Sunday, February 28, 2010

MLB 10: The Show Review & Mauer Commercial

As any video game sports fan knows, Sony's MLB: The Show is the best baseball game franchise around (Sorry 2K sports, but it's true.) Unfortunately for most people the game is unattainable, seeing as it's only available on the Sony consoles. Since no one plays PS2 anymore, no one ones a PSP and 90% of people use their PS3s as glorified Blu-Ray players most of the people that read this wouldn't think twice about a game like this being released this Tuesday. But then again, most games like this don't have the greatest baseball player that ever lived.... Joesph Patrick Mauer.
One thing you might notice is that the cover actually says Joe's name and his credentials for being in the game right there at the bottom. I have never noticed that before on any game before. Seems to me that maybe the good people at Sony Computer Entertainment don't think that average Joe baseball fan will know who Mauer is. Also, not to get all paranoid or anything but doesn't it seem strange that you can't really see any good Twins signage. Possibly making it seem like a still up-to-date game once Mauer moves West? Possibly.

Anyway, to the game itself. Now since it doesn't come out until Tuesday you might be wondering how I got a chance to play it. I was at Best Buy the other day and I noticed that the PS3 didn't have the normal DJ Hero set up, and there was a big MLB: The Show (MLBTS) poster next to the TV. I thought at first it would just be the demo, but as I started playing I was delighted to find out it was the full build. Now, I should say that I am not 100% sure that it's the final build. The rosters were mostly up to date, Orlando Hudson was noticeably missing from the line up but that could be fixed with an release date online roster update.

The first thing I noticed about the game was that it was surprisingly similar to MLB: The Show 09. And that's not a bad thing, I am glad they didn't try and fix something that's not broken. The game does play smoother and looks noticeably more realistic. They added some features like the Home Run Derby and the All-Stars Futures Game but everything else seems to be the same. Now normally, at this point I would be saying, "if you don't have 60 bucks to drop on basically update rosters, don't. MLB: The Show 09 will do just fine." But then how would you play at Target Frickin' Field?

Target Field looks pretty awesome in the game, obviously the sponsors aren't all there. The big Budweiser sign in left field is replaced by some made up company (I can't remember what it is) but Minnie and Paul are there in center field. And yes, they do light up and shake hands after a home run. It's pretty cool playing in target field in late afternoon and seeing the lighting change and the signage light up. MLBTS now features day light transitions and long games will show shadows grow and the sun start to go down behind stadium.

The main draw of any MLBTS game is the RPG-like single player mode. You can start your career as a draft pick and work your way up to the majors. While last years version was awesome there was room for improvement. Fielding and pitching drills will be added to the already strong hitting and base running modes. But the biggest improvement is the ability to be the catcher in this mode. (Possibly, the main reason for using Mr. Minnesota on the cover.) In catcher mode you will be able to take advantage of knowing all the hot and cold zones and hitting tendencies of all the opposing players and be able to call the entire game from behind the dish. Hopefully, you have a good enough pitcher to see those plans through.

It's clear that Sony really outdid themselves on this game and I have no problem dropping 60 bucks on all these improvements. But I'd be lying if I said that having Joe Mauer on the cover hasn't affected my decision. Hell, I even bought The Bigs.

The Mauer Commercial

The television spot for the video game features Mauer's finest acting performance to date. He's composed, affable and truly engaging. He's like the Joe Mauer of acting. It's hard to say how the producers were able to bring out this previously unseen version of Joe Mauer. Some have suggested the crew and director locked themselves in the studio with the catcher until they got it right. They were there for six days.

Others believe Joe had an acting coach, who taught him radical new acting techniques. Chief among them was the aptly named, "Mauer Method." It's similar to Stanislavski's Method, where the actor immerses their self within the role so deep that the acting is barely even acting: it's the character being natural. The Mauer Method is trickier. It's believed that the other actor in the commercial was paid to go, in character, down to Mexico with Joe Mauer. They drank tequila and went fishing. The baseball player truly thought he was hanging out with the vice president of Sony.

When they got back to shoot the commercial, Mauer thought it was just a video conference. He was truly shocked when the dude didn't know who he was. It's totally believable when he's like, "dude, we went fishing in Cabo!"

