As I drove across town Thursday on one of the first lovely afternoons in an otherwise lousy spring, I attempted to put a positive spin on life in Minnesota. Sure, we’ve had April temperatures 30 degrees below normal. And yes, I could still see, out of the corner of my eye, those dirty, lingering snow piles along the side of the road.
But the sun was out, joggers were everywhere and I could even ponder a firing up of the old grill later that night. After all, Minnesotans savor the change of seasons, so when the weather finally does improve, we tend to appreciate it that much more.
For me, another sure sign of spring has always been the sound of Twins baseball on my radio dial. This year it’s particularly satisfying to tune in to WCCO-AM again, the home of my beloved club for 46 years before baseball’s economics sent them on an 11-year hiatus from the “Good Neighbor” to other locations on the local airwaves. It’s something I grew up with and savor, still today.
On this occasion, there was even more reason for optimism. My Twins were just three outs away from a rare win in the Big Apple. Maybe it’s time to put that potential accomplishment into proper perspective:
The New York Yankees are baseball’s most storied franchise. They’ve won the World Series a record 27 times. They own 40 American League pennants. Throw in another 18 divisional crowns.
Sure, the Yanks have some built-in advantages. Their television revenue is so outrageous that they have their own network. Forbes Magazine recently listed the team as the second-highest valued sports franchise in the world, behind only the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
Given that the city is America’s largest and the franchise estimated to be worth somewhere around $3.7 billion dollars, it’s only logical to expect New York to enjoy at least a modicum of success against our boys. OK, maybe they should kick some butt.
But here in Minnesota, losing to The Pinstripers has become more than just a somewhat regular experience. In fact, we’ve come to know our place when it involves baseball with the Bronx Bombers. It’s essentially something like, “Shut up, don’t complain and take your medicine.”
Somehow, the Twins have made “compliance” a theme, in this painfully lopsided matchup. Let me throw some numbers at you: Since 2002, the Twins have played the Yankees 127 times. Their record is 33-94. That includes a less than scintillating 2-13 in postseason play.
Consider, too, that in spite of their haughty history, New York has won just one World Series since ’02. In fact, they’ve only appeared in two of them since that time. While the Twins have had their ups and downs after winning two World Series titles in ’87 and ’91, they’ve been good enough to compete favorably with nearly everyone else in the American League.
So why this off the charts level of ineptitude with the Evil Empire?
I’m convinced it’s in our heads. And it’s also in the Yankees’ heads. To be this one-sided over a period of 17 seasons, with so many different players and coaches on both clubs coming and going, the numbers make no sense. Yet it keeps happening again and again. In fact, there are so many bad memories, we EXPECT them to keep occurring.
So as I listened intently to Twins’ announcer Cory Provus return from a break to describe the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday, I began to put up my defenses. It’s something all Minnesotans are conditioned to do, given our track record.
“The Twins lead it 3-1 but these last three outs won’t be easy,” Provus hinted. Any warnings at this point were surely unnecessary to loyal Twins’ followers. We all knew the most recent numbers. Six straight losses on the current road trip, including three blowouts to the Bombers. The threat of a four-game sweep.
Yet once again, hope was springing eternal. The sun was shining, Kyle Gibson had been nearly perfect on the mound and for once, those Yankee bats seemed destined to go quietly into the afternoon splendor.
As I carefully merged onto the freeway and rush hour congestion engulfed me, I momentarily pictured Twins’ closer Fernando Rodney, out on that Yankee Stadium mound, confidently negotiating a similar challenge. Maybe, just maybe …
Then, like lightning, Provus painfully described a Miguel Sano boot at third base, followed by a trickling infield single that gave the Yankees two baserunners they hadn’t deserved. Just like that, the sinking feeling of Minnesota inevitability was already snapping me back into harsh reality.
Slugger Gary Sanchez was up and the traffic was now grinding to a complete halt. “And there’s a long drive to left …” Provus shouted. I didn’t need to hear any more.
Make that 33-95.
Maybe I’ll save my grilling for another night. Thank goodness the Reds are coming to town.