10/12/2002 7:57 PM ET
King of all clubhouses
Win or lose, the Twins stay loose
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Unlike the rest of us, who generally forget about that 26-9 shellacking in the weekly softball game as soon as the foam from our postgame beverage hits the lips, the play-for-pay set doesn't take losing lightly.
Nor should they. These are professionals, and livelihoods, not to mention legacies, are on the line. The worst possible thing you can do as an athlete -- aside from pulling a Randy Moss, of course -- is to get used to coming up short.
That's why most big-league clubhouses are dead as disco following a loss. Players practically tiptoe from the showers to their lockers, chin glued to chest, and when they're asked to comment on the day or night's action, they do so in hushed tones as if volume equates to a lack of caring.
They even eat less. Apparently, the grilled jumbo prawns don't taste as good after getting shut out by the likes of a Tanyon Sturtze.
Smiles? Laughter? A couple pops? Um, no. Jeremy Giambi made the mistake of imbibing all of the above on an A's charter home from Toronto after an embarrassing three-game sweep, and a few days later he was traded to Philly.
It's pretty much a rule: Win and you can thump beats like a rap star, party like a rock star and laugh like the guest star on Saturday Night Live. But when you lose, you sulk. In silence.
And then there are the Twins, who obviously didn't get the rulebook. The difference between the clubhouse vibe after a win and a loss in nearly imperceptible, and you have to believe that vibe contributes to their remarkable recent success.
Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota's manager, certainly believes. In fact, he's even more relaxed than his players, who after a gut-wrenching 2-1 loss Friday night in Game 3 of the ALCS were bobbing their heads to the Tupac tune flowing from the overhead speakers.
"A loose clubhouse, that's the only way you're supposed to play this game," says the man even strangers feel comfortable calling Gardy. "I mean, you look at [the general public] and they say, 'Man, I wish I could be doing what you're doing.' And that's exactly right. You should appreciate that you're doing something you enjoy all the time, you should be happy you're in that clubhouse.
"Enjoy what you're doing, have some fun in the clubhouse, and let's go out and play the game. That's what we talk about here: enjoying everything that goes on."
The players are listening. Even after losses, Torii Hunter holds court for anyone and everyone at his locker, chatty and smiling like he just got called up to The Show. Doug Mientkiewicz is the show, blending analysis with stand-up comedy to the delight of all. Cristian Guzman is throwing tape balls at Luis Rivas, then quickly turning away as he struggles to suppress laughter while trying to look innocent.
Surveying the scene is Rick Reed, a 37-year-old pitcher who has played pro ball for 17 years. He inhabited big-league clubhouses in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Texas, Cincinnati and New York before joining the Twins last season, and he thinks he might have found the fountain of youth.
"It's nice, it really is," Reed says. "I've been around a bit, but I don't think I've ever seen a team this loose, win or lose. And that's great, because losing can make you grow old in a hurry. ... It's almost as loud after a loss as it is after a win."
Silence? Not in this clubhouse. The only hanging of heads comes when someone's bobblehead turns up in a noose.
"It's a party, man. Why not?" muses Hunter. "This is supposed to be fun, so we do what we're supposed to do: have fun."
Mientkiewicz theorizes that the relative youth of the club is a big factor. Of the 25 men on the ALCS roster, 20 are in their 20s.
"Maybe we're too young and dumb to know any better," he says. "But if that's the case, we'll take it. ... I love our clubhouse. It's anything but a workplace to us, and I think that's the way it ought to be. We have a bunch of young guys who love to play the game, and that's the way they treat it -- like a game."
That's not to say losses don't hurt. "We want to win," says Gardy. "We really want to win." But when they don't win, they manage to let it go with amazing speed. So less than 15 minutes after Troy Percival closed out the ninth Friday to give Anaheim a 2-1 series lead, there were the Twins, looking, acting and sounding no worse for wear.
"Am I happy we lost? No," Hunter says. "But am I devastated? Not at all. This is one game, man, and until there aren't any games left to play, I'm gonna play them the exact same way. With a smile on my face and that love in my heart."
Hunter isn't the only one. This is the team that almost wasn't. The team that, once its head came off the contraction chopping block, ran away with the AL Central despite an injury-ravaged rotation held together by the same tape that Guzman playfully bounces off Rivas' bean. The team that won Games 4 and 5 to upset Oakland in the ALDS.
This team doesn't do down, and they refuse to believe that they'll ever have to do out.
"This is the time of their lives," says Gardenhire. "This is what it's all about, and I want them to remember this. So if I go out and say, 'Music off,' and start hammering them, that's not what we've done all year. We're going to do everything we've done all year, and we'll take our chances."
Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.