If the Minnesota Twins' clubhouse were any looser, the walls would cave in and the ceiling would crash to the floor.
In a typical scene played out at Camden Yards last week, infielder Denny Hocking squats beside one of the sofas and imitates catcher A.J. Pierzynski falling forward while trying to make a throw, as if his shoelaces are tied together. First baseman David Ortiz laughs so hard, the sound echoes to the warehouse and brings another round of mimicking from a few of his teammates.
Across the room, outfielder Michael Cuddyer sits in front of a television camera at his locker, waiting to be interviewed while filling with a sense of embarrassment. First-year manager Ron Gardenhire, who replaced the grumpier Tom Kelly, emerges from his office and can't resist teasing him.
"What's this?" he asks, his arms extended as he walks toward Cuddyer.
"Be thankful TK isn't here," says one player. "You wouldn't play for a month."
Other players join in with suggested titles for the piece being taped.
The Michael Cuddyer Show.
Michael Cuddyer - The Life.
Life certainly is a joy atop the American League's Central Division, especially for a team that Major League Baseball wanted to snuff out. The Twins were swept in a three-game series against the Orioles last week, but still held a 14-game lead through yesterday. They were 10-0-3 in their past 13 series before the Orioles slowed them down. Can anyone besides commissioner Bud Selig stop them?
"Major League Baseball tried to take us away, we wanted one more chance, we got that chance and look where we're at," said Hocking. "I don't know if we're necessarily America's team, but I think we're a good story. Six months ago we weren't supposed to be here. Yeah, that's a good story."
"If you are a true baseball fan," said first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, "there's nothing you can dislike about this group. We are a model team for the way things should be done around baseball. We don't have any superstars. We don't have any $100 million players. We take time out of our day to sign autographs for fans. This is the way baseball should be, this group right here."
Selig wouldn't agree. He wanted to contract the Twins before the season, and continues to hover over them like the Grim Reaper, even though MLB and landlords for the Metrodome agreed the club wouldn't be eliminated in 2003 if both sides dropped their lawsuits.
Selig recently called the Twins' success "an aberration," and pointed out the struggles of other small-market teams. Selig said the Twins and Montreal Expos remain the two clubs with the least potential for growth.
"There's no secret," he said. "They're number one and number two."
Imagine the words the Twins use to describe Selig.
"I've said enough derogatory things about Mr. Selig. I think we all know I'm not on his speed dial and he's not on mine," said Hocking, the club's player representative.
"I look at the stuff that he says in the paper, and I go, `Why would he say something like that?' I've talked to him on the phone and he goes, `Denny, I'd love to see baseball flourish in Minnesota.' Then two months later I read where he's calling us an aberration. I don't understand what his motives are. I don't understand what his objective is.
"I've taken the stance of sitting back and letting him do his own thing. The best thing we can do is what we're doing right now. You talk about satisfaction. It would be great to have him be in attendance in October at a home playoff game."
The Twins have come a long way, and not just in the standings, where they spent so many years at the bottom since winning the World Series in 1991.
"This team has been to hell and back," Mientkiewicz said. "Every guy in this clubhouse has been sent down at least once. We've been a last-place team, we've had the worst record in baseball, and we've all done that together. And now, to finally put ourselves in a position to go to the playoffs and hopefully the World Series, we don't take anything for granted."
Paying for Park
It's safe to say the Texas Rangers aren't getting a proper return on the five-year, $65 million contract they handed pitcher Chan Ho Park during the winter. Perhaps they're getting exactly what they deserve.
Their reckless spending hasn't kept the Rangers from again dropping to the bottom of the American League's West Division, the thud a welcomed sound to fans sickened by the obscene salaries made available to today's players.
Park, 4-6 with a 7.14 ERA after leaving the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent, returned to the disabled list Wednesday with a blister on the middle finger of his right hand. He also missed the season's first six weeks with a pulled hamstring.
The Rangers obviously figured to get more wins out of him, and certainly more starts. Park never had been on the disabled list until this season.
Towering Blue Jay