Because they did!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Alliteration worthy of sentiment: the dollar dog

The Twins announced yesterday that their partnership with Hormel has ended, which means the Dome Dog is no more. There was sadness and outrage at the news across Twins Territory, but that probably says more about mid-February in Minnesota than it does the lost hot dog.

I will shed no tears for the Dome Dog. It was a good wiener, to be sure. But it wasn't my first choice of food at a ballgame. The price was outrageous - $5. Do you really want me to list all the items on the McDonalds menu that cost less than $5 bucks? You could get four McChicken sandwiches; I'll just leave it at that. And don't try to tell me that the small bag of disgustingly plain potato chips made up for outrageous price.

Instead, I'll be mourning the dollar dog. I've eaten so many more dollar dogs than Dome Dogs. They weren't the best dogs in the baseball, but I grew to love their salt and vinegar musk and their soggy, ill-fitting bun. On Wednesdays, they only cost a buck! Cheaper than a McChicken!

Even most days when the steamed hot dog cost $3.50, it was still better than most stadiums standard cheapo hot dogs. The dollar dogs at U.S. Cellular are disgusting. Even the famous Dodger Dogs aren't anything special.

Now the Twins face the mighty task of coming up with a good hot dog. Oh sure, there will be plenty of delicious wiener options. Kramarczuk's will ship several different sausages from northeast daily. And if the Twins have any sense at all, they'll have a couple kosher dog stands.

But what about the standard dog? The working-mans dog? They probably think they have no obligation to provide a tasty dog at a (relatively) fair price.

But they do.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Who Works at Target Field anyway?

After attending a depressing job fair and passing a later drug screen, I was officially offered a job by Delaware North, the Target Field concessions company. I'm supposed to go to a five hour orientation tonight at the new stadium where they'll train me in as a "food runner." I don't know what that means, but it doesn't sound fun. I'm guessing I'd be taking food from a kitchen to the suites or the fancy seats behind the plate. I'd have to wear a bow-tie.

Not Me

I'm not going to take the job. I could use some extra money, and I don't have many other obligations over the next six months. Yet, there's no way I can accept the gig for one simple reason: they expect all employees to work every single home game.

Besides not being able to attend a single game as a fan, I'm not sure you could have much of a life either. The Twins have an exceedingly erratic schedule. Unless you're a professional baseball player, I'm not sure anyone could swing it.

You'd have to be available for:

some weekday evening games.
some weekday afternoon games.
some weekend evening games.
some weekend afternoon games.

And how much would you even work? Let's do some math.

81 home games multiplied by about 5 hours per game = 405 total hours for the season

405 hours divided by the approximate 26 week season = 15.58 hours per week average.

Less than 16 hours a week. Unless they're paying about least $30/hour, you'd certainly need a second job. Even if you're in high school or college it would be tough to do. You'd be working around your spring semester schedule, your summer stuff and then your fall semester class schedule.

He Does

In search of answers, I contacted Andrew from Off The Mark. He was recently hired as an usher at Target Field. He's also a college student at Gustavus. I asked him a few questions:

How did you get the job?

I have a college friend (Craig) that has worked as an usher for the Twins the past few years. I've been looking at getting a summer job since last summer, because I've had very little to do when I'm not in school. So, my parents suggested that I become an usher, and they thought that I could go to Craig for some details. As it turns out, the Twins' policy on hiring new ushers was that they had to be recommended by a current usher, so Craig was my recommendation. I drove up to the Metrodome for my interview in November, and in January I received a call telling me that I was hired.

Are you expected to work every single home game?

Here's something that will probably anger you. For ushers, we have to meet one of two requirements during the season. Either we work a minimum of 40 home games for the season, or we work every weekday afternoon game (by my count, that's only eleven home games. However that's only the minimum, so by doing option 2, it would allow me to work anywhere between those 11 and 39 games). Since I have classes during the day, the second option isn't feasible for me, so it looks like I'll have to shoot for the 40 game plan.

