It is becoming clear that there are two very separate ways to judge the 2008 edition of the Minnesota Twins. One side delights in Carlos Gomez flying around the bases, Delmon Young spraying doubles to the gaps, Joe Mauer finding holes in the infield, and Justin Morneau pounding pitcher's mistakes over the baggie.
The other half tends to cringe when the Mets trot out Johan Santana for another sure win, see Torii Hunter rob a home run, hear the guys on "Baseball Tonight" rave about David Ortiz, or even watch Casey Blake hit what seems like .450 against the Twins.
The first group can't wait for warm Minnesota nights, the smell of the grass, the taste of Walleye tacos, and the beauty of the Minneapolis skyline.
The second group dreads the freezing Midwestern Aprils and Septembers, the smell of the trash plant next to the new park, and the feeling that all of this new stadium business is too little, too late because the Twins missed that all-important "window" that small-market teams get to succeed.
So who is correct? Is it obvious homer-ism to be excited about the new flow of youth that graces the carpet of the cavernous Metrodome every spring? Is it good enough to be a fan of arguably the best small market team of the young 2000's?
While it is clear that the management of the Twins lacks the willingness to pry open the collective wallet of the team in terms of free-agent signings or monster contract renewals, the team has taken steps to build towards a future that may finally be in sight.
When the club locked up Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer through at least the 2011 season (with multiple options on both) and decided to keep closer Joe Nathan until 2012, they showed a interest in finally completing the building project that has been essentially going since the mid-1990's.
All Twins fans know the previous routine: The Twins draft well, teach well, and coach well. They always have a stable of young arms, a young and fast lineup, a limited amount of power...and about three players too few to compete in the postseason. When their players get too expensive, or are pushed aside by yet another top prospect, they are shipped out to the big-market teams for, you guessed it, more young arms and fast legs. It's a cycle that has been played out constantly and includes names dear the the Minnesota heart, like Milton, Loshe, Guzman, Rivas, Jones, Bartlett, Tiffee, and even the notorious Matt Lecroy. At best it produces 90-win seasons and first round playoff exits, at worst it gives the Twins something Pirates fans would be embarrassed to watch.
However, in the words of another famous Minnesotan, "The times, they are a-changin'". With the money that the new ballpark will bring in, the Twins will not become a big-market team. They will not have a nation, or a country, the South side or the North side. They will never have these things. But they will have pocket change, and they realize that. The steps they made in the long and cold winter of 2007-2008 may have seemed like more of the same, and all the more reason to cheer a little harder for the ex-Twins than the real deal, but this was just the final cut before the big push the A.M. (After Metrodome) era.
Twins fans have been here before and if there are not changes made to baseball's pay structure, they will be there again. But, for the first time in almost two decades, there just might be a end to this construction project, an end that will bring more than a few reasons to go out and watch the Twins compete with the big boys.