O-Dog Paws the Ground

A favorite moment from my first visit to the new Target Field came on Orlando Hudson’s first at-bat. I had heard he was loquacious, ebullient, effervescent and all the rest, but I had never witnessed him in person. He gave a love-pat to umpire Tim Tschida, then rubbed his hand over the head of Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez. Next, he methodically rubbed out every trace of the chalk line delineating the back of the batter’s box, which to that point hadn’t been touched. Finally, he brazenly planted his back foot well behind the line that was now missing its chalk. I don’t think Tschida said a word.
My other impression was a reaction against the common refrain that there isn’t a bad seat in the house. I can name one: Section 123, Row 27, Seat 11, the ticket I purchased, albeit for only $20, on the street. The problem is the overhang from the upper deck, which might be nice on a rainy day, but otherwise means you’re not sitting in the sun, you can’t follow the flight of fly balls, you can’t see the main scoreboard or the downtown skyline. There is a TV monitor, but at a day game it is backlit and hard to see. I also found I had to twist my body to watch home plate, a problem at the Metrodome that I thought would be ameliorated in the baseball-only park. The lines at concession stands were horrendous, largely due to inexperienced servers, and the hot dogs weren’t very good; but I’m hoping those problems can be rectified. As for the seats, I will try something different next time.

Twins Preview

Before the first pitch of the 2010 season, I should make my predictions. First, however, is a resolution: to be patient. Last year was not the first time that I gave up on the Twins in midseason, only to have them ultimately win their division. I die a little with each loss, not accepting that 72 losses would still constitute a successful season. By the same token, I may despair of a player who is hitting .200 in April, only to find that he is among the league leaders by October. So, a hasty judge this year I will not be.

The Twins, remarkably, open the season with no rookies; so we should have a decent idea of what to expect. Except there are two areas of Unknown: 1., the middle infield, and 2. the closer. At short and second the Twins have brought in J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson. Both are Gold Glove winners and former All-Stars, which augurs well. But both fell out of favor with their teams last year, which is why they are Twins now. It would be nice, but wholly unlikely, for both to regain their All-Star form. More likely, one will have been replaced in the lineup before the season is over. The good news is that the players who would otherwise have started at these positions – Punto, Casilla, Tolbert – will still available. Third base is a perpetual issue, but I am content to have Punto and Harris to contend there, with Danny Valencia in the minors awaiting his turn. Both players will make the most of their opportunities, and neither is a sulker. Justin Morneau makes me nervous, only because his spring slump mirrors the late-season slumps he has produced the last two years. He can carry the team when he is hot, but I fear that more and more pitchers are learning his weak spot.

Young, Span and Cuddyer are set in the outfield, the only question being how much DH Kubel will sub in, and Mauer will catch. He isn’t the greatest clutch hitter I’ve seen, but it’s hard to argue with a .350 average and three batting titles in four years.

Which brings us to the closer. I haven’t been a Joe Nathan fan, although it’s also hard to argue with his record. For me, a dominant closer is Goose Gossage or Mariano Rivera, guys who give you no chance. Nathan let runners get on base, and his demeanor on the mound, the heavy breathing, made me nervous. But everyone knew his place, which let Gardy manage by the book, the way he likes. For now, Jon Rauch has been designated the closer. Few expected this, and fewer expect it to last all season. That’s okay, as many teams change, or find, closers in midstream. Two years ago, Jose Mijares looked like he had the stuff to be the closer of the future, but last year he couldn’t throw strikes to the first batter, which is a problem for a closer. Three years ago, Pat Neshek looked like a future closer. How well he comes back from arm surgery is still a question, but he has the temperament to close, which Mijares probably doesn’t, yet. Last year the best option looked like Francisco Liriano, who was devastating for two or three innings of each start, and then faltered. But he doesn’t want it, and to be a closer you’ve got to want it. Matt Guerrier has been mentioned, but to me he’s just steady, not dominant enough, and he tends to give up the long ball. My guess is that, unless Liriano flops as a starter and sees the light or Neshek comes back strong, the Twins will be in the market in July for one more reliever.

Will they win? If Baker, Slowey and Blackburn continue to improve and Pavano holds up, I’d say they should. Will I throw in the towel if they are not in first place in August? No. I promise.