Finally, a chance to wipe away the hurt of 2011
Finally. Opening Day is here.
After a tailspin led to 99 losses for the Minnesota Twins last year, the end of the 2011 season seemingly couldn't come fast enough. And for a Twins team looking to turn the page on all that, the 2012 opener couldn't come soon enough. A chance at redemption officially begins Friday when the Twins open their year on the road against the Baltimore Orioles.
Few sports, if any, celebrate the first game of the season in the same fashion baseball does. The pristinely manicured fields are painted with special logos and emblems to signify the start of a new year. Fans begin countdowns to Opening Day months before the first pitch is thrown. In Minnesota, that means dreaming about and wishing for baseball long before the snow melts.
At the beginning of each season, all teams are even; everyone has a clean slate. No one trails in their division race. There is hope for all 30 teams.
That includes the Twins, the same team that finished last in the American League Central for the first time in a long time. I'm not predicting that the Twins will instantly become a playoff threat or win the division, but there are certainly plenty of story lines to watch.
I'll be curious to see how the health of this team holds up. The Twins' health — or lack thereof — in 2011 was perhaps the biggest reason Minnesota lost so frequently. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Denard Span, Joe Nathan and many others were out for extended periods with various injuries. Reporters covering the team were looking at WebMD as frequently as live box scores, and game recaps read more like doctors notes than descriptions of baseball games. But as the Twins break camp, it appears they're healthy once again, with a few minor exceptions. If the big guns — Mauer, Morneau and Span — can stay that way and be productive, this will be a much different team than it was a year ago.
I'll also be watching to see how the new faces contribute. Minnesota signed several free agents this offseason, including veterans Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham. All four have been in the big leagues for a number of years, and each should bring a veteran presence to the clubhouse. Can Willingham provide some pop from the right side of the plate? How will the 38-year-old Carroll fare at shortstop?
Lastly, I'll be keeping an eye on the Twins' younger players to see how they handle themselves. Chris Parmelee, who made his debut last September, will start the year as Minnesota's everyday first baseman as Morneau plays DH. Parmelee made the jump from Double-A to the majors in 2011. Can he be productive at the major league level? In addition, can some of the Twins' younger players — Danny Valencia, Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, etc. — continue to make strides?
The beginning of baseball season is a beautiful thing. If it were up to me, it would be a national holiday. Maybe I'll put that on my campaign platform if I ever run for president.
In all seriousness, though, let's take a minute to appreciate what the beginning of the baseball season means. It's a sense of optimism; a reason for hope. For fans of Minnesota, it's another chance to get behind a Twins team that won its division as recently as two years ago. And in Minnesota, it's also an excuse to skip work or play hooky from school, head over to Target Field for a weekday game (or a 3 p.m. home opener Monday) and enjoy America's pastime under the sunny skies at one of baseball's best ballparks.
Baseball is back. Play ball.
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