s 3-0 and the pitch is down and away, Tony will swing because that’s what Tony wants to do. That being said, I’m highly attracted to the 30 homers he’ll hit this season, because they could come at absolutely any time.
• There is still something wrong with Jason Kubel’s knee. I definitely don’t believe he is as slow as the player we saw Wednesday night. There was absolutely no hustly, and I doubt someone freshly in the majors would dog it like that if there wasn’t a problem.
• I knew there was a reason Juan Castro is in the lineup every night, and I definitely saw it Wednesday. Castro does all the Little Things. He makes plays at short, he gets the bat on the ball when he needs to, and he knows exactly how to take out the guy trying to turn a double play. I seriously doubt Jason Bartlett would provide that this season.
• If our starters continue the way they have, the bullpen is going to get worn out way too fast.
And those are my thoughts on the early season Twins, based on the one game I was at. I like the squad a little more than I had even imagined. Now all we need to do is plug Ruben Sierra into the lineup a little bit. – Ryan