Column: Whether you’re a satisfied fan depends largely on expectations

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 26, 2003

From 1993 to 2000, I was perfectly content as a Twins baseball fan. Being a fan then was easy.

The team had eight consecutive losing seasons. Fans were treated to the likes of Scott Stahoviak, Brett Merriman, Dave Klingenbeck and Matt Walbeck. These players had no future in big-league baseball, and it was not that hard to see. Free agents avoided the Twins like SARS. The only reason the Twins managed to sign guys like Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor was that Minnesota was their home state, and they had a soft spot for the team. That’s right, the Twins attracted only pity free agents.

The team stunk, and there was little question that it would stink into the foreseeable future.

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So why was it easy to be a fan? Because when your expectations are low, you have no chance of being disappointed.

You could watch the team lose 95 games (out of 162, for those who don’t follow the sport), and still have fun because you’d be looking for the positive.

You could see the team finish last in 1997, but still be excited because a guy named Brad Radke won 20 games. You could pin your future hopes for the team on a player like that.

You could watch the team try out something like 20 rookies in the course of one season (2000) and, even though they had a lousy year, you could be excited when a guy named Joe Mays showed some flashes of brilliance, or a guy named Cristian Guzman electrified the field with his speed, or a guy named Torii Hunter ran, jumped, tumbled and crashed across the outfield to make catches that would have been impossible for others.

Sure, they stunk that year, but you could find those bright spots and keep looking forward.

Now, it’s all turned around. The Twins are coming off two straight winning seasons, and last year made their first playoff appearance since they won it all in 1991. But now, even though some people picked the Twins to play in the World Series this year, it’s been miserable to be a fan.

Why? Expectations. Ones that have been woefully unfulfilled so far.

It only took a couple years for this success-hungry fan, so underfed for so long, to get spoiled. Now, after about a month of baseball in 2003, the Twins are stinking again, and it hurts to watch. They have looked utterly helpless against the mighty Yankees. The only team they have been able to beat consistently is the Detroit Tigers, who might set an all-time record for losses in a season.

Are the Twins bad? Probably not. They’re certainly going to wind up being better than the teams of 1993-2000. But unless they win their division, this season will be a major disappointment, much more so than any of those futile, losing years.

Contrast that with the hot sports stories in Minnesota this week.

The amazing Wild have won their first-ever playoff series. This is a third-year expansion team that basically had no expectations for the season. Making the playoffs was a surprise to begin with, and few people would have blamed them if they’d lost to the heavily favored Colorado Avalanche. Now, they seem to be capturing the state’s imagination. An underdog is liable to do that. If they lose to Vancouver, sure, people will be disappointed, but more focus will still be put on how far they went instead of the fact that they failed in the end.

And how about the Timberwolves? They have lost six straight first-round playoff series, and each year the pressure has built as the team has tried to end its streak of postseason futility. This year, they had the bad luck of getting a first-round matchup with the three-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. I would guess that few people would have been shocked if the Wolves had been manhandled in this series. The expectations were low. But the Wolves have won two games to the Lakers’ one so far, and the good feelings surrounding the team are surging. We’ll see what happens.

For me, I guess, as someone who’s most interested in baseball, I can at least be thankful that the Twins’ embarrassing play has been overshadowed so far by the postseason heroics of the state’s other teams. I hope the Twins can catch up to the expectations before more people start paying attention to them.

Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays. E-mail him at