I’m Ben Noble, and I’m the new editor at Puckett’s Pond. With less than two weeks before pitchers and catchers report, this is a good time for me to introduce myself to you and let you know what to expect for the coming season.
My earliest memory, period, is climbing over the wooden bleachers of Williams Arena, hearing the booming chants over the raised floor of, “Brewwwwwww, Brewwwwww” for the Gophers’ 7’3” center, Randy Breuer. I was about three years old, so I thought the home team was chanting, “Boooooo, Boooooo” in an attempt to sound like ghosts and scare the visitors into submission. I was three, so I thought it was a pretty brilliant plan. I still kind of do. My dad kept those nose-bleed season tickets to The Barn for years, through thick and thin, and that’s where he asked us to stash his ashes.
When I was about five or so, my dad and I went to The Dome for what I remember being an exhibition game. Jim Eisenreich hit a hard foul right at us; a guy a couple rows in front reached out to grab it, and it SMACKED off his hand and fell on the concrete at my old man’s feet. The man in front of us turned around as if to ask for the ball back, raised hand already beginning to swell. It’s the only baseball I’ve ever gotten from a game, and I still have it.
We headed down to Disney World and Epcot Center and Spring Training when I was eight. Kent Hrbek, he was so close I could smell the thickness of bacon grease on that man through the backstop fence. Greg Gagne’s grace on the field made him an early hero of mine, and I swear he almost looked in my general direction.
And then there was Kirby. He was short and round like the Michelin Man, sort of bulbous, and he was why we were all there. My mom suffered in that humidity too long for her liking, asked ‘why don’t they swing more’ too much for my liking. Kirby didn’t get a hit until he belted a triple late in the game to give the Twins a spring win in Orlando, and I told my mom that that was baseball, and my dad thought that was pretty funny. Baseball is a game of patience.
We won in ’87 and we won in ’91, and then I got drunk one night, ended up in New Orleans, and just sort of didn’t leave for a few years. This was around 2000, the Twins were absolutely horrible, and I learned what it truly means to be a foul-weather fan. It’s not easy to walk down the street and sport a cap from a basement dweller that half the people you run across think plays their home games in ‘Minndianapolis.’
I came back home to Minndianapolis and, after briefly working the door at the CC Club, ended up with a job in prep sports for the Strib. I covered Joe Mauer and Matt Spaeth on the basketball court and football field, and watched from the courtside press table as Oak Hill Academy’s Josh Smith–the most athletic teenager I’ve ever laid eyes on–handed a Patrick Henry powerhouse their lone loss of the season.
Later, I moved to San Diego and got a chance to watch my favorite National League team on a semi-regular basis; I had always been a big Padres fan, from the days of Tony Gwynn and The Crime Dog. I learned from San Diego natives that Mr. Gwynn was actually kind of an ass in person, and that Kirby Puckett wasn’t the only baseball hero of mine with demons in his closet. Still, reading box scores and watching highlights wasn’t enough, and I needed to come home. I missed my Twins.
MY Twins. There’s something about having a hometown team and there’s something about listening to them on the radio. Hell, there’s just something about baseball. My dad played the game when he was a kid, and your dad probably did, too. We all played catch in the yard and learned how to hit off a tee just like Joe Mauer and Barry Bonds and Terry Tiffee did. It’s something we all grew up with, a common bond that we can share across generations and differences as diverse as economics and politics and race. Baseball is American, and baseball is a part of me. It’s a part of you, too. It’s just something we do.
When spring training arrives, all these heroes of ours relearn how to hit a baseball by hitting off a tee. It seems such a simple thing, hitting a baseball, and you’d imagine for guys in The Show, it would be like riding a bike. But they’re all rusty coming into spring training, the vets at least, the guys with guaranteed contracts and spots on the 25-man. The other guys, the young guys playing in the prospect leagues, the old guys playing in Mexico? They’ve seen hundreds of pitches over the past couple of months, they don’t need to hit off a tee.
When spring comes around, the world is greener and brighter, and hope is boundless come spring training. Every year, without fail, for generations. Yes, the Twins might be rebuilding. Yeah, we might be looking ahead to 2016. But you know what? All the stats and all the predictions and all the statistical extrapolations don’t change the fact that the more the game changes, the more it stays the same. It’s a cliche, but we all start out 0-0, and the game comes one game at a time, one at-bat at a time, one pitch at a time, over the course of six months and 162 games. Until our leadoff hitter sees his first pitch, I fully expect the Twins to go 162-0 this season.
Our fine staff of writers–Chris, Paula, Michael, Brad, Paul and Stuart–are all returning this season to give you their unique and entertaining takes on everything Twins, and a few things not Twins. I’ve been reading Puckett’s Pond regularly for a couple of years now: they know what they’re doing, so there’s no point in fixing what ain’t broke.
I’ll be writing a weekly baseball smorgasbord, Twins Porn, that I’m pretty stoked about. Every weekend, I’ll give you my two cents on baseball, and we’ll look at famous people you might be surprised to learn played our national pastime, a profile of a random player that strikes my fancy–such as a man who played 105 games in The Show…without a plate appearance–and minor league profiles, along with the usual Twins players and bums of the week, and news around the league.
I’ll also be running a series on players the Twins drafted but never signed, such as the NFL’s Joe Theismann and Rob Johnson, a series on what the Twins might look like position-by-position in 2016, and how the five trades of the past year have played out thus far. This is the kind of stuff I’m into. I like looking up what former Twins are doing these days and sharing it with people. I hope you think that’s cool, too.
I’ve got a position-by position analysis on the Spring Training docket, of course, but we’ll also take a look at players the Twins signed to minor league contracts with an invitation to spring training. Most of these guys will start the season in the minors, but it seems as often as not that at least one of them starts the season with the big league club. If we have time, we’ll see what we can dig up on bullpen catcher Nate Dammann and other Twins staff running around Florida this summer who you might not be all that familiar with, but who help make this organization run like a well-oiled machine. Speaking of well-oiled machines, we’ll also take a look at why–GASP–Kevin Correia may end up being a brilliant signing for the Twins.
I checked out Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and the rest of the Beloit Snappers last season, and I have a couple of trips down to Cedar Rapids planned for this upcoming summer to let you know what I think of the Kernels. If Max Kepler is there, I’m bringing my best friend, a native of Germany, to do the interview with that dude. We’ll find out what he REALLY thinks about Volkswagens, sauerkraut and freaky German porn. Personally, I’m a fan of all three. Not really.
Okay, kind of really.
I’ve written a little bit of everything for just about everyone: I started off at the Star Tribune and somehow ended up at different times taking photos for the San Diego Union-Tribune, covering the WNBA for the San Antonio Express-News, writing nine-figure public works proposals for an engineering firm based in Georgia, and writing online sex toy descriptions. I’m finally getting to write about something that I’m truly passionate about.
But I’m no more passionate about our team than you are, and if I didn’t keep on getting paid to write, I probably wouldn’t have become a writer. And I don’t know baseball better than you do, I just have the time and a platform to put what I see and think out there. My point is that I want your feedback and input–you’re what makes Puckett’s Pond run–and we’ve got the means to make your input matter, whether it’s by commenting on our posts, through twitter, facebook or email. I’m here because you’re here, so let me know what we can do to make you feel like you have ownership of this site. We sincerely want to hear what you have to say.
It’s going to be a good year. I’m looking forward to spending it with you.