Tuesday night, in what could have been the last game in the Metrodome, the Minnesota Twins fell behind the Detroit Tigers 3-0. They came back. They fell behind in extra innings and came back again before scoring in the 12th to win.
I watched the game on television, but I had already seen a different version of it in person. The Mets, needing a win on the final game of the regular season last year — the final at Shea Stadium — to force a one-game playoff, lost at home. It was the second straight year my beloved Mets were in that situation and lost.
So if I said I wish I were a Minnesota Twins fan, could you blame me?
The Mets, who, despite their 145 million-dollar payroll, the second-highest in baseball, haven’t made the playoffs the last three years and only once since 2000. The Twins are a playoff team this year, their fifth postseason trip this millennium, in spite of their 67 million-dollar payroll, the eighth lowest.
Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota’s manager, has held the position since 2002. I don’t watch Twins games regularly, but in my opinion, he’s one of the best, if not the best, skipper in baseball. He’s come in second in Manager of the Year voting four times and it would be hard to argue that anyone does more with less. I can’t speak personally on his in-game strategy, but to be as successful as his teams have, he’s got to be doing something right.
During Gardenhire’s tenure, the Mets have had four different managers. The only one who could hold a candle to Gardenhire is Bobby Valentine, who took an overachieving bunch to the World Series in 2000. Jerry Manuel, New York’s current skipper, showed promise taking over for Willie Randolph last season, but still couldn’t stop a late season slide. This year, he didn’t bother enforcing fundamentals.
The Twins and Mets differ on the field as well. David Wright, the face of the Mets franchise, is a great player and role model. I could mention some of his disappointing offensive numbers this year to try and expose him as overrated, but I can’t do it. He is an All-Star , no question about it, and has a great attitude.
Outside of him though, it’s hard to find a generally likeable everyday player. Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes don’t fit the bill after they spent most of 2009 on the disabled list with mystery injuries. (Which reminds of yet another difference between the Mets and the Twins: the medical staff. From the clubhouse trainers all the way up to the surgeons, the Mets have a joke of a staff. I know nothing about the Twins staff but I still know it’s exponentially better than the Mets’.)
Along with Wright, the only player living up to the big expectations is Johan Santana. He’s tough, ultra-competitive, fearless — everything you could ask for in an ace. Of course, he pitched for Minnesota for the first eight years of his career before coming to New York in 2008.
The Twins, at least from an outsider’s perspective, have highly likeable stars — guys like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Mauer is an in-state product and a front-runner for the MVP this year. Morneau has already won the award, but you’d never know it. Both have been with the Twins their entire careers.
Listen, I know some of these characteristics I’ve described are inherent differences between big market and small market teams; but not all of them. There is no reason why the Mets can’t have a competent medical staff, for example. There is no reason why their highest-paid players can’t perform like the stars they supposedly are. There is no reason why the Twins could overcome a seven-game September deficit while the Mets blew the same type of lead in 2007.
The fact remains, of course, that I don’t really wish I were a Twins fan; I’m just jealous. I will be a Mets fan for life, which is why I hope they can adopt some of the qualities — heart, fire, sensibility — that make the Twins such a success.