Wednesday, September 27, 2006

That Magical Season

Hi there folks, I realize it has been many, many months since I put something up on Twins Chatter. However, the fact that I have a new column available and the recent link from Will Young inspired me to put up a new post. Enjoy "That Magical Season."

Make no mistake: Roller coasters aren’t for everyone. People with heart problems, weak stomachs and young children probably should avoid the unnecessary risk of these up-and-down thrill rides.

But for the rest of us? Call me crazy, but I think today’s gravity-defying, nausea-inducing coaster rides are just about the most fun a human being can have on this earth.

The 2006 Minnesota Twins season has been reminiscent of a crazy roller coaster ride in many ways. Things looked bright enough before the season began – the team returned every key player from a year ago and added a couple of veterans to plug various holes. But by May, instead of battling with the surging Detroit Tigers and World Champion Chicago White Sox for the AL Central crown, the Twins found themselves languishing near the Kansas City Royals with the other dregs of the American League.

Yet as everyone in Twins Territory should know by now, the story since that time has been an absolutely incredible one. Lead by a pack of “Piranhas,” a hometown hero, a burly Canadian and two magical left arms, Minnesota has been nearly 40 games over .500 since June 8, shaving 12 games off the Tigers’ lead in the division and cruising to their fourth playoff berth in five years.

I won’t go into the typical media-covered storylines in this space. By now, hopefully you know that Joe Mauer is a great hitter (and the dream husband of thousands of young Minnesota women), Justin Morneau should win the MVP award, Johan Santana is a lock for the AL’s Cy Young, and Mike Redmond has the olfactory fortitude to somehow “smell” RBIs (yeah… I don’t quite get that one either). If you’ve been paying any attention whatsoever, you’ve heard a dozen times how pesky Ozzie Guillen finds the Castillo-Punto-Tyner-Bartlett combination and that the Twins’ bullpen is the real secret behind their success.

Instead, I’m going to point out something that these 2006 Twins have given us that isn’t necessarily obvious at first glance: The gift of relevance. Seems like an odd thing to say, doesn’t it? Let me break it down for you: Twins pre-June 8 = Not fun to watch at all. Twins post-June 8 = Story of the year/Most fun you’ll have all day.

After reaching the playoffs three consecutive years (2002-04), for one 14-month stretch (April 2005-June 2006) it seemed like the Twins would challenge the Timberwolves for the title of “Most Irrelevant Sports Franchise in Minnesota.” World Series talk in ’05 translated into a mediocre (83-79) season, and after a 25-33 start to 2006, Vikings training camp was quickly becoming the most popular topic on local sports radio. My worst nightmares appeared to be coming true, as the performance of the local nine brought back memories I had repressed since those forgettable days when Scott Stahoviak roamed the artificial plains of HHH Metrodome.

This gift, more than anything else, is what I will take away from the 2006 season. The Twins may go on to win the World Series, or they might get swept by the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter – the buzz of baseball is back and it’s here to stay. Even if the Twins can’t win it all this year, with young players like Mauer, Morneau, Santana, Liriano, Nathan, Cuddyer and Bartlett, they’ll undoubtedly field some excellent lineups for years to come. By the time the team’s new stadium opens in 2010, the Twins could very easily have three more playoff appearances under their belts.

Baseball is in the hearts and minds of millions of fans around the Upper Midwest, and all is once again right with the world. The reason we follow sports teams in the first place is because they provide a release from the tedium of everyday life. Sports are exciting; work/school/life usually isn’t. And when a team proves itself actually worthy of that devotion (unlike a certain scandal-ridden gridiron gang I’ve heard is quite popular this time of year), it makes the end result all the more satisfying. Johan and company gave us a genuine reason to care about baseball this summer, and no matter what happens in October, it sure was one helluva ride.

Weak stomach or not, this is one roller coaster I’m glad I stayed on.