Personal Foul

Lament of the empty-handed fan

We'll get to the Twins eventually, but first I'd like to take a moment to address one of the many long-festering wounds I've incurred in my years as a baseball fan. Obviously, the unfortunate price you pay in return for your loyalty to any professional baseball team is an appallingly regular series of kicks to the teeth, kidneys, and groin. You know those are coming, though, even if you never know quite when to expect them--unless, of course, you're a Cubs, Red Sox, or (highly unlikely, this) Expos fan, and then you just start bracing yourself for the blows the minute you hear the first strains of the national anthem in April. Cubs rooters, in fact, may well be the only fans in professional sports that learn from an early age to wear a protective cup to games. Red Sox fans, it should go without saying, don't even need one anymore.

These sorts of wounds are sharp, quick, and part of the game's exquisite agonies. They're as necessary as they are contrapuntal, and without them the equally random and unpredictable moments of real ecstasy would lose most of their power.

The wound I'm talking about, though, is as pathetic as it is personal: I've never in my life caught a foul ball.

Over the course of the seasons I've seen drunks who couldn't tell you with any certainty where they even were make dazzling one-handed catches of line drives into the stands. I've watched with a combination of envy and horror as old people so infirm they made Carl Pohlad look like David Hasselhoff emerged from the jostling scrum with baseballs held triumphantly over their heads. I've witnessed on several occasions a single fan--in one instance a little bastard with a glove on one hand and a cell phone in the other--catch two foul balls in one game. I've even seen a nun lunge over two rows to snag a ball. On a more personally galling level, I have a friend, Dan Walseth, who has a ridiculous streak of something like 30 straight games with a foul ball catch, and last week I saw Jim Meyer, a one-time City Pages music writer, make a nice grab of a hard foul just to the right of home plate. Watching Meyer's acrobatic catch, I was inconsolable, all the more so because I'd once had an intense moment of schadenfreude when I'd seen him muff a similar chance.

It hardly seems fair that after attending over 500 major and minor league games I've never even come close. I realize this isn't exactly Cal Ripken's streak we're talking about here, but it's something all the same. I'm sure there are plenty of others out there who are in the same boat, but I unfortunately don't know any of them.

Well, actually, I know one. City Pages news editor G.R. Anderson goes to a lot of games, and he's never caught a foul ball either. I'm pretty sure Anderson hasn't been to as many games as I have, though, and I also know that he at least had his shot. I saw it with my own eyes last year: a lazy foul pop behind the visitor's dugout at the Dome that hit Anderson right in his hands--his form couldn't have been better; he was relaxed, perfectly positioned, and had time to get both hands up and under the ball, only to have it bounce off and ricochet to some other guy several rows in front of him.

Frankly, I've given up hoping I'm ever going to get my shot, and have taken in recent seasons to railing bitterly about the absurdity of all those fans who make bumbling asses of themselves in their pursuit of a ball that would cost less than the food and beverage they're willing to spill to secure their ridiculous souvenir.

I realize how transparent that nonsense is, however, and I am filled with self-loathing at the recognition that I would in all likelihood trample anyone in my path if it would mean an end to this wretched streak. God only knows what I would do to get my hands on a home run ball, but I'm absolutely certain it would be unseemly, horrifying, and humiliating enough to make the evening news.

But yes, sorry, the Twins. A brief progress report: Other than the fact that I wish they'd hit a few foul balls in my direction, they're honestly doing just fine. The problem is that they're going to have to do a whole lot finer before I'm going to get really excited.

After scoring (and giving up) scads of runs in the early going against the likes of Cleveland, Detroit, and Kansas City, Minnesota's offense has come back to earth in a big way. In the 14 games this month (through Sunday) the Twins scored 45 runs, an average of 3.2 runs a game, and scored one or fewer in five of those contests. The good news is that the pitching has responded in kind, compiling a 2.96 earned run average over that same stretch. You can do the math--toss out Sunday's 11-0 shellacking in the series finale in Chicago, and the Twins have just been squeaking by. Their first swing outside the cozy confines of the Central was pretty much a wash: They went 6-6 against the West, and are now 8-7 against non-Central opponents. They've scored 178 runs while allowing 176, and though they're in first place and have the second best winning percentage in the majors, there's going to need to be some separation on one end or the other there for anyone to take the Twins seriously as a challenger to any of the good teams in the East and West.

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