A hush has settled on baseball for another year. Soon Target Field will be under a blanket of snow. But be assured that not all is quiet in the offices of the Minnesota Twins. In a move that surprised many, the Twins fired Bill Smith as general manager two weeks ago. Terry Ryan has stepped back into the role that he filled successfully for many years before Smith’s promotion in 2007. The Twins have lots of work to do in this offseason. So their stockings are hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that some help soon will be here.
Was Bill Smith the cause of all of the Twins’ problems? I don’t think so. However, at some point fingers have to be pointed at the person in charge. “The buck stops here,” a saying popularized by President Harry Truman, would be appropriate in this case. When so many things go wrong so quickly in a baseball franchise that has been successful for almost a decade, I look to the leadership. When things start going wrong is when you see the true leadership qualities of managers. Maybe Smith was just not up to the challenge.
First Smith was involved in several unsuccessful high-profile trades—including trading Johan Santana, Matt Garza, and J.J. Hardy for low returns. He let the bullpen disintegrate over the past off-season and made the decision to sign Tsuyoshi Nishioka only to find himself with a player who could not compete on the major league level. And, yes, the Twins experienced a record-breaking number of injuries this year, but was there something better the Twins’ training staff could have been doing to help keep some of these players healthier and on the field? The one thing I have heard consistently from Ryan is exactly this: the need to keep the players active and in the game. When J.J. Hardy was in Minnesota this summer with the Milwaukee Brewers he said that he felt that the treatment he is receiving on his troublesome wrist is much better in Milwaukee than what he received from the Minnesota Twins. Certainly injuries are going to happen, but maybe we need to look at the conditioning programs of the players to see if there is a better way to condition them and prepare them for a grueling baseball season.
So, why the Christmas theme for this blog? Of course that is a natural for me since I only have two seasons in my year: baseball and the holidays. The more important reason is that I am blogging today about the Minnesota Opera’s world premiere of Silent Night, the opera based on the 2005 movie Joyeux Noel. I attended a bloggers’ preview for this production last week. The first opera I ever saw was a blogger preview of Wuthering Heights last year. I honestly was not that impressed with that production, but I was excited to go back and give opera a second chance. I purposely decided to go by myself so I could experience this show without any other influences or opinions.
We had an opportunity before the show to hear from the composer Kevin Puts and the librettist (lyricist for an opera) Mark Campbell which was interesting. They said that neither had strong religious beliefs, and this is really the story of soldiers in wartime in harsh conditions. Silent Night is based on the true story of the truce that was declared on Christmas Eve in 1914 between troops on the front line from Germany, France, and Scotland. They explained that the timing of the story on Christmas is because this holiday in particular brings out the feelings of loneliness and the longing for home in all people.
I really enjoyed the show for several reasons. The timeless story of what war does to the soldiers in the field touched my heart. Also, this opera has what I expected to see in an opera: a story told in powerful song. The opera is actually sung in English, German, French, Italian, and Latin with translations projected above the stage. But because the story is well-known, the words were secondary to what I was able to experience visually. The action is intense at times, and the emotions are high. The revolving set designed by Francis O’Connor is clever and works well moving the story among the battlefield, the bunkers of three different armies, and a French parlor on Christmas Eve. The story kept me engaged and I found it entertaining and fast-moving. So if you have avoided the opera this would be a good place to give it a try: the last two shows are November 19 and 20.
When the truce was called the soldiers were shown mingling, sharing food, and showing each other pictures of loved ones. They also shared prayer and mourning for their fallen comrades, and there was a scene of soldiers throwing a football around. Sports are something that cross language and economic barriers and can unite diverse groups of people.
So I wish the Minnesota Twins well during this off-season and know that they will be doing their best to put together a winning—but more importantly, a cohesive—team for 2012. May all of you enjoy the holidays in your own ways, and come January I will be talking Twins again.
Photo: Gabriel Priesser, William Burden, and Craig Irvin in Silent Night. Photo by Michal Daniel, courtesy Minnesota Opera.
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