Game 14: Shame

Phil Hughes pitched Tuesday night at Target Field. He’s a fly-ball pitcher, and in the first inning, one of those fly balls came Max Kepler’s way in right field. Max biffed biffed it, spotting Cleveland to a 3-0 lead in the first inning.

Our Twins aren’t in Cleveland’s class, but to remain relevant this season (read: pay off my “over 74.5 wins” wager) they likely will need to steal a quarter or third of their games against the Racist Mascots. Such theft isn’t likely if they’re giving away runs in the first inning.

OK, so Max messed up. Obviously, he feels pretty bad about the whole thing. No need to dwell on it … or is there, Twins beat writers?

“Took my eyes off it. Made a mistake. Stuff happens.”

That’s Kepler’s no-shit quote in the Pioneer Press’ fourth paragraph. LaVelle E. Neal The Third offers a scrubbed version in the Strib. Makes you wonder if they drew straws in the press box to determine who’d ask Max what happened on that fly ball. (And who lost?)

In the beat writers’ defense, it’s entirely possible our man responds with something like:

“Had my mind on Trump. What’s with Syria? Those Russians …”

I haven’t spent any meaningful time around Max. The closest I got was in the Arizona Fall League two years ago. I watched him play three straight games – all meaningless, according to his countryman Fred Nietszche – and never saw the guy crack a smile once.

He seems a serious sort. Certainly, he’s professional in his approach – one that’s served him well, even if it might lend itself to an appearance of dispassion.

An outfielder knows he’ll miss some fly balls throughout the course of a year. A plumber knows sometimes he’ll fail to fix the clog. Asking for an explanation is an exercise in futility; what you’re really looking for with that question – what happened on the fly ball? why can’t you fix my toilet? – is humility.

Professionals understand failure is a part of the job. You can only hope to limit it.

But Max showed no shame Tuesday night, and I find it pretty fascinating. I’m witnessing — that’s too passive a word for the father involved in this story, but whatever — my 3-year-old daughter’s sense of shame develop. Had she butchered that ball in right field, let me tell you, she’d have curled up in a ball on the outfield grass and left a dead spot.

It’s a fine line, shame and humility. Obviously, I don’t want my daughter to feel ashamed about anything she does at this stage in her life, but I want to guide her toward making responsible choices. I’m not much on shame, but if it’s a path toward humility …

… I’d better read up on the subject. Go Wild.

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Game 6: Bring your own

The Twins’ second regular season game — a win, as five of their first six have been, bitches — drew an announced crowd of 15,171 humans, the lowest reported attendance for a regular season MLB game in Target Field’s existence.

Twins bean counters saw this coming. Within a month of opening day, the team announced it would offer a digital-only pass (so these cheapskates can’t resell their tickets!) to all 30 home games in April and May for just $99.

The sales pitch tugged at a weak spot: my inner 20-something, who fancies himself a man about town, taking in a scene with a discriminating eye, passionate enough to invest in a baseball team on the come.

[In reality, my 37-year-old self fancies nothing more than slumbering past 7 a.m. after successfully coaxing his 3-year-old daughter to sleep by bedtime. The only “scene” he’s taking in these days is Library Story Time and the stroller circuit at his local park.]

Would I have sprung for the 30 tickets as a younger man? Probably.

At the peak of Ron Gardenhire’s Metrodome run — the Lew Ford-Carlos Silva-Pat Neshek years, until the Twins moved into Target Field — I paid $199-250 per year for General Admission tickets to all 81 games. In a good year, I used maybe half of the tickets, but the convenience and season-ticket-holder perks (free media notes, popcorn and a pass that got you past the usher and into the lower bowl) made it worthwhile.

One big difference between then (2004-07) and now? The beer prices.

A guy could get a stadium cup of Summit EPA for less than $7 in the Metrodome. It was the same price as a Bud Light with twice the flavor — and punch. And the cup was huge. It must have held two bottles’ worth of beer, if not more.

It’s $10.50 for a large draft beer now, up from $9.50 last year. And let’s just say the Target Field cup would fit comfortably inside Hubert Humphrey’s model.

The scene went from dive bar to rooftop patio, and I’m the old guy grumping about how things were MORE PURE in his day. There were no bars, no skyline views, no exclusive experiences. Just baseball on carpet, under a Polytetrafluoroethylene sky.