Here's the kicker though. My brother checked this for me, and it turns out that there are only 43 home games during my summer break from college. So, if I have to miss 4 games or more for various reasons (other plans, family vacation, etc.), I have to make up those games while I'm at Gustavus...which likely means that unless I pick a handful of weekend games (yay 1 1/2 hour commute), I'd be leaving at 3:00 pm to get to Target Field an hour before gates open (open at 5:30 pm, so I'd be there at 4:30 pm), I'd work the entire game (until about 10 pm), leave around 11 pm, and get back to Gustavus at about 12:30 am. Throw in my 8 am class that I have 4 days a week, and I'll be a very unpleasant, sleep-deprived usher/student that's behind on finishing his homework.

What else do you have going this summer?

As of right now, nothing. However, my parents suggested getting another job at the TPC in Blaine (same one that hosts the Senior PGA) because I live just a few minutes from the golf course. They figure I could schedule those work days either before I leave for that night's Twins game or when the team is away.

Do you know which sections you'll be assigned?

Not at the moment. I have yet to do my training sessions, which occur on 4 separate days in March. If I don't know my assignments during the training, I'll probably find out after I've finished. However, I do have something to point out...I'll ask the question for you.

How much do you get paid?

I have no clue. I didn't think of asking when I did my interview, and to be honest, I don't really care. Working as an usher is pretty sweet even if I didn't get paid.

What and when are the training sessions?

My four training sessions are called "Team Alcohol Training," "Target Field Orientation" (read: ballpark tour), "Primary Orientation," and "Skills Training." When I applied for the job, I was told in my interview that these training sessions would be very flexible to schedule, and they would run from the middle of February to the end of March. So, I thought, "Sweet! I can schedule all of these on weekends so they won't interfere with school!" Not quite. You see, by flexible, they meant there were plenty of days to choose from. However, this did not mean that all 4 could be done on any day of the week. Two of the sessions were available only on Thursdays, a third only on Mondays, and the last one was Thursdays and weekends. At least I got to pick which days to show up...

Only one of the sessions is on the weekend, and it's on a Sunday (although it's the day after the TwinsCentric party on the 13th, so I have added incentive to go, plus then I can stay home for the weekend). The other 3 days are on March 1st (Monday), and March 4th and 25th (both Thursdays). The weekday sessions are all 6 pm to 9 pm (the Sunday one is 10 am to 4:30 pm), which if you throw in travel time is more like 3:30 or 4 pm to 10:30 pm for me. Additionally, I have a class on Thursdays that normally ends at 4:30 pm, which means that I get to skip part of it so I can get to my session on time. Normally, I'd be pleased to know that, but it's a class that I'm retaking in order to get a passing grade. Skipping the wrong day might be a problem.

Signing up for the training sessions was a bit frustrating, but it's just part of the process (sounds like Dayton Moore, heh?) in becoming an usher. Despite those scheduling issues, I'm definitely happy to be working for the Twins, especially in Target Field. Besides, I've faced adversity much worse than this before. I certainly can't wait for the season to start, and I'm even more excited for when I get to start working for the Twins.


So there you have it. He's a lucky bastard; accepted openly into a loving, understanding a flexible family. I've been grudgingly accepted into a cold, heartless corporation, only after passing a drug screen. At least I got the last laugh. Right?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Promoting Target Field Sterotypes

They should have built Target Field with a roof. There's going to be snow on the field until mid-May. What were they thinking?

Just kidding. I heart Target Field just the way it is. It may be a bit cold in early April, but we're Minnesotans, for chrissakes. 40 degrees in April will feel downright balmy compared to what we went through the past four months.

But just to placate the snowbirds and national media blowhards, I've created this:

It's a vintage J.C. Penny's snowmobile suit. How rad and Minnesotan will I look at Target Field? Very.
How comfortable will I be?

Throw $20 bucks at me and I might be able to find one for you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Presidents' Day post (a little late)

A bit of a downer after the raucous festivities of Nick Punto Day. But presidents are cool, too. Some were even cool enough to like baseball. As baseball became our national past-time, however, all presidents had to at least humor the game. Baseball Almanac chronicles the presidents and their involvement in baseball. Check it out. And here.

