The Minnesota Twins Had a Historic Season with a Familiar Ending

Photo credit: David Berding (USA Today Sports)

Friedrich Nietzsche said that the idea of eternal recurrence came to him one day in August 1881 while he was taking a walk along a lake in Switzerland. The idea of eternal recurrence posits that existence recurs in an infinite cycle as energy and matter transform over time. Or, as Rustin Cohle from True Detective once said, “Time is a flat circle. Everything we have done or will do we will do over and over and over again — forever.”

Nietzsche didn’t mean for people to take his theory as truth, but rather to ask ourselves what we would do if the idea was true. As if we were like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day and relived the same existence for eternity. He assumes that our first reaction would be despair, given that the human condition is tragic and life contains so much suffering, but eventually we’d become life-affirming and embrace amor fati — love of one’s fate.

Too bad Nietzsche wasn’t around to watch the modern day Minnesota Twins. Their existence would have him reconsidering everything.

To see the Twins, a team that from 2002-10 not only avoided contraction but became a model mid-market franchise that dominated the AL Central, continue to be eliminated from the playoffs by the New York Yankees and dismiss the idea of eternal recurrence would be unfathomable. The A.J. Pierzynski, Doug Mientkiewicz and Torii Hunter Twins lost to the Yankees in the playoffs. The Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau Twins lost to the Yankees in the playoffs. Now the Bombas have lost to the Yankees in the playoffs.

Minnesota squandered an opportunity to take a step forward as an organization when Target Field opened. They had Mauer, an All-Star catcher, locked into a long-term contract. Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Joe Nathan and Co. made up a core that should have been supplemented with star players who would remain in the Twin Cities because increased revenues would mean ownership would spend to keep homegrown players in town.

Instead… well, we all know what happened. Bi-lateral leg weakness. The exodus of Morneau, Cuddyer and Nathan. Ron Gardenhire was eventually fired. Terry Ryan too. Total System Failure.

Mauer’s final game, where he emerged from the dugout in catcher’s gear for the first time since the concussion in 2013 forced a move to first base and altered his career, was made memorable in large part because the Twins were out of it and could use the final game of the season to celebrate his career.

In some ways, the 2017 Wild Card game was a harbinger for things to come. The Twins were up 3-0 in the first inning, immediately gave the lead away and lost 8-4. While that was a Mauer, Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana-led team, nine members of the current team were on that squad.

This year’s team won 101 games, more than any Twins team other than the 1965 roster that lost to Sandy Koufax in the World Series. They hit 307 home runs this year, one more than the Yankees, to set a new major league record. Nelson Cruz hit 40 home runs at age 39. Mitch Garver broke Earl Battey’s home run record as a Twins catcher. The pitching staff struck out more players than any other pitching staff in Twins history.

Rocco Baldelli not only embraced analytics and other tenants of modern-day baseball, but emphasized the importance of rest and allowed his players the freedom to do what they needed to do to be best prepared for the day. He’s created a culture where almost all of the pending free agents want to return, and the proof is in their record — they won games because they were put in position to play their best each and every game.

Baldelli, who gets a little philosophical from time to time, was as positive as he was throughout the season. And his players echoed the same message in the clubhouse.

“I mean it when I say to you that I do not sit here frustrated at all. I am extremely happy and extremely proud of everything that we just went through over the course of this season. Our guys should be walking out of that clubhouse with our heads held high,” he said.

“You only play in so many different playoff series, and you only get this opportunity a few times. Some people spend their entire life in the game and never get the opportunity to do what we just did.”

Even with the success the Twins had this season, he was second-guessed throughout the series — and rightfully so in some cases. Going to Cody Stashak early. Starting Randy Dobnak. Playing Luis Arraez over Jonathan Schoop. But he’s standing by his decisions.

“I never second guess anything that we do,” he said. “We stand by the decisions we make, and like I said, we just went out there and we were outplayed for three games. It’s okay to acknowledge that. We’ll be back.”

They’ll be back because this team is talented. They’ll be back because this team is on the vanguard of analytics and modern baseball. They’ll be back because they do what’s best for their players rather than adhering to old-time baseball tradition.

But they cannot, and likely will not, accept losing to the Yankees. Because beating them, and ultimately winning a championship, means a lot to people here. It’s why they can’t cheer in an unrestrained manner. And why some people left Game 3 early. It’s why many remain cynical about the team’s chances, no matter how the regular season goes.

The Twins cannot learn to love their fate. Because here, eternal recurrence means despair.

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