It's Fan Appreciation Weekend at Target Field in Minneapolis, as the Minnesota Twins say "thank you" to the roughly 2.4 million people who've turned out to watch them this year.
Part of that thank you will be in the form of 60,000 Twins stocking caps that will be given away Friday and Saturday, and those hats might come in handy within 10 days or so. October nights can be chilly in Minnesota, and the Twins will likely clinch a playoff berth early next week, if not sooner.
But for now, let's not think about the plaayoffs and the seemingly inevitable encounter with the Yankees. Regardless of what happens in October, this has been a season worth celebrating and remembering.
No one knew what to expect from this year's club. Last year's team was, for lack of a more polite term, dull -- a fact that cost manager Paul Molitor his job just one year after he was the American League's Manager of the Year. Joe Mauer, long the face of the franchise (and favorite whipping boy for disgruntled fans), retired.
The management duo of general manager Thad Levine and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey then made some smart decisions. First, they hired Rocco Baldelli, a 37-year-old former big-leaguer who had battled enough physical adversity to make him wise beyond his years. Then they took the money freed up by Mauer's retirement and signed a fistful of veteran free agents, including 39-year-old Nelson Cruz, who might be one of the most well-respected players in the game today.
And the home runs started flying. It's touch-and-go whether the Twins or Yankees will claim the single-season home run record, but really, does it matter at this point? A generation of Twins fans had grown accustomed to watching other teams pound balls over the fence while the Twins played small-ball, so this year it feels as if the Twins haven't merely joined the party -- they're the life of it.
Even if you're a baseball purist, home runs are fun, and on Tuesday, Miguel Sano hit a 482-foot bomb to become the fifth Twins player with 30 homers this year. No other team in baseball history has done that.
Not that there haven't been setbacks. The Twins recently lost one of their best starting pitchers to a 60-day suspension for a failed drug test. Byron Buxton, who is arguably the greatest outfielder in the game, crashed into a wall in Miami and is done for the year. Starting pitcher Kyle Gibson contracted E coli during an offseason trip overseas and has yet to recover, and several key starters are currently among the walking wounded.
Through it all, Baldelli hasn't flinched. He's incurably positive and upbeat. When his team has a bad night, he emphasizes the positives. When a player gets lazy or makes a dumb error (and yes, that has happened) he's diplomatic in public when other managers wouldn't hesitate to call out their players. He's the definition of "a player's manager," and while not everyone agrees with that coaching style, his success this year has been undeniable.
And it's been so much fun. In addition to all of the homers, we've seen a rookie named Luis Arraez come out of nowhere to hit .350 and look like the second coming of Rod Carew. We've seen a rookie pitcher named Brusdar Graterol effortlessly hit 100 mph on the radar gun. Heck, we've seen the Twins turn two triple plays in one week.
Most importantly, we've seen wins. Nearly 100 of them -- and baseball is so much more fun when your team is winning.
So thank you, Minnesota Twins. You added a lot of excitement to our summer -- and we hope you can do the same thing for the early fall.