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Friday, May 25, 2012

That Certain Age

As an 8 year old, I couldn't understand why
GM Andy MacPhail would trade away
Frank "Sweet Music" Viola
I recently surpassed it. A couple years ago, in fact. The average age of an MLB player is 28.68 years old. I'll be 31 in a couple months. For every Jamie Moyer helping to increase that figure, there's a Bryce Harper doing just the opposite. For every Cal Ripken, Jr., that holds on for another year and tries to delay the inevitable, there's a Miguel Sano hoping to knock on the door before he turns 21. It really is a machine that, as described in Field of Dreams, has been "the one constant through all the years."

It's funny what age does to the way you view the game. In fact, sometimes I even hesitate to call MLB "the game" -- a more apt term might be "the business based around the game." I remember the day that Frank Viola was traded to the Mets. July 31, 1989. I had just turned 8, my family was at the cabin for the week, and I was the biggest Viola fan in the world. One of my parents told me the news. The 8 year old me couldn't understand the practical implications of trading away Viola for, among others, Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera, both of whom would go on to have excellent Twins careers. The 8 year old me didn't think in those terms, of course. To a kid, losing a good player -- right in the middle of the season, no less -- made no sense.

With the benefit of age, and hopefully a little wisdom, things are somewhat different. I'm still a fan of the game -- of the institution. The older I get, though, I realize that the players, for the most part, come and go. They are well-compensated cogs. Denard Span, for instance, has been a great Minnesota Twin: a solid player; excellent with fans; and the recipient of a relatively team friendly contract. If I was 8, I would probably be crushed if he was traded this season. As a 30 year old, though, part of me is really hoping for it because the Twins would stand to get a couple decent prospects, at least one pitcher, that could help this team for the next several years.

I find myself thinking much more about the Twins' future than I did when I was 8, or even 18. Part of that undoubtedly is because the Twins have played so bad this season, but the other part might generally just be a change in the way I think about things. As a kid, or even a teenager, all you really need is a good day-to-day approach in order to get by. Good luck doing that as an adult! If you own a home, work, or ever plan to retire, you had better be forward-thinking and sometimes shrewd in your decisions. I think that's where I am with the Twins now.

But it hasn't been a 100 percent shift from the 8 year old me to the 30 year old version. I don't go to too many Twins games, based on where I live, and I actually hadn't seen Joe Mauer play in person until 2010 (not counting when I played against him as a teenager). So I still get excited for Twins games. I still think that there are players, like Mauer for instance, that I just wouldn't want to see traded from the Twins, no matter what the haul. I have a similar feeling for Justin Morneau. And I was still pretty excited this April when Mauer tossed me a game ball at Camden Yards. Things like that don't get old.

Now, though, there are just some other ways to appreciate games. Being able to look into some advanced stats has made me appreciate certain facets of the game. As I kid I probably didn't care about anything besides home runs and batting titles. Becoming a fan of the Twins' minor league system has also been great. And I would add blogging to this list, as well: being able to communicate about baseball to hundreds of other fans is pretty cool. But part of me -- probably a large part -- is still pretty similar to that 8 year old fan who probably said some pretty awful things about Andy MacPhail in late July, 1989. The 30 year old me is just as much a Twins fan, but hopefully a little wiser, and soon will need to seriously consider wearing sunscreen on the top of his head when he heads out to a ballgame.

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