Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lost generation of Twins fans brought back in 2002

One of highlights of Opening Day at Target Field was the 10-year reunion for the 2002 Minnesota Twins team, the last team from the franchise to play in the ALCS. There were 11 of the 25 members of the team in attendance at the game along with most of the coaching staff. There were plenty of cheers for fan favorites like Torii Hunter, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Eddie Guardado. It is hard to imagine how far the team has come since the beginning of the 2002 season and if that team was unable to succeed, would the franchise even exists at this point?

After winning the team's first World Series in the late 80's and their second World Series in the early 1990's, the Twins would go through a stretch of eight years where the team would finish in fourth or fifth place in their division. The middle years of the 1990's became a tough time for the sport of baseball. There was the strike shortened year in 1995 without a World Series and from the next few years it would be hard to bring fans back to the sport. Rich owners and players had turned their backs on the fan base and it became a tough time for the baseball world.

Poor baseball in Minnesota would make it tough to draw fans but some fans would start to trickle back because of a few factors in the late 90's. In 1998, there was the chase for the home run record that had been held by Roger Maris. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey Jr. were hitting balls out of the park at lightning speed. Most of this chase for the home run didn't impact the Twins because a lot of that action was occurring in the National League. By seasons end, the team would finish 22 games under .500 and with the smallest attendance in the American League.

The next couple seasons would be more of the same for the Twins but something was slowly changing. After finishing the 2000 season with the worst record in baseball, the Twins put together a surprise run in 2001 to finish second in the division. For the first time in multiple seasons, the Twins didn't finish last in attendance in the AL. The fan base was slowly starting to grow because nothing draws in fans like winning on the field. The young and upcoming Twins had plenty of talent that was blossoming but the upcoming offseason would be full of turmoil.

Following this magical season, the Twins went through an offseason of unknowns. Tom Kelly, the winningest manager in club history, was stepping aside and an unproven manager by the name of Ron Gardenhire was taking the reigns. There were also rumblings across the baseball world of the possibility of contracting two teams from each of the leagues and the Twins were considered to be the front runner for deletion from the AL. After a bounce back year in 2001, the 2002 season looked like it could be the last hurrah for the Minnesota Twins.
The Twins would get off to a decent start in 2002 but their second half winning percentage of .611 would truly separate them from the pack. They stayed above .500 for the entire season and destroyed the bottom feeders in the AL Central. They spent 161 days in first place in the AL Central and the furthest the team ever got behind in the division was four games out of first and that was in the early weeks of the season. The franchise would qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1991 and they surprised the baseball world by beating the mighty Oakland A's in the first round of the playoffs. The Twins were back and they would stay atop the AL Central for a majority of the next decade.

One of the forgotten groups in all of this was the fans of the younger generation. They were too young to remember much of the success of World Series teams for the Twins. This meant they grew up watching painful baseball being played in an ugly white dome in downtown Minneapolis. The stands were mostly empty, the team failed to produce on the field, and the baseball world watched as the Twins were slowly dying. This lost generation of fans couldn't remember a time when the Twins had been successful but that would all change in the 2002 season.

These fans of the younger generation would be able to attend their first playoff series in over a decade at the Metrodome. They would get to wave their first Homer Hanky and watch their team celebrate on the field after winning their first playoff series since 1991. The Metrodome would be packed and the fans could feel what it was like when thousands of voices made the roof shake off of the dome that didn't seem as ugly anymore.

A new generation of Twins fan had been born and they would watch their team succeed at a high level over the course of the next decade. These fans that had been lost were now found and the course of the franchise's history would never be the same...

1 comment:

On the road with.... said...

You kind of suck.... i was going to write a 2002 post this weekend. Oh well. I guess I'll just reference your's when i do. :)