Posted by: justawriter | September 30, 2009

Far Afield – Still ruminating about autumn

I think autumn is here in earnest now. The nights are getting colder and the sun is setting sooner. I see birds starting to gather into flocks and feeding furiously to get that last charge of energy before their long migration to warmer climates. Even a few trees are shedding their green summer coats for the more gaudy fashions of fall.
Another season is getting to the point where it is time to harvest the fruits of a long spring and summer – baseball season. September is the point where the boys of summer either start thinking of their winter golf games or start dreaming about being the heroes of October.
It will probably come as little surprise that I follow the Twins. It is largely a territorial thing, I think, since they were the team that was on the radio everyday during my youth. I have been following the team since the days when Carew and Hisle were the big stars. Too big, it turned out, as they were traded once they realized their talent was worth more than the penurious Calvin Griffith was willing to pay.
That started a pattern that lasted at least a decade, where the Twins seemed to be in a perpetual “youth movement” because any older player who was good enough was seemingly too expensive. Twins’ fans gained the moniker, along with the fans of teams like the Cubs and Red Sox, of being “long suffering.”
Then in 1987, there was a glorious burst of talent when a manager named Tom Kelly seemed to catch lightning in a bottle for two years and brought a championship to the Metrodome and all the Twins fans. But after another good year in 1988, the Twins slumped into their old habits and we fans went back to our favorite pastime of grousing about the new cheapskate owner, Carl Pohlad. But in 1991, Kelly was able to catch lightning in a bottle for a second time and we wondered, was this the start of our own little dynasty?
The 1992 team may have been the best team in Twins history.
But after that year our World Series heroes started getting old and slow and the new additions never seemed to gel. For the rest of the decade, the team was so bad we never had to get our hopes up after Labor Day.
This history is why the last few years have been so interesting for a Twins watcher. We have been trained to treasure one or two good years because we expect a decade of famine to follow. But since 2000, the boys have been in the playoffs four times and were heartbreakingly close another couple of times. By the time you read this, we should all know if they have a chance to dash the Detroit Tigers hopes of winning the Central Division for the second time in three years. (I must admit, Detroit winning the World Series in 2006 was a heck of a consolation prize.)
I follow a couple of Twins sites on the Internet during the season. They are largely populated by fans who were still in diapers during the Twins World Series years. I chuckle when they complain how poorly Twins are doing because they are only playing .500 baseball. They don’t remember the years and even decades when winning half the games was considered a major achievement. For anyone who started following the team in 2000, the Twins have always been a team of winners and anything less than that is unacceptable.
That’s why I think the study of history is so important. It helps us understand people’s pattern of thinking. If you’ve only paid attention since 2000, the Twins have always been a pretty good team. Mystery and suspense writers who used to be able to strand their characters on deserted islands or isolated cabins in the woods now have to cook up excuses why they just didn’t get on their cell phone and call for help.
I used to be entranced by my Grandma Grace’s stories of the ’20s and ’30s. Those stories explained why my grandparents and parents seemed like compulsive hoarders. They would save string and cans and rubber bands. An empty sugar bag would be pressed into service carrying lunches, and after that might be cut up so the bits that weren’t in too bad a shape could be used for notepaper. For them, this was completely sensible because they had been taught by events that hard times were just around the corner.
I remember the 1970s, probably too vividly. I remember it as a time where if you invested money your first concern was safety and stability. Those were lessons that were forgotten as we got into the go-go “greed is good” ’90s. Safety and stability were downplayed as people were slowly convinced that stock prices and home values always went up and never went down. Even people who should have known better went on financial news channels (something else that didn’t exist when the Twins were a lousy baseball team) and made this a mantra.
It all turned out to be a house of cards of course. Stocks don’t always go up. Property values depend on the prosperity of the people paying them. If we are lucky, the people who remembered the lessons of 1929 have taken the right steps to avoid a lost decade of economic growth.
So it pays to know your history. George Santayana warned “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We need to remember to work during good times to prepare for the difficulties that we know must inevitably come. During hard times we must remember to endure, because things will invariably improve. My dad used to say that he liked rain because it meant sunshine was coming. With that attitude and a supportive community, there are few difficulties that can’t be overcome.
So for the next few days I will be rooting the Twins on to victory. But if it doesn’t happen, I won’t be too devastated. I will take consolation in the fact that they were playing meaningful games when most teams are playing for nothing but pride. And if they don’t win, well, maybe we’ll get them next year.
After all, it’s happened before.



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