Life on the Roller Coaster

To borrow from the argot of Edd "Kookie" Byrnes, it was a dark seven for the local baseball nine and its fans; any way you care to cut it, it was a very depressing week indeed. Just 25 games into the season and already the roller coaster, already the nutcracker, already the sucker punch and the meat tenderizer and the lost weekend. Already the full retreat of the rational world. Already the warning signs, the red flags, the litter of cellophane and marathon of malnutrition, the empty caloric blackouts: My God! Did I just eat that entire can of Pringles? Did I seriously just drive to the Holiday store between innings, in my pajamas and Sorels, to buy another box of Dots and another two-liter jug of Mountain Dew? Are my eyes deceiving me? Did the Twins just have the bases loaded and nobody out and fail to score a single run? Did Brad Radke just give up another home run to Randall Simon? Is there any other sport that forces its elderly and unshapely coaches to shoehorn themselves into the same snug uniforms as the players? Is this indignity somehow mandated by the rule book or merely tradition? Could you run in and check the statistics, honey, and see if Denny Hocking actually has more errors than extra-base hits? Did I just borrow from the argot of Edd "Kookie" Byrnes?

I'm sorry, but could someone please explain to me how a baseball team could go 8-1 on its last home stand--and sweep the Cleveland Indians--and then turn around and lose five of six on the road against such stiff (yeah, that's right) competition as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Detroit Tigers?

I know, that's baseball. It's a damaging game, and it's a very long, frequently cruel season. I don't even want to do the math, but before it's all over it's likely that I will have poured hundreds of hours into a big, black hole...all right, I admit it, I've done the math: 486 hours, give or take a couple hundred. That's with the 162-game schedule, box scores in the morning, and the occasional--okay, frequent--television doubleheader (and I'm still not quite ready to come clean about the whole unseemly fantasy baseball thing). I'm no doctor, but I know from experience that that's a prescription for malnutrition and terrible social hygiene. And I don't even play the game.

These guys play 162 games, for crying out loud, and that doesn't count spring training. As Earl Weaver once said (and that's two Weaver quotes in two weeks, for those scoring at home): "This ain't a football game. We do this every day." The Twins are in the middle of 16 straight games--road and home--without a day off; they'll have a stretch of 20 straight leading up to the All Star game. The team has a grand total of 17 days off in six months, not counting the three-day breather of the All Star break. That's an incredibly punishing schedule, and I honestly don't know how the players do it.

Given the up-and-down first month of the season, it's apparent that Twins fans are going to have to develop some coping mechanisms and endurance skills of their own. In the spirit of the season (i.e., baseball season), I am pleased to offer a few time-proven tips for riding out the inevitable peaks and valleys of the months to come:

1) Take a shower, at least twice a week. Get in the habit of shaving now and again, between winning streaks, even when you don't feel like it.

2) Put on a clean change of clothes, if only to bolster your crumbling self-esteem. Try to never go to bed in the same clothes you woke up in. If you need to do laundry, go ahead and change into dirty clothes. It's the initiative that matters, the effort that counts.

3) Cut down on the snack chips, candy, and soft drinks. Mix in a bowl of cereal, a microwave burrito, or a carton of chocolate milk. You'll feel better for it.

4) Open the shades. Venture out into the back yard for a few minutes, if only to relieve yourself. It's your yard, after all, and a little sunlight (or a refreshing downpour) can work wonders on the sourest disposition.

5) Between innings, click down the dial to CNN. That way you won't feel hopelessly uninformed about the Robert Blake murder case and you'll be able to gird yourself for the snide topical references on SportsCenter.

6) Include your significant other, spouse, or children in your "hobby." Baseball statistics are fun and useful tools for fostering mathematical aptitude and enthusiasm in your children. Teach the members of your family how to use the important annual guides to provide you with quick and handy information when you most need it. Help them to understand your violent mood swings by explaining such fine points of the game as the fact that no lead is safe with Bob Wells a) warming up in the bullpen, or b) on the mound. Encourage them to come up with creative insults of their own for monstrous and unsightly Cleveland Indians pitcher Bartolo Colon.

7) Don't sweat the small stuff. You don't need to mow the lawn more than once a month--you're not a damn gardener, you're a baseball fan. If your house needs painting, that's what football season's for. Anything else? Don't worry about it. In six months you'll be a free man--and an unhappy man--with all the time in the world.



THE BAD NEWS is that half the ballclub seems to be either on the disabled list or hobbled, the guys filling in for Luis Rivas at second base (Denny Hocking and Jay Canizaro) are killing the team at the bottom of the order, the Twins suddenly aren't hitting with runners in scoring position, Brad Radke and Eric Milton have been pretty awful, the bullpen's starting to get nicked, and the team went 1-9 over its last ten road games.

THE GOOD NEWS is that Cleveland has been scuffling as well. The Twins are 14-11 and in second place in the Central, and they come home to ten straight games against Tampa Bay, Detroit, and Kansas City.

DETROIT FINALLY FOUND a way to score a run off lefty J.C. Romero: With Minnesota leading 2-1, Ron Gardenhire brought in Romero to relieve Rick Reed. Robert Fick singled to center, and then Bobby Higginson and Randall Simon--batting third and cleanup in the Tigers order--both bunted for base hits to load the bases. When's the last time you saw a team's three and four hitters lay down bunts in successive at bats? The first run Romero gave up all year scored on a double-play ball off the bat of Shane Halter. Fick then homered off Bob Wells (who gave up 12 homers in 68 and two-thirds innings last year) to win the game in the tenth.

IT'S PRETTY CLEAR that Cristian Guzman--who went to the All Star game last year and really hasn't been the same since--is struggling at all facets of the game. Guzman set the tone for his breakout season last year with a hot April; for the month he hit .300 with six triples, three home runs, and an unreal .625 slugging percentage. This year he's batting just .211, with an (again) unreal slugging percentage of .232. He has only two extra-base hits, no triples or homers, and an unsightly .227 on-base percentage. Most alarmingly, he seems to be tentative both in the field and on the basepaths.

BRAD RADKE, ERIC Milton, and Joe Mays, who have all struggled in the early going (Mays is on the DL), also got off to hot Aprils last season. Last April Radke was 5-1 with a 2.23 ERA, Milton was 3-1, 2.80, and Mays was 3-1, 2.73. The alarming thing about Radke is that his strikeouts per nine innings have steadily declined at a point in his career when they should have been going up.

CONTRACTION WATCH: Since we last checked in, that little ashtray fire interim manager Jerry Royster had lit under the Brewers has been extinguished. The club didn't win a game all week, having been swept by the Expos and Mets, and is now 7-18, with a team batting average of .235, and an on-base percentage of .306. A total of 12,357 spectators turned out for the three-game series in Montreal.


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

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