The Wright Call

By Dave Wright

Regular readers of this column are probably aware that I grew up in Detroit in the 1960s. I found myself thinking back to my youth in the Motor City on a recent Friday night.  

When I was a kid, the Tigers and Lions both played at Tiger Stadium. It was located just out of downtown. It wasn’t the nicest area of the city, but if you knew where you were going you could avoid trouble spots, particularly for night games. You felt a lot safer if you walked back to your car with another person at night.  

A couple of weeks ago, I was at Target Field working for the Minnesota State High School League at the prep baseball championship games. The Class AAAA game ended about 11 p.m. Going to my car in the lit Target Field parking lot was no problem. Getting out of downtown Minneapolis was another matter.  

Driving down Hennepin Avenue at that time of night can be an adventure. There were long lines outside a couple of venues and people crossing the street hither and yon, causing a fellow to check the doors and grip the steering wheel a little tighter. Hennepin, which was blocked off at Fourth Street, regrettably hadn’t changed since I was last downtown at the state basketball tourney at Target Center in early April.

Since I had once worked in that area of town, I thought I had found a way around the roadblocks to get to the part of Hennepin that would lead me home. I was partly right, but ended up going the wrong way on a one-way street. A policeman kindly pointed me in the right direction. 

As summer starts to heat up, this could become a big problem for the tenants and patrons of Target Field. It’s a jewel of a stadium, but it’s located in an area where there’s been a ton of street trouble at all times of day and night. Add in road construction and the fact that the first 10 weeks haven’t gone well for the Twins, and you have the ingredients for what could quickly become a lost season.

 

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As this was being written, the Twins were tied for last place in the American League Central. Byron Buxton, their best player, is beginning to resemble Joe Btfsplk, the Li’l Abner cartoon character who always has a rain cloud hovering over his head. Buxton has played in roughly a third of the team’s games. When he’s in there, he’s done very well (.369 average, 11 doubles, 10 home runs). When he isn’t—he was recently on the disabled list after being hit by a pitch—it’s a seven-man scramble to find a center fielder. Add in other player injuries and an inconsistent pitching staff, and you have the recipe for a last-place team. 

When your team was advertised as a preseason favorite to win the division and be a playoff factor, this isn’t a good way to convince fans to return to the ballpark.

Which leads us to the professional baseball team on the Saint Paul side of the Mississippi. Life at CHS Field has changed considerably this year. It didn’t take long for Saints fans to realize how different being a Triple-A affiliate is compared to the team’s first two-plus decades of existence as an independent. The plus side includes a chance to see guys like Buxton and Kenta Maeda perform at CHS Field for considerably less money than at Target Field. The minus side is that wins are no longer the top priority of the minor league franchise.

“Having MLB umpires routinely inspect pitchers for sticky substances turns a group of dedicated professionals into props for MLB’s weak stance on another controversial problem,” Tschida wrote.

Like a prep or college junior varsity team, the role of the Saints now is to have players ready to move up—or down—the major league team’s ladder on a moment’s notice. The old relationships that fans developed with guys like Ole Sheldon or, in an earlier era, Terrence “T-bone” Frazier will simply not materialize.

The Saints can keep some of the old traditions, like the pig mascot, but Major League Baseball is now one of the team’s owners. MLB has rules, some of which are unspoken, that all minor league teams must follow. The ticket prices are still quite reasonable, but the promotions will inevitably be a bit tamer. It can still be fun, but it’s a different game now.  

Downtown Saint Paul also has some issues, but not nearly as many as Minneapolis. So, as the summer warms up and attendance at CHS grows, the Saints will likely be fine. It’ll just be the baseball equivalent of watching your teenager grow up.  

MLB umpires asked to be Inspector Clouseaus 

At least for now, Saints fans will not be subject to the nonsense that started recently in all major league parks. The game has struggled along with several innovations instigated by higher-ups who clearly spent little if any time wearing a baseball uniform.  

First, instant replay was brought in. This seemed like a good idea to correct umpiring mistakes. However, instant replay is now used in a variety of ways that only slow the pace of the game. The penalty for suggesting a call was wrong when it wasn’t is minimal.  

Next came the rule regarding extra innings. Double-headers are now seven-inning games instead of nine. All that’s missing is courtesy runners for catchers when they get on base.  

Last week, in response to some whining, MLB ordered umpires to start inspecting pitchers for illegal substances. Former long-time MLB umpire Tim Tschida, a Cretin-Derham Hall graduate, happened to be behind home plate the night Twins pitcher Joe Niekro was caught with an emery board in his hip pocket. Niekro pleaded in vain that he needed the board for his fingernails and was slapped with a 10-game suspension. He was at the end of his long career and showed how much he cared about the suspension by going on Letterman wearing a tool belt. 

Tschida went on Facebook to offer some thoughts on the corporate offices’ latest brainstorm of having umpires strip-search pitchers in front of everybody.

“Having MLB umpires routinely inspect pitchers for sticky substances turns a group of dedicated professionals into props for MLB’s weak stance on another controversial problem,” he wrote. “Watching players laugh out loud during the process is an embarrassment to the world’s greatest game.”

Dave Wright can be reached at dwright53@msn.com.

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