The snow is removed from the field and bleachers, and the Minnesota Twins are ready to open their home baseball season against the Oakland Athletics on Monday at Target Field.
Enthusiasm for the opener is down this year as 3,000 seats were still available one week before the home opener, which is the traditionally sold out at Target Field.
Maybe the honeymoon with the new stadium has ended or maybe it’s the two straight years of cold, snowy spring weather. But more than likely it’s the 291 losses in the past three years that are hurting the Twins, who have had declining attendance in each of the past three seasons.
The best level of baseball to be played at Target Field this season might be the All-Star Game on July 15. And if the Twins’ losing ways continue, it might be difficult to find a fan-elected representative of the home team to play in the mid-summer classic. Joe Mauer is usually an All-Star choice for the Twins, but his position switch to first base now puts him in roster competition with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera and Texas’ Prince Fielder.
The Twins lost two of three games to open the season last week at the Chicago White Sox, two teams that many predicted would battle in the cellar in the American League Central Division this year. In those three games, the Twins scored an average of 6.3 runs while allowing 7. This is a surprising offensive start since the Twins struggled with hitting in spring training and their biggest offseason addition was a marginal hitting catcher in Kurt Suzuki. Meanwhile, the pitching struggled despite the Twins bringing in two veteran free-agent pitchers in Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. Those two pitchers, who account for $20 million of the team’s $84.9 million total player salaries, combined for a 7.38 earned-run average in their first two starts last week.
An optimist would say the Twins also had a losing record when they last hosted the All-Star Game in 1985 in the Metrodome, and two years later the team improved to win its first World Series. They would point to the hope that the Twins’ pitching staff will improve during the season (they were throwing in cold weather conditions last week in Chicago). There’s encouragement that young hitters like Brian Dozier, Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks and Josmil Pinto will show steady improvement. And finally, there’s hope that top prospects such as outfielder Byron Buxton, third baseman Miguel Sano (sidelined this season following elbow surgery) and pitcher Alex Meyer will be coming soon to Target Field.
The pessimist would say Minnesota fans should just enjoy that All-Star Game at Target Field. Twins’ fans should spend the summer fishing and boating and return to Target Field in a couple years when things hopefully improve.