Welcome podcast contributor and Rays fanatic Rob Noverraz to the B&N blog…
A couple of nights ago I watched the Rays and the Twins grind into a 15th inning after 6 and a half hours of play and I had to wonder if there was a less sexy prospect.
Who was still watching this?
Sure, an invested Rays fan like myself or an equivalent Twins fan might still have it on if they had nothing better to do, but I struggled to imagine any viewers from the games that had long since finished in Miami or Toronto thinking ‘ooh, a really long game in Minnesota against the other team in Florida, don’t mind if I do’. Debate over allowing games to run on so long aside, what was it that made me think that this was a poor match up?
Is it the record?
Since 2010 the Twins have had only two winning seasons and those losing years were cold, hard ‘please god let it end’ losing years. 2016 had them losing a crushing 103 games which was dead last. In the same period, the Rays have had four winning seasons and three losing seasons. However (and it’s a fair sized however) those three losing seasons have all come in the last three years.
Losing is bad, but losing boring is worse. Falls from grace in the manner of the Padres signing Jered Weaver raises a smirk, your 1,367th strikeout of the season doesn’t so much.
How about the personnel? OK, I’ll give you Joe Mauer, Evan Longoria, Chris Archer, Byron Buxton, Brian Dozier and Kevin Kiermaier. Name three more without pausing… it’s not easy eh? The Twins are 23rd in salary and The Rays are 29th; neither team is going to be signing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. But is this the point?
Both teams are able to boast web-gem producing centre-fielders in the form of Buxton and Kiermaier and both teams have franchise guys in Mauer and Longoria who’ve been at the top of their class at some point in their careers. Is it perhaps in the quality of the ‘non-stars’ who make up the rest of the roster? I question if the intrigue of an infield containing Longoria, Tim Beckham, Daniel Robertson and Logan Morrison over the likes of even Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, DJ LeMahieu and Mark Reynolds really cuts it. Seeing prospects get the call is exciting, but only if you already know who they are.
Is it the backdrop to the games? Tropicana Field is considered to be one of the two worst ballparks in the Majors and often features in the top 10 worst sports stadia worldwide (The A’s Coliseum might have something to say about that title). Whilst it offers a decent range of food, post-game concerts, atmospheric comfort and an opportunity to interfere with captive marine animals, the catwalks are considered a nuisance rather than a quirk and the dingy appearance belies the Floridian location.
On the absolute opposite side of the coin ESPN Magazine listed Target Field as 2010’s best Baseball experience. The place has been designed to allow people to see the field from the concession stands and has been built using unique local limestone. It also boasts excellent integrated transport links and heated seating areas for the colder early season (post-season has been less of a concern but it’s good to know they’re ready). Add to all of the above extensive conferencing and banqueting facilitates and you have yourself a modern adaptable building that is unique and relevant to the area.
Target Field is great, but if what you’re looking at on the green bit in the middle doesn’t cut the mustard the surroundings tend to pale into insignificance. Similarly, there are other stadia that rival Tropicana field’s pinball silliness as a result of the structure (*coughs* Fenway *coughs*), but those buildings are considered amongst the best in the sport. I’m not sure the stadium particularly matters as is shown by the huge gap in quality between the two teams.
Is it the hope? I’m not necessarily talking about the hope of the fans because we fools always have hope even on the wrong end of a 10 game losing streak when our half broken, myopic shortstop comes up to bat in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs and a 10 run deficit; what I’m referring to is the hope that a team is building something special and that they’ll be able to contribute to the narrative that is the current season’s MLB story.
Look at the Mariners; many of us measure up that team in spring and conclude that something could happen, that this year could be their year. Of course that ‘hope’ is almost always instantly dashed, but we’re still talking about the Mariners more than we are the Twins or the Rays despite their relative records.
Money, hope, stadia, personnel, a winning record; I don’t know what the definitive answer is but I’d suggest it’s a combination of the lot. I asked a number of baseball fans on a couple of different mediums what their impressions are of the Rays and the Twins. The results were that the Rays are bargain basement perennial ‘other guys’ and that the Twins were beige and forgettable.
I reject that.
If you’re watching Kershaw you know he’s likely going to shut the other team down; sluggers like Trout are going to score runs and the Nationals are probably going to win. That stuff is pretty much a given, so why not join me in a slightly less sexy world where the ‘dull’ team’s bullpen could give up a huge lead at any second or the ‘loser’ team’s catcher can fluke an inside the park home run.
These are the games that take place between the Twins and the Rays and also to a couple of other teams who’ve typically not got a mention (I’m looking at you Reds, D’Backs and Braves). I get the attraction to the big teams, but you’re more likely to find me looking for the teams that we almost forgot existed.