July 15, 2007

Big Willow and the Other Twins

While the Twins swept a four-game series against the A's in what may very well prove to be the turning point of their season, I spent the weekend traveling between St. Louis Park and Elk River to watch my cousins play in state tournaments. Molly and Amy manned (or perhaps womanned) the left side of the infield for their 14-and-under traveling softball team, while Josh pitched and played shortstop for his 11-and-under traveling baseball team.

As my ridiculously burnt face makes abundantly clear, I spent a total of about 20 hours watching them play in double-elimination tournaments, with the only Twins updates coming via my trusty Blackberry. For someone lucky enough to call watching Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Johan Santana a "job," comparing 14- and 15-year-old softball players with 11- and 12-year-old baseball players was quite an experience.

Almost business-like in their approach at times, the girls' team had a seemingly never-ending supply of highly choreographed chants that they complimented with a constant stream of encouraging chatter. Not only had they clearly put some time and energy into what they should shout when in need of a two-out rally, they had entire routines worked out for special occasions like, say, someone leading off an inning.

Amy made all the plays at shortstop and ripped line drives all over the field as the team's leadoff hitter. She went 3-for-3 in Game 1 and started what was almost a game-tying rally with a double down the left-field line in Game 3. Molly looked like Brooks Robinson vacuuming up grounders and charging in to make plays on bunts at third base, and dropped down two Rod Carew-like bunts of her own that amazingly drove in four runs in the type of small-ball that even Ron Gardenhire and I can agree on.

Meanwhile, Josh's team mimicked those same chants that they've heard their older sisters do, but couldn't quite pull them off, sort of like the subtle yet massive difference between Sylvester Stallone and Frank Stallone (or, if you prefer, Jason Giambi and Jeremy Giambi). The boys also created chants mid-inning that involved random nicknames (Mr. Honeycutt, Robby Bobby Boo, Hot Pockets) and altered lyrics to songs Harry Belafonte made famous 50 years earlier.

Their pregame ritual was like a high-pitched Under Armour commercial, with Josh screaming "we must protect this house!" and "all the dogs in the house" saying "woowoowoo!" as he displayed what I imagine to be the best Ray Lewis impression ever turned in by a 12-year-old boy from Minnesota. The team played well and they were plenty disciplined, but rarely did they appear to be aware that the game wasn't being played in someone's backyard, let alone nervous.

Along with leading the pregame festivities, at various points Sunday afternoon Josh was dominating hitters with an overpowering fastball, rushing back to the dugout to eat a sandwich between innings, launching line drives into the right-center field gap, rallying his teammates by walking around with a bucket on his head, and shaking his hips, Willie Mays Hayes-style, as he stepped to the plate (apparently you don't get a nickname like "Hot Pockets" for nothing).

In between all the bucket-wearing and house protecting, the boys from Big Willow finished runner-up in the state tournament after needing an amazing comeback earlier this summer just to get there:

Jon & Josh Gallop, Sam Niedorf, Robert Dworsky, Nathan Levin, Jesse Benedict, Mike Badower
Ryland Dorshow, Quinn Rohweder, Matt Magaard, Eli Cooper, Eli Badower

Since I caught very little of the Twins-A's series, I tried to get at least some feel for what went on under the sunless Metrodome roof by looking at the cumulative Win Probability Added (WPA) totals for all four games via Fan Graphs. While not as interesting as figuring out what the WPA totals for my cousins' games would have been, it'll have to do:

                       WPA                                 WPA
Luis Castillo .561 Juan Rincon -.032
Pat Neshek .366 Jeff Cirillo -.057
Johan Santana .347 Jason Bartlett -.061
Carlos Silva .234 Matt Guerrier -.064
Joe Nathan .231 Garrett Jones -.079
Justin Morneau .200 Torii Hunter -.142
Joe Mauer .186 Dennys Reyes -.171
Nick Punto .168 Jason Kubel -.268
Jason Tyner .152
Scott Baker .147
Boof Bonser .116
Michael Cuddyer .086
Mike Redmond .080

Coming into the series, Luis Castillo had a .02 WPA in 71 games this season.

Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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