So yeah, it’s a different crowd now. People want Instagram moments, Snapchat-worthy experiences and food that transcends peanuts, crackerjacks and Dollar Dog Night.

Cool. I love good food too. And I was inspired by the reporting in Star Tribune’s Taste section — the TASTE SECTION! — last week to compile a list of my own top-5 favorite Target Field treats. Here they are:

5. A bag of chips, previously opened or unopened. Buy it for $2 at the grocery store, and enjoy the crunch all game!

4. Apples, carrots, oranges or celery, stashed in my backpack. Healthy, yes. But there’s something less satisfying about crushing the orange peels under your seat than the peanut shells.

3. The bratwurst I grilled last night, microwaved, nestled in a bun with accoutrements, wrapped in tin foil and stored in the lower pocket of my cargo shorts. I’m convinced of this: The longer you wait to dig it out, the more alcohol it soaks up.

2. Bulk, salted-in-shell peanuts from my local grocer, purchased at $1.49 per pound. If Target Field had a thriving street vendor scene — with loudmouthed guys hawking nuts and waters and airplane-sized botttles of Seagram’s whiskey on your way into the ballgame — I might be inclined not to bring my own.

1. Grilled chicken, cold. (Or a pork chop, if applicable). I’ve yet to see a charcoal grill in Target Field. Bust out a drumstick, thigh or pork chop you grilled the night before (with or without the aforementioned carrots) and you’ve got yourself a savory, healthy meal — and saved a cool $12 you can spend on your next Summit. Go Twins!

Game 2: Everyone’s screaming at me

Twins brass tipped their hand when Manager(?) Paul Molitor dropped prodigal son Joe Mauer into the cleanup spot in his lineup for the season opener. Fortunately for those of us with money on his club to surpass 74.5 wins this season, Molitor’s Bat Signal has gone unnoticed, so far, by Royals pitchers.

(Rest in peace, Yordano Ventura. I waste time in two fantasy baseball leagues. In one, I draft only foreign players; in the other, I draft only players who measure six feet or under. Ventura’s height, nationality and temperament had him on a Hall of Fame track in my universe.)

These Twins are walking a lot.

I don’t imagine that’s a coincidental result — not given the slugging percentage (.389) and on-base percentage (.358) that their newfound cleanup hitter boasted last year. Nor given the installment as designated hitter of Robbie Grossman (career .386 OBP) over sluggers like Byung Ho Park (.278 OBP) and, perhaps, Kennys Vargas (.309 OBP).

It’s no surprise here that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, the Twins’ new ball-ops bros, buy into the well-established doctrine that getting on base is the key to scoring runs. (I’m not going to throw dirt on Terry Ryan here; we can suss that out some other time.) What does surprise me — or, at least, what caught my eye in the box score — is the lineup change, and what it says about who’s calling the shots.

If Paul Molitor wanted to bat Joe Mauer fourth, he had 162 opportunities last year (and 162 more the year before) to do so. Yet according to the guys I sometimes suffer through on the radio (one of whom is, for my money, the best Twins analyst in town), Mauer hit cleanup fewer than 10 times in his entire career prior to Monday’s opener.

So … either a manager in the final year of his contract is throwing darts at the wall to see what sticks, or he’s taking marching orders from a couple hands-on executives gearing up (and saving up? by not firing him?) for a pennant push in 2019. I surmise this — a willingness to follow directions — might also explain the decision to keep Neal Allen.

Speaking of following directions … my girls (5 months and 3.2 years) and I enjoyed the opener together at home. I did my best to celebrate the occasion. My youngest wore a Twins onesie. I grilled bratwurst. We put the Dazzle Man on the radio.

But it’s a change of pace after years of wading through the drunken sea of weekend-warrior drinkers who make Opening Day a premium-price ticket on the Twins’ schedule.

I was the only one in the house who cared that the Twins won their first opener in six years. I was the only one in the house who didn’t need help having a bowel movement, too.

At least we know who’s calling the shots here.

Football free in the 55103 (that’s my zip code)

Cam Newton got drilled late in the NFL’s Thursday-night opener. It was a helmet-to-helmet hit (there were several) that came on the game’s last drive, as Cam was being cut low by a second Broncos defender. Brutal and intentional, it drew a penalty flag.

No shit, that’s a penalty.

