Have you ever gone to see a movie that was hugely hyped, only to walk out of the theater underwhelmed after deeming it just OK? Conversely, another film that was “just OK” might have impressed you if your friends had all told you it was completely awful.
Expectations can have an enormous impact on the way we perceive things. Which brings us to this year’s Minnesota Twins. Reality has finally set in for a fan base that was subjected to almost 200 losses over the past two years. Terry Ryan created no illusions of short-term promise with an offseason plan that was clearly not geared toward rapid improvement. What droplets of optimism existed last year around this time – that perhaps 2011 was a fluke, and that with better health the Twins would rebound toward the top of the division – have mostly evaporated.
Obviously the lack of hope for this season has led to a dearth of excitement surrounding the product. The lacking buzz was noticeable on Opening Day at Target Field, where patches of empty seats spoke to more than just the chilly weather.
I’d describe the current mood of the fan base at large as ambivalent, which is at least a step up from angry. Most who are paying attention can see a clear direction and long-term plan – more than could have been said the last couple years – but acknowledge that the odds of even staying remotely competitive this year are long. If the Twins dig another early hole, the reaction is more likely to be shoulder shrugs than outrage. Simply put: there’s not much room for disappointment with this team. How much worse can it really get?
But there’s plenty of room for unexpected outcomes on the other side, and this is where the lowered standards play to the organization’s benefit. Any sort of modest early winning streak will be met with intrigue. If the team comes together after a slow start and begins stringing together some victories in June and July, it will be easy to form (possibly accurate) narratives about a young group beginning to jell.
The fact that local ball fans aren’t necessarily too amped up about the current product doesn’t mean they’re not itching for a reason to change that outlook. And therein lies an opportunity for Ron Gardenhire and Co. It won't take a stellar team to reverse the trend of falling attendance. It will simply take a watchable team.
If the Twins up being “just OK” this year, most of us are going to be quite pleased. The team should embrace that dynamic, because this will (hopefully) be the last time in a long while that expectations are so low. Perhaps the lessened pressure will prove to be just what this relatively inexperienced group needs.