Minnesota will take you back

Torii Hunter at bat during his original stint as a Minnesota Twin. PHOTO: Dan_H, Flickr CC

Torii Hunter at bat during his original stint as a Minnesota Twin. PHOTO: Dan_H, Flickr CC

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

With the notable exception of Minnesota Lynx WNBA fans, most who follow our state’s professional sports teams survive on memories of competitive Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves and North Stars squads. They must, in order to tolerate those same franchises, or their grammatically incorrect replacements (I’m looking at you, “The Minnesota Wild”) today.

Last year’s Minnesota Twins were 70-92. In fitting symmetry, last year’s Minnesota Vikings were 7-9. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was fired for reasons roughly translated as “mediocrity.” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, however, was lauded because his identically unsuccessful team was not nearly as bad as it *could have been.* Basketball’s Timberwolves and hockey’s Wild both got considerably worse this year. There is no specific reason to believe any of this will get better any time soon.

Minnesota’s sports problem may be roughly summarized by its dominant cultural characteristic. The state covets success just as any other, but fundamentally will eat what’s put on its plate. For a while, anyway. A few years, tops. Has it been 10 years? 20? Oh, look at the mirror: I am an old man now. Time flies. Oh well. (Which is right about when the Vikings lose another conference championship game in a manner best described as “sadistically fatalistic.)”

This spring has been an exciting opportunity to remember the most recent stretch of sustained success in Minnesota sports — the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Perhaps this is just a function of late Gen X’ers and early millennials finally reaching ages that allow nostalgia. For instance, people sure got excited to see Missy Elliot in the Super Bowl. Last year’s retread of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles baldly courted young parents just realizing that their lives, too, have mutated into warped creations, salved temporarily by pizza.

So when former Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter signed a contract returning to the club after a long stint in Anaheim and more recently in Detroit, my social media feed leapt up a padded wall in the outfield. Remember those great catches? That speed? Sure, it happened years ago, but we can remember it.

The same is true of the Timberwolves trade bringing Kevin Garnett back from the Brooklyn Nets. The Wolves best years came early in Garnett’s prime, but in his 20th year his return is mostly a feel-good tribute to a great career, and championships won in Boston (just like Minnesota’s other “NBA Kevin,” Hibbing’s Kevin McHale)

It bears mentioning that this pining for the Year 2000 in Minnesota sports seems ironically misplaced. Those teams won no championships, always faltering somewhere in the middle of the playoffs — often in ways that left generational scarring. Hunter and Garnett both left because they wanted to win a championship, not just get by. They’re back mostly because they want a comfortable place to play right before they retire.

Still, Minnesota is the kind of place where that’s just fine by us. These old guys (they are not yet 40) will impart their wisdom on those young whipper-snappers in the locker rooms and prepare them for long careers on other teams, perhaps to return at some point in an uncertain future. Why, it’s just like raising kids.

With Garnett, the Wolves have a good chance of putting a lovely bow on the steaming pile that was this last basketball season. And the Twins, my goodness, they haven’t even lost a single game in 2015. As any Minnesotan knows, that’s reason for unjustified optimism — proof that hope thrives on the thin line between winning and almost winning.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This post first appeared in the Sunday, March 1, 2015 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


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