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Summer of Our Discontent

Cities tend to blow hot and cold when it comes to sports. Sometimes a city is hot, and several of its teams are contenders at once. Other times a city is cold, and losing almost seems contagious. These days, the Twin Cities are in a deep freeze, sports-wise.
The Vikings were 6-10 last year and face a long rebuilding process. The Timberwolves (if you haven’t heard of them, they play basketball) are the worst team in the NBA. The Wild (that’s hockey) were one of the few teams to miss the NHL playoffs this year. And University of Minnesota athletics have been at a low ebb, too. Under the now-departed Tim Brewster, the Gopher football team has fallen to the bottom of the Big Ten. Tubby Smith’s basketball team imploded this year and wasn’t invited to the NCAA tournament. Even the Gopher hockey team is sunk in mediocrity.
The one bright exception to this dim picture was the Minnesota Twins. Perennial contenders, they have won their division in something like six out of the last ten years. They play in Target Field, perhaps America’s greatest sports venue:
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The fly in the Twins’ ointment, of course, has been their inability to get past the Yankees in the post-season. Well, to be fair, they haven’t been able to get past anyone in the post-season. But hope springs eternal, and this year’s team seemed to be entering its prime, anchored by still-young stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Everyone expected them to win 90 to 95 games and qualify for another run at the Yankees in October.
Spring training gave no clue of what was to come. The Twins seemed to be rounding into shape, winning most of their games with injured players coming on line like clockwork to be ready to start the season. Unfortunately, what happened next was that the season began–and the wheels came off. Beginning with Opening Day, the Twins crashed and burned. They started poorly and got worse. Today, the Twins have the worst record in the major leagues. (I think they do, anyway; I haven’t had the heart to check the standings in a few days.)
Partly, this is due to injuries. For much of the season so far, the team has been without its 2, 3, 4 and 5 hitters. Mauer played a game or two and hasn’t been seen since. Morneau was hitting like Lou Gehrig when he suffered a concussion last July. He was out until the beginning of this year, but when he returned, he hit like Wally Pipp. I have never seen a team suffer so many injuries. That isn’t the only problem, of course: the bullpen is healthy, for better or worse. At the end of last year, the team let almost its entire corps of relievers depart for other pastures, thinking that they could be replaced at a considerable cost savings. That, unfortunately, turned out not to be true.
Here in Minnesota, we had a long winter, a late spring, and a cold and rainy beginning to the baseball season. Last year the Twins led a charmed life, being rained out only once in their first season in Target Field. This year, it has rained just about every day since it stopped snowing. Which it did, in fact, at a couple of early Twins games.
So, tomorrow is the first of June, and unless you are a completely irrational optimist, the season is already over. Minnesota’s last sports hope joins our other teams in the realm of futility. About all we old-timers can do is gaze at our Kirby Puckett bobbleheads and wait for better days.

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