FORT MYERS, FLA. — This was the early 1980s and sports columnist Mark Whicker was on an assignment for the Philadelphia Daily News. We were having dinner on the deck of what’s now Maynard’s on Lake Minnetonka.
Whicker had been struck by the incredibly low interest in the Twins. To confirm this, he started asking members of the serving staff if they had an update on the Twins score.
The waiters were so insulted to have received this question that I feared they were going to report Whicker to security.
Soon thereafter, the outside possibility of a move to St. Petersburg, Fla., passed, the Twins were sold to Carl Pohlad in the summer of 1984, and three years later, a World Series was won.
Another crisis surfaced in the late ’90s: The Twins were losing constantly, making no progress on a new ballpark, and Pohlad was ridiculed when appearing before a legislative committee.
The drama carried on and reached its peak on Nov. 6, 2001, when major league owners voted 28-2 to contract a pair of teams — with reports indicating those would be the Montreal Expos and the Twins.
In reality, it probably was a bluff all along, and the 2002 Twins took care of that by winning the team’s first Central Division title and claiming what stands as their last playoff victory.
It was a 3-2 upset of the Oakland A’s that spoiled the walkoff for the movie “Moneyball.’’
There were six division titles won from 2002 to 2010, the last coming in the glorious summer of 2010, when the Twins opened Target Field with 94 wins and a paid attendance of 3,223,640.
We thought the days of crises were over.
This is surely a different degree as the Twins approach 2017, but it is a crisis nonetheless, when you consider the competition for the nightly hands full of dollars that a losing baseball team faces in America’s most crowded sports market (per capita).
The addition of United FC placed the Twin Cities among 10 markets with teams in the five full-season major leagues: baseball, Major League Soccer, NFL, NBA and NHL.
Among those, the Twin Cities top only Denver in population. We also have a Big Ten school in the middle of things that’s trying to demand big dollars for tickets and donations in football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey. The University of Colorado is 28 miles from Denver in Boulder, and doesn’t have a hockey team.
The Vikings have the new, monstrous toy in town, and have tried to suck up every available sponsorship dollar in the market. The Wild is primed for a long playoff run that will capture the headlines from baseball’s Opening Day to Memorial Day, and perhaps beyond.
Soccer games will be a new social event for a younger generation that wants to save on tickets so there will be money left for an extra craft beer. Mike Veeck has a magnificent boutique ballpark in St. Paul for that same crowd, and the Lynx will be bringing their winning basketball to the Saintly City this summer.
Against this onslaught, the Twins have responded to the worst season in franchise history by changing the top of the baseball operation, and adding a catcher who might be able to steal three or four pitches a week for a pitching staff with a 5.08 ERA (29th-highest among 30 teams) and a 36-year-old lefthanded reliever tasked with changing the “culture.’’
I can see where Derek Falvey, the new chief baseball officer, is coming from in signing Craig Breslow. Falvey was with Cleveland last July 31 when Andrew Miller was acquired by the Indians, and that lefthanded reliever certainly succeeded in changing baseball’s prior culture of bullpen usage.
Then again, the Miller comparison might be a reach, since Breslow arrives with a 4.93 ERA over the past three seasons, and having been released twice in a 20-day period last summer.
Falvey and his compadre, Thad Levine, also added righthanded reliever Matt Belisle, whose numbers were good last season for Washington.
The crisis here is not the animus the Twins have faced for much of the monumental downturn since 2010. Terry Ryan became the symbol of that, and with him fired and replaced by Falvey and Levine, much of the team’s clientele has responded thusly:
They know this is a reset for the Twins, and they aren’t mad anymore.
They just have so many other preferable options on the Twin Cities sports calendar — with the Wild as 1A — that the Twins start spring training as much an afterthought as when my friend Whicker was trying to get a score update on a summer night 30-some years ago.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org