- Good old Abe Lincoln was the first to have been known to attend a baseball game. The Washington Nationals beat the Brooklyn Excelsiors 33-28. Then he died and his body got stolen. Happy Presidents Day, you guys!

- Gerald Ford was the only active president to see the Minnesota Twins play. On April 9, 1976, the Twins lost 2-1 in an 11 inning pitchers duel between Bert Blyleven and Gaylord Perry. Ford left early.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Nick Punto: an inspiration

Role models are complicated. They never fill out role-model applications. There are no role model elections, certificates, or training courses. Role models are unwilling participants in the lives of the young and impressionable.

If you told Nick Punto he was a role model, he would give you his familiar smirk and talk about some humbled aw-shucks-I'm-just-a-baseball-player platitude. But whether he likes it or not, Punto is a role model. Sure, he doesn't have the awards, the fame, or the zillion dollar contract of a superstar. And frankly, he doesn't care about any of that. What he lacks in national accolades, however, he makes up for in the often belittle concept of "hard work."

As cliche as it sounds, that's what Punto does. He puts on his uniform and goes to work day after day. The money is nice, but that's not why Nick Punto plays baseball. Nick Punto plays baseball because Nick Punto plays baseball.

There are times I'm sure he wishes that God blessed him with the homerun-hitting frame of Morneau or the sweet swing of Joe Mauer. But he's over it. Punto has never been one to obsess over personal accomplishments. The success of his team is the only metric that matters to him.

To the delight of cynical saberemathematctioas, his Nobel submission to the greater good of the team is not often quantifiable. So Punto is dismissed as the messiah for the ignorant baseball masses. These saberemathematcuioas, however, are biased toward superficial stats like "vorp" and "war," but overlook real stats like "pitches per plate appearance."

Punto was willing to take the pitches that others weren't. Last year he saw 4.23 pitches per plate appearance. That's more than the stat-conscious Joe Mauer's 4.19. How does Punto see more pitches than superstars like Mauer? One leg at a time. Just like the rest of us.

Nick knows that if he tried, he could hit 30 HRs a year. But does he give in to this temptation? No. He wakes up in the morning, puts on his uniform, and takes pitches so his teammates can study the pitcher and get hits for themselves. The fact is, Punto doesn't care who hits the HR, as long as it's someone on his team. This is a breath of fresh air in the "me,me,me" culture that we live in today.

In Native American legend there is a story about why the Bald Eagle is our national bird. Long ago there was a competition amongst birds to decide which bird could fly the highest and farthest. The winner was to be our young nation's official bird. A swallow knew that the bald eagle was the most capable bird, so it grabbed the eagle's back. The eagle soared to heights previously unimaginable. The swallow proclaimed that it was the bird worthy of the nation's recognition. So, the bald eagle didn't win. It's effort, however, shall never be forgotten, like Nick Punto. In conclusion, Nick Punto is the Bald Eagle of baseball.

Bald Eagle...OF AMERICA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

Thursday, February 11, 2010

O-Hud, D-Span, N-Punt and Lame Nicknames

I propose a new nickname for Denard Span: Every Inning. Denard 'Every Inning' Span. It's not a great nickname, but it's better than Span-Man or D-Span. Remember when baseball players had cool nicknames, like Oil Can and Rhubarb Fingers? Those were the days. Now nicknames are either a Chris Berman wordplay or the old, "first initial first name, first syllable last name" thing.

Who's our Governor?

Who's the backup quarterback?

Who did the Twins acquire to play shortstop last season?

Who was that basketball player who released a rap album?

Who did the Twins sign to play second base last week?

Give me a break. Orlando Hudson already has a nickname - O-Dog. It's not original or fun, but it's better than O-Hud.

The reason I say Denard Span should be nicknamed "every inning" is that.... you guessed it. He's going to have to play every inning of the 2010 season in centerfield. The Twins have four outfielders including Denard, but the rest of them are natural right-fielders. (Kubel, Cuddyer, Young.)

There's no one else on the roster with any major league experience in center. Except for...

Nick Punto, Super-Utility.

