The Citizens of Twins Territory are getting restless. Those who haven’t given up and stopped watching altogether grow louder and angrier. Simply put, Twins fans are not happy. Read the comments on any online forum or walk into any Twin Cities sports bar, and you’re guaranteed to encounter an angry rant and several demands to fire Bill Smith and/or Ron Gardenhire.
The fanbase has good reason to be upset. After a second-straight sound defeat versus the Baltimore Orioles – the worst team in the American League – the Twins fell to 55-73, 18 games under .500. Alfredo Simon, owner of a 4.94 career ERA and better known for the manslaughter investigation against him than his pitching ability, became the latest in a long line of below average pitchers to dominate the weak Twins lineup. A season that started full of promise turned ugly right from the beginning, and it hasn’t improved significantly since.
But the biggest reason for all the anger and frustration? Twins fans are not used to losing.
A decade ago, that statement would have seemed completely ridiculous. Back then, Twins fans were as used to losing as they were to breathing oxygen. 1993 through 2000 was a procession of futile seasons in which the Twins rarely glimpsed .500 and never seriously considered postseason baseball. But times have changed. From 2001 through 2010, the Twins only endured one losing season. And even that season (2007), the Twins finished a respectable 79-83, and they quickly followed it with a high-speed rebuilding process that made them a contender the next year.
Back in 2000, the Twins finished 69-93. The 2011 Twins are on pace to finish with about the same record. The difference is that in 2000 the Twins sold only 1,000,760 tickets – just over 12,000 per game. This year they’ve already drawn 2,489,240 fans, and the total will likely surpass 3 million over the course of the remaining 17 home games. In the year 2000, those brave souls who showed up at the Metrodome were die-hards. They came to Twins games no matter how bad the team was, either because they loved the team unconditionally or because they were gluttons for punishment.
But the Twins have been pretty good for a long time now. And over that time they’ve acquired hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of fans who weren’t around for the lean years. There are three categories of fans in this group. The first is fans who were too young to follow baseball during most of the bad years. Anyone Twins fan younger than about 22 years old is probably too young to fully recall how terrible the Twins of the late 90’s were. I would envy these people, except for the fact that they’re also too young to remember 1987 and 1991. The second group of new fans is a contingent of people who have started attending games just for the experience offered by the new stadium. Despite not being die-hards, this group is good for the Twins, because they fill the team’s coffers and pack the stands. They also aren’t used to watching a losing team, but that doesn’t matter much because their primary concern is the baseball experience, not the talent-level of the team.
The other type of fans is probably the largest group: people who became fans because of the inspiring play of the early 2000s teams. They’ve been Twins fans for about five to ten years, and during that time they’ve become accustomed to watching competitive baseball. The majority of these people aren’t bandwagon fans or fair weather fans; they’re not the type of people who will start cheering for the Yankees or Red Sox if the Twins fall in the standings. But at the same time, many of them have never experienced losing before. It’s a new and very unpleasant thing to have to deal with.
One of two things will happen in the near future. The most pleasant scenario is that the Twins will prove that 2011 was a fluke and start winning again. In that case, all the frustration will die away and quickly fade from memory. Alternatively, the Twins could settle into a long rebuilding process and lose for a few more seasons. In that bleak scenario, frustration and anger would continue for another year or so, but eventually the non-die-hard fans would stop watching, leaving the team once again with a battle-hardened core of fans used to losing.