Down on the Farm -- Opening Day a Go Go
Opening Day! The first day of baseball season turns the crustiest, crankiest baseball fan into a kid on Christmas Eve. It is a day full of dreams, wonder and hope.
Will this be the year that goodness and truth will win out over evil? In other words, will the Twins beat the Yankees in the playoffs?
Not all of a baseball fan's hopes and dreams are nice ones.
For instance, will the traitorous and greedy Hunter and Santana get their just desserts? They've got their hundreds of millions, they're on the big city magazine covers--will the baseball gods see fit to bring them back to earth with a well-timed bad year?
One can only hope.
Hope. For our Twins, hope comes in the form of a raw 22-year old minimum wage phenom from the Dominican Republic named Carlos Gomez.
The fastest runner in baseball, "Go-Go" Gomez bubbles with enthusiasm, confidence and talent. He's also completely untamed, unbroken--a moody kid a long ways from home.
Last week, Gomez stole second base late in a meaningless spring training game. The opponents gave him the base. The catcher didn't throw, and neither the second basemen nor the shortstop covered the bag.
Yet Go-Go Gomez flopped on his belly in a dramatic, if needless, headfirst slide and clung to the bag like it was a greased pig. With both dugouts laughing, the umpire joined the act and dramatically signaled Gomez safe, as if it were the ninth inning of game seven.
Ah, that Latin flair. We complain about immigrants from south of the border--unless they can hit, pitch, catch or steal bases. Then we pay them big and get mad when our visa people won't let them across in time to report for spring training.
Twins legend Tony Oliva, who came north from Cuba before Castro's revolution, brought to Minnesota that Latin style: Swing hard, swing at anything, show off, play with panache.
Oliva was once a lonely, moody kid far from home, so lonely that he stopped hitting for an entire season in the minor leagues and was about to be released.
But crusty old Calvin Griffith intervened, signed up Tony for one more year, found him a Spanish-speaking coach to keep him company, and what a player he became.
A couple of weeks ago Tony O leaned against the batting cage and watched Gomez get some bunting tips from the master, Panamanian Rod Carew. "This kid is going to be exciiiiiiting!" Oliva told a reporter, perhaps recognizing a young version of himself in the wild-eyed Gomez.
We'll find out. The dark corners of every baseball fan's mind are stacked high with memories of phenoms who didn't pan out. Like the exercise bikes, yogurt makers and wine kits which gather dust underneath the basement stairs, that which inspires the most hope most quickly disappoints.
Bombo Rivera. Bob Gorinski. Roger Erickson. Jim Hughes. David West. Long-time Twins fans will remember those can't-miss phenoms, spring-training dream-makers who faded fast into selling real estate or pumping gas.
But for every hundred can't-miss phenoms who miss big, there might be one diamond in the rough, one little fat kid with a big smile that turns into pure magic and becomes Kirby Puckett, member of the Hall of Fame.
By June, Gomez might be on the bench, gathering dust. He might have injured himself sliding head-first, or running into a wall at full speed.
Or, by June the blue seats of the Metrodome might start to disappear under thousands eager to see the kid who can beat out a routine two-hopper to short, steal second and third with ease, then race home on a wild pitch.
It's spring. It's Opening Day. One can always hope.