That should just about wrap it up for today. That'll get us thinking about Nick Punto and his various roles and nicknames for tomorrow... NICK PUNTO DAY.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Orlando Hudson's Batting Helmet

Newly acquired second-baseman Orlando Hudson has plenty of redeeming qualities. He plays great defense, gets on base at a better rate than Matt Tolbert, and wears a double ear-flap batting helmet.

That got me thinking about other Twins who have worn the double-ear flap. It's not the kind of thing you can just look up in the media guide.

I sent an e-mail to Paul Lukas, probably the foremost uniform expert in the country. Here's his reply:

Can't think of any other Twins double-flappers, although there have probably been a few over the years... Hudson has been double-flapping his entire career, so he'll definitely be doing in Minnesota too. Enjoy!

Even though Mr. Lukas was stumped, the Alright Hamilton research team had already come up with Chuck Knoblauch. Old Knobby, old sport. Look at him. And he wasn't even a switch hitter.

I wish Alright Hamilton employed a sports psychologist; we could really have some fun picking apart Knoblauch. Does he have a mental compulsion thing like Jason Segel? He can't wear anything on his head that isn't symmetrical. That's okay. Maybe our psychologist could help us answer other questions, such as: was Chuck Knobluach the most un-twin of all time? He's like a film-noir anti-hero. He helped the Twins win the World Series, but at what cost? He must have had some ulterior motive, like some elaborate scheme to put him in a better position to choke more people. Then again, he didn't seem like the kind of guy who could scheme elaborately.

We don't like our ballplayers to be too different up here in Minnesota. Knoblauch was really different. He was a second baseman who could hit. He was seemingly uncoachable, yet still played really well. That wasn't how life was supposed to work.

Maybe he acted like a spoiled brat because he was spoiled by winning a championship and rookie of the year. After that, he probably imagined that every year he'd bring home some hardware while playing in an intense seven-game World Series. No wonder he was bitter by 1995.

Or maybe the fans are too hard on him, our perceptions skewed by the march of time and our inferiority complex. Whoa Doc, don't turn this back on me.

Of course, any discussion about Twins batting helmets has to include Earl Battey. He invented the flap. Before Battey, everyone just wore John Olderud helmets.


Commenter HandsOnNight has come up with two Twins who've also worn the double ear flap:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Fans Shift Focus From Whining To Constructing Batting Order

How does the Orlando Hudson affect the batting order? That's the question many Twins fans are attempting to answer today by feverishly jotting down lineups. Yes, it's out with the old and in with the new for the Twins faithful, who've spent much of the winter complaining about their teams inactivity.

Most Minnesotans have had these thoughts running through their heads, twitters or blogs:

FIRE BILL SMITH. First he screws up the Santana trade, then he trades for the terrible DELMON YOUNG... And now he's content with this joke of a team that can barely win the WORST DIVISION IN BASEBALL.. . . . The whole organization is CONTENT with MEDIOCRITY. They just want to play for the future instead of GOING FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP. ...ALFONSO SORIANO ..HIGH TICKET PRICES . . . . THE YANKEES.... . .. .WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY...ADRIAN BELTRE.. NEW STADIUM. . . .. . . JOE MAUER.... REVENUE FROM TAX FUNDED STADIUM. . . SWEPT IN PLAYOFFS again. . . . . C'MON!
Now that the Twins have finally pieced together a decent off-season, will their followers finally give them credit? Probably not. And even if they gave Billy Smith his due, they'd forget to thank Joe Mauer; for it was he who included a "sign a decent two-hitter" clause into his new contract. Great job.

No, instead of offering apologies, fans will turn their attention to projecting the batting order. Quick! Look up Orlando Hudson's on-base percentage! Compare it to JJ Hardy's! Does Michael Cuddyer's productive September mean he should bat fourth and complete the lefty-righty-lefty-righty-lefty-righty order? Talk about balance! Brendan Harris would make for an above average 9 hitter, but will Gardenhire's man-crush on Nick Punto take precedent? The answers to a few questions only create more questions! Oh, to be a fan!


