From the vacant lot to the majors

I rarely offer baseball advice, but several friends are fans of the Minnesota Twins, and they seem unhappy with their chosen team's performance early in this season.


I rarely offer baseball advice, but several friends are fans of the Minnesota Twins, and they seem unhappy with their chosen team's performance early in this season.

I analyzed the Twins' play to date, and I believe I've hit on a key factor underlying the current - let's be honest, less than stellar - record. I'll probably send the findings to Manager Paul Molitor. He's a former superstar for the Milwaukee Brewers. That's my team, so I'm pretty sure I'll have some credibility.

Before I share my findings, I should qualify my expertise. I never played the game. Well, OK, yes, I did play some schoolyard and vacant-lot games that involved a baseball, Louisville sluggers and gloves. We had a thing called "Work-up'' and another called "500.'' You didn't need to full teams of nine people to play those games, which was great, because we usually had only seven or eight neighborhood kids around at one time.

Yep. It was back in the days when every kid played at the vacant lot until supper time and at least one kid's mom always knew where the guys were and knew exactly when to shout from the kitchen window that everyone had better head for home because suppers were on the tables. And, yep, the vacant lot across from the street kitty-corner from the swimming pool was just like a Norman Rockwell painting, with some tramped-down weeds and make-shift bases fashioned from irregular pieces of plywood and maybe a discarded work boot or some kid's dirty sweatshirt. And, yep, we dropped our gloves, bats and baseball and ran home for supper confident that when we returned after chow to play until sundown, those things would be lying where they were dropped. Nobody would swipe somebody's first-baseman's mitt or outfielder's glove.

That's my experience as a player. As a farm kid, I never played organized summer baseball. Just as nobody in town would swipe a glove on the ground on the vacant lot, nobody on the farm would ask to be driven into town for practices or even games. Organized baseball was for the town kids.


Once in a rare while, my dad would drive us to Chamberlain to watch an evening game between the Chiefs and whatever other Basin League team was in town that night. Saturday afternoons for a few minutes after lunch, we might watch a major-league game on a fuzzy, black-and-white television with Dizzy Dean and PeeWee Reese doing the play-by-play. When the Series arrived, we'd dial it up on the radio. Most of the time, though, my knowledge of baseball came through the box scores printed in The Daily Republic and delivered by mail to the mailbox up the road from the farm.

I did manage a little baseball. I took my kid to sign up for Little League, the T-ball version, and learned that the league needed managers. With a room full of dads who looked like they might still be able to take the field, I was one of the few who signed up. Somebody had to manage the kids, right? The very first game, I learned that all of those dads who couldn't manage knew quite a lot about the game. They shared that knowledge at the top of their lungs from the stands.

They'd yell things like, "Hit behind the runner,'' while I was hoping that, on the off chance my batter connected with the ball resting on the plastic tee, he'd run toward first base and not back to the dugout or over to third or out to the pitcher's mound or through the gate and up to the counter at the concession stand.

Anyway, with those qualifiers, here's what I discovered about the Twins. As of Thursday morning, they had won eight games and lost 25. I broke down the games, the opponents, the line-ups, the pitching and the bullpen. It may be way too simple, but I'm thinking they aren't scoring as many runs as they are giving up.

If Molitor explains that to the players, I don't see any reason the Twins won't be just fine the rest of the way.

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