Capturing the Flag

Despite midseason doldrums, the twins reward the faithful with a second straight pennant

 I tried everything with this Twins team over the last six months. I tried wheedling, tough love, open derision, and the velvet-glove treatment. I sacrificed personal hygiene and subjected the temple of my body to the indignities of abject malnutrition, all in the name of the most humiliating sort of superstition. I screamed obscenities at the television--and, in my darker moments and in an attempt to spare my wife and dog the spectacle of my tantrums--at the radio in my car.

During the unfathomably bleak stretch before the All-Star game, when the Twins were in the midst of a free fall that saw them lose 12 of 13 games, I often as not found myself parked in far-flung and desolate suburban locales, moving my car between innings in a wholly unsuccessful attempt to change the team's floundering fortunes. I would park along quiet streets or in strip mall parking lots, where I would slump, ranting, behind the steering wheel, gorging myself on Super America microwave burritos and Pringles as the Twins got pounded by Chicago, by Cleveland, Texas, and Anaheim.

Those were very dark days indeed. And I'm sure at one point or another during the long, strange trip that has been the 2003 Twins' season I impugned the decent character of everyone who ever stepped on the field in a Minnesota uniform. That wasn't all, of course; my disdain extended to the team's manager, coaching staff, clubhouse attendants, batboys, mascot, and front office personnel.

Feelin' the love: A.J. Pierzynski and Eddie Guardado celebrate another Twins win
Craig Lassig
Feelin' the love: A.J. Pierzynski and Eddie Guardado celebrate another Twins win

I didn't much like myself by the time the All-Star game rolled around, but I liked the Minnesota Twins even less.

I should point out that I'm not really much of a sports fan. I suppose if you put a gun to my head I might attend a football or hockey game, but you'd have to pull the trigger to get me to sit still for a NASCAR race or a soccer match. But I am a baseball fan, and the game takes all of the patience and passion I can afford to waste on a sport. The long season leaves me drained to an extent that should make me ashamed, and when the postseason crashes almost immediately into winter I need every one of those dark months before spring training for hibernation and recuperation.

For a variety of reasons both obvious and complicated, even before I reached the All-Star break this season I was already in the darkest of late-October moods. Some of that, I'm sure, was a product of the expectations I had for this year's team, and the extent to which it seemed doggedly determined to pound every one of those expectations out of my skull with a Louisville Slugger. The Twins of mid-season couldn't make contact with a Scott Klingenbeck fastball, but every time they swung in my direction they put another crack in the piñata that was my heart.

The Twins were killing me, and my increasingly hysterical reaction to their struggles was an obvious cry for help. Thankfully, well-meaning friends and family reached out to me. "It's not worth it," they told me. "Take some time off." There was a concerted intervention, and I was dragged off to art fairs, plays, movies, and--when I was at my most vulnerable and nearly comatose--to a Lynx game.

I was still miserable. I can't deny that. Breakups are always hard, and I'd never turned my back on this team, even during the brutal years that preceded the 1987 championship and the long period of post-1991 futility. I've cared about the Minnesota Twins for longer than I've cared for anyone or anything that isn't related to me by blood.

I still couldn't resist a peek at the box scores in the morning, and fought a losing battle to regain control of the radios at home and in the car. My wife also used some sort of child protection screen to lock down ESPN on our television. It was a frustrating couple of weeks, but I suppose the experience was in many ways therapeutic. For me, certainly, but also for the Twins.

Because a funny thing happened during my mid-season holdout: the Twins responded like spurned lovers. After knee-walking to a 44-49 first-half finish that left them seven and a half games out of first place, the Twins started to play at least intermittently inspired baseball.

My friends and family tried to protect me for as long as they could. They weren't about to let me crawl back to baseball until there was at least a fighting chance that the Twins weren't going to just turn around and kick me in the nuts again. The Twins were going to have to show real and convincing signs that they had truly changed, and were prepared to reward my adoration with something approaching at least constancy and consistency.

Because, let's face it, there was still a lot of baggage left over from that first half. The Twins had fallen behind by eight games in late April, only to go on a 19-9 May run that gave them a five game lead on June 6. Their skid leading up to the break then put them back in that almost inconceivable seven-and-a-half game hole. There was, of course, almost no precedent for a team--let alone such a maddeningly inconsistent team--overcoming such a large deficit in the second half, but when the Twins came out of the All-Star break with a four-game sweep of Oakland I started sneaking out of the house to listen to the games on a transistor radio I had hidden in the garage.

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