Of course, old habits die hard for some Twins fans. While filling out their imaginary line-up cards, some undoubtedly came across "3B" and then started howling for Joe Crede or Robb Quinlan. Some fans inexplicably expect the Twins to sign aging starting pitcher Jerrod Washburn, even though they probably haven't spoken to him since they signed Carl Pavano.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Old Thome stream of consciousness

The Twins signed Jim Thome, you guys! Like a while ago. I haven't been procrastinating the Twins-signed-Thome-post. I've been using the time to process the information surrounding his signing. I don't like to rush to judgment when the Twins sign a player. My preferred method of assessing the value of a free agent signing is reading what other sports writers and bloggers write about it...with a mood ring on.

After reading numerous articles and posts, my mood ring continuously shown an enlightening "Indian Red." (Sorry, I apparently have the world's most racist mood ring. It's really old.) According to the mood ring handbook, "Indian Red" means "indifferent." Not exactly a mood if you ask me, but who am I to tell a mood ring handbook it's wrong. Anyway, I guess I'm indifferent about the Thome signing.

He'll be a solid DH against righties and a very nice pinch hitting option. But I couldn't help remember a Jim Thome third-baseman not so many years ago. Of course, it only feels like a few years ago he was doing his thing at the hot corner, but really it has been almost 14 years. I was still methodically blowing into occasionally-working video games the last time Thome was playing 3B. That makes me feel old. And if this makes me feel old, I can't imagine how old the actually old, Jim Thome, must feel.

Jim Thome is a good guy. So when he gets older and worse at defense, it seems most baseball people are permissive. Thome became a 1B because he got older. Then he became a DH because he got older. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this, but compare this to my boy Miguel Cabrera.

They both transitioned from third to first at about the same age. The perception of these position changes, however, is very different. Cabrera is lazy and ate himself out of any defensive value. Thome, however...well he just got older.

And I understand how much harder it is to keep in shape as you get older. Age is a bitch. Even a few years ago I might wake up in the morning and say, "Hey, it's a nice day. Maybe I'll go for a run." Now I wake up and say, "Hey, it's a nice day. Maybe I'll watch TV with the windows open." I, however, am not a professional athlete.

I have no idea where I'm going with this. Please tell me we've signed Mauer and/or Hudson already.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Essay Contest: Orlando Hudson or Joe Mauer?

Yesterday, Twins territory was teased by rumors of imminent and important deals. The club was reported to be engaged in "serious discussions" with free-agent second baseguy Orlando Hudson. Plus, Mark Rosen came on the radio to report the Twins and Joe Mauer had agreed "in principal" on a new ten-year contract. It was an exciting day for those of us who follow the Twins disgustingly close.

If both those deals actually occur, it would represent a wild shift in (how most perceive) the teams' philosophy: cheap, cheap and cheap. The payroll would push towards $95 million, which is pretty wild considering they're opening day 2008 payroll was just $56 million.

And that's why all this seems too good to be true. It just doesn't seem possible that the Twins would shell out $3 million to Hudson and $220 million to Mauer; not for Twins fans who have spent half their lives complaining about their clubs frugal ways.

So here's the (strictly hypothetical) quandary: If you can only sign one player, which would you choose?

A few things to chew on:

- Hudson would take valuable at-bats from developing prospect Nick Punto.

- They'd have to sign Mauer to a long, long contract - seven to ten years. By that time he could be 40 to 45 years old.

- Mauer has lots of family in the area, but Hudson has NONE.

- Hudson could hit second in the lineup, instead of Jerry White.

- Mauer is a troublemaker

- Twins would have to get Hudson a new jersey and everything. Mauer already has one.

- A huge Mauer contract would eat up nearly a quarter of the teams payroll. Would the Twins have enough money left for that new dress they've had their eye on?

- Hudson is a shrimp boat captain.

Essays are due by tonight (Tuesday) at 11:55pm CST. Post them in the comments section or e-mail them to me (haasertime (at) yahoo)

Please, no funny solutions like "I think they should first sign Hudson and then use some of the Shrimp Boat money to help keep Mauer Chevrolet afloat to build goodwill with the Mauer Family so he'll sign back with us next winter after we trade him to Seattle for Ichiro in July"

Because I already thought of that.