Kickin' Booty

When it comes to luring fans out to the ballpark, the home team needs to get even more creative

On Saturday night 21,845 people showed up at the Metrodome for Eric Milton Fishing Weasel night, despite which Twins attendance is down from last year. The Twins aren't alone in declining attendance--17 teams have seen drops in the early going--but it's still hard to fathom how a first-place team, battling for its existence and playing like gangbusters at home, could be struggling at the gate. What's the problem? Where is everybody? Granted, the Metrodome has all the charms and comforts of a Branson all-you-can-eat buffet, but still. Maybe people are reluctant to put money in Carl Pohlad's pocket. Maybe folks are just plain tired of all the sordid off-the-field monkey business. Maybe there really isn't a serious market here for major league baseball.

Whatever the problem is, it's galling. Hundreds of yahoos camp out in a parking lot for a Krispy Kreme grand opening, yet the Twins are having a hard time drawing 20,000 fans. I'm sorry, you camp out for World Series seats or for tickets to a Ted Nugent concert, but you cannot camp out for doughnuts. It shouldn't be allowed. I'd be all for the sort of government that would break up Krispy Kreme grand openings with fire hoses and tear gas. There should be lines outside the Twins ticket office for every home game.

You have to give the Twins' promotional pooh-bahs credit for trying, though. The Eric Milton Fishing Weasel giveaway was a good idea, certainly: It resulted in the best gate of the current home stand. There's no getting around the fact that free stuff brings people to the ballpark, and the days when Calvin Griffith could get away with handing out rinky-dink trinkets like plastic rulers and coasters are long gone. These days you have to be creative. You have to provide Fall of the Roman Empire-style spectacles and you need to give people stuff they can carry home to sell on e-Bay. (As of this writing, six Milton fishing weasels are for sale on the Internet auction site).

Obviously, though, it's not working. Because I'm always happy to help out, here's a brief list of stadium promotions and giveaways I'd personally love to see:

A Weight Watchers Denny Bar night, featuring the low-calorie, low-fat Denny Hocking candy bar, with, say, .194 calories.

A new series of mix-and-match, assemble-your-own Diet Shasta Dark Ages bobbleheads: Dan Masteller, Leroy Purdy Smith, Frank Eufemia, Tom Klawitter, Terry Felton, Scott Klingenbeck, Alex Cole, Derek Parks, Rich Robertson...the possibilities are endless.

Ace bandage Ironman Tommy Herr Salute to Trainers night: free first aid kit to first 5,000 fans.

Al Newman and Kirby Puckett beach balls.

Biodegradable, highly inflammatory Ron Davis rag dolls, free admission to fans sporting original "I Believe in R.D." T-shirts.

Disco Dan Ford Demolition Night.

And, finally, the long-overdue Motel 6 tribute to Billy "Slick" Gardner, the legendary manager who lived in a motel room and guided the Twins through some of their most memorable pre-championship years.

 

IS THIS SHAPING up to be 1987 all over again? One can certainly hope so, on the one hand--what Twins fan wouldn't hope for a repeat of the magical up-and-down season that brought Minnesota its first world championship? It seems such a distant memory now, but the '87 Twins had an unreal season of home-field domination (56-25 in the Teflon terrarium) and appalling road futility (29-52 away from the Dome), a trend that continued into the World Series, with the home team winning all seven games. This year's squad has certainly shown early indications of repeating that maddening pattern: Through Monday night's 3-1 victory over the hapless Tigers, the Twins were 15-2 at home and 6-10 on the road.

For sanity's sake, however, here's hoping we're not in for 1987 redux. The lopsided home/road numbers of the '87 season were hard to swallow, and cast a taint of illegitimacy over the championship. The team won just nine road games after the All Star break, and finished 85-77--decidedly unimpressive numbers for a world champ.

It's too early, of course, to read much significance into the home/road breakdown, but it's unlikely the Twins will be able to win the Central Division unless they pick up the pace on the road. Despite the team's early futility at Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Detroit, the Twins won't get their first real road test until later this month, when they travel to New York, Anaheim, and Texas. A seven-game Oakland/Seattle trip will take the club into the All Star break, by which time we should have a better idea of our legitimate chances. All three of Minnesota's trips to Chicago to face the White Sox, who look to be their primary divisional competition, will come after the break.

 

NOTES:

THE TWINS BULLPEN has now racked up 108 and two-thirds innings, which trails only Toronto for the American League lead. Starters are averaging only 5.48 innings per game. Five of the seven relievers in the Twins pen have ERAs under two runs per game. Eddie Guardado is now 12 for 12 in save opportunities, having given up only 6 hits in 16 innings, while striking out 23 and walking only 4.

THE RIGHT-FIELD rotation of Brian Buchanan, Dustan Mohr, and Bobby Kielty is hitting a combined .313 with 6 home runs and 21 RBI. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski has been one of the pleasant surprises of the first month: He's hitting .315 and has been incredible in the clutch while batting down in the order. Pierzynski's batting .433 with runners in scoring position, and .556 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

THE JURY'S STILL out on Jacque Jones as a lead-off hitter. He's still producing runs (.306 batting average through Monday, with 20 runs and 20 RBI). But he's still mostly futile against lefthanders (batting a lusty .135) and is averaging about a walk a week. The Twins don't have anybody else, however, who's uniquely qualified to lead off, and it's hard to argue with the results so far.

ALL THREE OF Detroit Tiger Craig Paquette's home runs have come against the Twins. The Tigers had no saves in the entire month of April. Of the first nine home runs hit by Boston's Manny Ramirez, all nine came in a different inning.

CONGRATULATIONS TO GOPHER baseball coach John Anderson: After sweeping Purdue over the weekend, Anderson has moved into a tie with Dick Siebert for most wins in school history. He's now 754-467-3 in his career at Minnesota.

CONTRACTION WATCH: The Brewers are 9-23, having picked up a couple victories since last week. They're in last place, nine and a half games back in the NL Central. Attendance in Miller Park is down 149,670 from last year after 16 games.

 

Brad Zellar goes Yard every Monday afternoon--and perhaps more often--for as long as he (and the Twins) are up to it.

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