Unless, apparently, the quarterback intentionally grounds the football before getting his head bounced off the field turf, as Newton did. In that case, the penalties offset, and the offense gets to replay the down with its concussed QB.

So this is how the NFL plans to step up efforts to protect players from brain injury.

The Frontline documentary “League of Denial” made me feel dirty for watching pro football. But I could still justify following — OK, enjoying — the NFL because I don’t buy tickets to games or pay attention to its TV sponsors.

But that Thursday-night game felt like a tipping point.

Maybe it’s the $1 billion Death Star that swelled up like a goiter on the skyline of my neighboring city. Certainly, the Electronic Pull-tab scheme crafted to pay for it didn’t help. And who could ignore the mouth-breathing Trump voters burning 49ers’ jerseys on Facebook Live lately?

Anyway, I haven’t watched football since. And I don’t much miss it.

As beautifully as the game translates onto the TV screen, the product on the field stinks in nine games out of 10. Teams have become so universally risk-averse, with coaches looking to limit turnovers and “shorten the game,” that nothing seems to happen of consequence until the final two minutes of either half. (Like basketball, except with fewer fast breaks and more field goals.) It’s boring – unless …

Unless you play fantasy football. Or gamble. Or drink beer, especially at a bar. And I do all three!

I particularly like the latter two activities, and while I expect the baseball playoffs will provide some opportunity to make bets and occupy bar stools for the next month or so, I anticipate falling off the football wagon sometime around Thanksgiving.

Maybe distance will make the heart grow fonder. But for now I’m living clean and loving every minute of it.

Skol!

1-20

There’s something going on in Thunder Bay, my friends.

The Border Cats – Thunder Bay, Ontario’s team in the Northwoods League, which exploits the free labor of collegiate players but typically sells fairly cheap beer – entered play tonight with a 1-19 record. And they lost.

1-20. 1-20!

It was Day 1 of a six-game homestand for the Border Cats, and it was a close one. They lost 3-2 to the LaCrosse Loggers. But the Border Cats fell to 1-20. 1-20!

This is a team worth following. Maybe even worth traveling to see in person.

Preakness Day

Canterbury Park $50 Play, Saturday, May 21, 2016

  • Race 1: 50-cent trifecta 7-6-ALL ($2.50)
  • Race 2: 50-cent trifecta 1-6-ALL ($2.50)
  • Race 3: $1 exacta box 5 w/ 1-7 ($4)
  • Race 4: $2 win 3
  • Race 6-9: 50-cent Pick Four, 5-9 / 1-7-8-10 / 2-3-4-6-9 / 10 ($20)
  • Race 6: $1 exacta 5-9 /1-3-4-7 ($6)
  • Race 7: $1 exacta box 1-8-10 ($10)
  • Race 9: $2 win-place 10 ($4)
  • Total wagers: $52

The inevitable Dr. Nyquist

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I haven’t spent much time with the form yet, but this Preakness field looks about as competitive as the NBA’s Eastern Conference. No way any of these horses – or the Toronto Raptors – win unless something freakish happens. Sure, Nyquist could get bumped around out of the gates, and Drake could trip LeBron from a courtside seat. But I’m not betting on either.

Nyquist has the name of a dentist, which could explain why he has yet to overwhelm me with his dominance the way American Pharaoh did last year. I looked it up, actually; Nyquist is a Swedish surname that translates to “New Twig.” The Swedes are an understated people …

If I owned a Triple Crown horse that was more fringe-contender than favorite, I’d sit out the Derby and meet the winner in Baltimore. Too much can go wrong in that 20-horse stampede, and that Churchill Downs scene is a little too gentrified for my tastes. So I guess I’ll start saving up for that thoroughbred, starting with a big opening night at the local track tonight:

Canterbury Park $50 Play, May 20, 2016

  • Races 1-4: 50-cent pick 4, 2-3-6-7 / 1-3-6-7 / 4-7 / 4  ($16)
  • Race 2: $1 exacta box 6 w/ 1-3-7  ($6)
  • Race 3: $1 daily double 4-7 / 4  ($2)
  • Race 4: $2 win-place 4; $1 exacta box 4 w/ 1-7 ($8)
  • Race 5: $2 win-place 2 ($4)
  • Race 6: 50-cent trifecta 1-7 / 1-7 / ALL ($7)
  • Race 7: $1 exacta 2-4 / 2-4-5-6 ($6)
  • Race 8: $2 win 1