Trainspotter's Opening Day

When you think about it, the second game of the lengthy baseball season is the real opening day, the first game when the dedicated fan comes out to watch. Nothing against yesterday's contest, mind you. But after all, tonight the Twins are facing the same team they fought on the big day (and not one projected to go far), the top pitcher isn't on the mound, and look, it's Tuesday night while school's on or the kids and their folks are drunk in Cazumel on spring break. These fans have patience, they have their scorecards, and a love of numbers, and they dress funny--it's funny to wear shorts and a Twins jersey on a night promising snow and cold winds. No, these bugs resemble Britain's trainspotters, people who will follow this season from start to finish with the same single-minded dedication as those Brits who stand and wait all day for locomotives to pass by.

It's reassuring to this writer to see that in spite of myriad distractions (such as television and radio and the internet, among others) almost twenty-five thousand baseball-loving souls braved the crappy weather to watch Boof Bonser and the Minnesota Twins dispatch the Orioles on this snowy, snowy night. (A game that will, in three-years' time, be called on account of weather in our new, open air stadium).

Young Boof looks to be starting what could be a lengthy career as an inning-devouring second or third starter, making a decent living being the nobody in a rotation of stars, or the bargain basement ace for the Devil Rays. The Boof came in this evening looking to make people forget about the Twins' pitching woes. Tonight he was just wonderful enough, tossing six strong innings, faltering just a bit in the O's two-run third. Look at his numbers: six innings, three hits and three walks, a home run and six strikeouts, two of which were capped with beautiful curveballs to nail the rookie Nick Markakis and journeyman catcher Alberto Castillo. Of the latter I'm impressed with his staying power: Castillo somehow manages to secure jobs every year, in spite of playing in just over 400 games over twelve seasons (and he didn't play at all in the majors in '06). That's dedication on his part or desperation in the O's camp, probably a combination of both. The guy didn't do himself any favors this game: offensively he went 0-2 with a sacrifice in the seventh; defensively, the Twins ran all over the basepaths, stealing five bases successfully, including one that resembled something from the Mack Sennett silent comedy days, when Jason Bartlett slid shy of second and, laughing to himself, crawled safely into second when Castillo's throw was off by a nautical mile.

It was this aggressive baserunning that set the pace for the Twins, who for a change look loose and ready to win in the early going part of the season. For the second day in a row they didn't allow a lead, slim though it was, to rattle them. Nick Punto got things rolling in the fourth, opening with a strong hit and then boldly taking third on a Joe Mauer single to center. A good thing, too, for Michael Cuddyer grounded the next pitch into a double-play that scored Punto. Cuddyer baffles me: again he opened with a strong at-bat, striking out but forcing seven pitches to go his way, and then hacks away at whatever for the rest of the night (in fact, he took the same number of pitches in his remaining three at-bats, hitting the first pitch in two of them).

No matter. The Twins nibbled away, Torii Hunter walking in the fifth (amazingly, after going down 2-1 in the count, and looking absolutely, in the words of a fellow scribe, like the Torii of 2001), stealing second easily, racing to third on a Rondell White grounder to first, and then home on a Luis Castillo hit. These are almost flabbergasting plays: Hunter walks, White hits behind him to advance, Kubel walks, Bartlett doesn't do shit, and then Castillo singles? I'm shocked and elated. The offense provided some fireworks last evening, but tonight the Twins settled for street theater. They didn't allow a very good performance by the Orioles young hurler Daniel Cabrera to spook them. He pitched like an ace, going seven full innings, striking out nine and walking four. The Twins responded like a team interested in the pennant, and made him pay for two of those walks, which were converted into runs by stolen bases and singles both times.

Boof threw exactly 100 pitches, 59 of them for strikes, emerged without the 'W', though something tells me he doesn't mind. The Twins let six pitchers stroll to the mound tonight, but Boofus was the sole pitcher to enjoy 1-2-3 innings. Joe Nathan earned his second save--last year he had three in the entire month of April.

So the die-hard, pigheaded baseball fans who ignore the pleas of those who don't want them on these icy roads had something to take home: a close game, played well. What more do you want in this miserable April?

An Observation From The Press Box: Justin Morneau also appears to be working very hard to silence the naysayers who think his MVP was undeserved. The guy went 1 for 3 tonight with a walk, but those two productive at-bats made him look absolutely brilliant, running the counts full and then either poking a good pitch through the middle or taking ball four. Hell, if the guy meets ESPN's projections, he'll hit 80 home runs and nearly 300 rbi.

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