The Boys of Summer
Summer is a season of play, and baseball—with all due respect to lacrosse, and that other low-scoring game with the balls and the nets—is its game. Baseball is a lazy, slow affair, with no clocks determining when a player should and should not be on the field. The action occurs in spurts, and the time that passes between them is more than sufficient for chatting about favorite players, hunting down beverages, idly swatting at bothersome flies, or doing a load of laundry. Baseball is the pastime, the greatest way to kill an afternoon this great nation has ever invented.
Like summer, baseball is also fleeting. That's not to say the game is in danger of extinction, or that if you miss today's game you'll have to wait more than a day or two for the next one (how do football fans entertain themselves for a full week between Sundays?). There are 162 bloody games in baseball's regular season; Mercury orbits the sun twice in the time it takes Major League Baseball to sort out its playoff schedule. Baseball is fleeting because most of the hours spent on it—the textbook plays that make up about 50 of the 54 outs made every nine innings—disappear from memory as soon as they happen. Full games are lost, leaving only snapshots: Buckner's blunder. Puckett's catch. Fisk's arm wave. A closing pitcher's victorious fist pump.
Baseball is made up of moments. Emerson once described a moment as a "concentrated eternity," which may explain why even seasoned fans need scorecards to keep them occupied throughout the innings. Still, it is the moment that draws us to the game, the constant promise that something extraordinary is just a flicker away. A fastball reaches home plate in 0.4 seconds—blink and you'll miss it. If the crack of a Justin Morneau home run is its own tiny eternity, then every Joe Mauer groan of leg pain is, too. Moments change. It's what they do. Weekly newspapers like this one don't often print stories about baseball games—it's a different game a week later. But for posterity's sake, allow me to describe this moment, right here:
It's Wednesday. We're two months into the Twins' 46th season in Minnesota. They have won the World Series twice in the last 20 years, a feat only three other teams have matched. They've spent most of this decade at the top of their division, and currently count the league's most valuable player, best hitter, and most dominant pitcher among their starters. Yet the Twins remain underdogs in the game's strongest division. As is becoming their habit, they've dug themselves into a hole early in the season by putting too much faith—and money—into washed-up veterans rather than trusting the young arms of their dominant minor league pitchers. As a result, the team has spent most of this young year proving the critics right and struggling to keep the resurgent Indians, the American League champion Tigers (who've actually gotten better), and the always-irksome White Sox within view.
Today, however, the turnaround may have begun: After cutting bait on their two offseason pitching gambles (Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz), the Twins complete a sweep of the White Sox at the Metrodome. It's done in typical Twins fashion, with plenty of strikeouts from their top two starters—Johan Santana and the eternally (or perhaps only momentarily) lovable Boof Bonser—and an inordinate number of fluky infield hits from their batters. As ever, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen vents his frustration by hurling compliments at his rival team, while his catcher chooses to step on Morneau's foot instead.
Only the final run of the final inning of the series is peculiar. Down 6-1 early after recent call-up Scott Baker imploded on the mound, the Twins rally to tie the game in the sixth. In the ninth, with bases loaded, Torii Hunter looks at four balls and draws a game-winning walk. That's worth repeating: Torii Hunter drew a game-winning walk. For readers unfamiliar with Hunter's free-swinging hero complex, suffice it to say it was a hell of a moment.
This week, our hometown boys will try to maintain their momentum—an apt word, I think—in a three-series interleague home stand capped by a showdown with their onetime rival Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers are tops in the NL Central right now, a development that few foresaw considering they share the division with the world champs. How will the Twins stack up against them? I could prognosticate, but I'd rather be honest. I don't know. It's more than a week away. I don't even know what kind of team the Twins will field against them. Instead, I present this: my top 10 reasons to love Twins baseball, regardless of what happens next week, next month, or next year. It's a timeless list, appropriate for a game of fleeting eternities. In honor of the box score, the list is not elaborate. The best moments are hidden between the lines.
- Helmet sundaes.
- The Kiss-Cam.
- Batgirl's blog archive.
- Mike Redmond.
- The Hormel "Row of Fame" jingle ("Who will be a weiner winner?").
- Dan Gladden's color commentary.
- Seeing a swing from the cheap seats, and hearing the crack two seconds later.
- Peanuts in the shell.
- Doing the wave, then reading Howard Sinker complain about it (ditto throwing opposing-team homerun balls back on the field).
- Knowing there's always another game tomorrow.
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