The Sports Blog: Land of 10,000 Lakes Edition

Even before Wednesday’s horrific bridge collapse, I had planned to dedicate my next blog entry to Minnesota sports. It’s no secret to most of you that I am from the Twin Cities and although I’ve now lived in Wisconsin about as long as I lived in Minnesota (i.e., I’m getting real old), I still maintain a high level of interest in what’s happening sports-wise in the land of Prince and Mary Tyler Moore. (Another sign I’m real old is that I can’t think of pop culture references that don’t date back to the 1970s and 1980s.) And although it’s now overshadowed by what happened Wednesday, this was still a very interesting week in Minnesota sports.

But things are getting more interesting closer to home as well. Especially in light of the beating that the Mets gave the Brewers on Thursday and the heated argument that took place in the dugout during that game between manager Ned Yost and players Tony Graffanino and Johnny Estrada. There’s several ways to look at the blow-up: One, that it’s no big deal, happens all the time and this one just happened to be caught on camera. Two, that it represents some sort of “bottoming out” for Milwaukee, which has slowly but surely gone from what was a seemingly insurmountable lead to falling into second-place (albeit by the slimmest of margins) behind the surging Chicago Cubs. Three, that the incident is actually a positive in that it shows that the team — well, at least the persons involved — is frustrated, fiery, and knows it can and should be playing better. In short, that they are not passively watching the team fall apart.

I firmly believe that the final interpretation mentioned above is the most accurate. While I still believe the Brewers will not finish the season in first place in the NL Central (read my previous posts), I find it encouraging that they’re at the very least ticked off at how things are going. You don’t want players or certainly the manager to have the blase attitude of “hey, we’re only a percentage point behind the Cubs with two months of baseball left to play.” You want them to be thinking “hey, we better wake up. We’ve let two dangerous teams (including the defending World Champion Cardinals) back into a race that based on our play at the start of the season we should be running away with by now. We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!”

I think we’ll see some improvement from the Brewers starting this weekend against the Phillies. Unfortunately, it won’t be enough to hold off the Cubs or maybe even the Cardinals.

Now on to Minnesota: Certainly the biggest sports story (with the emphasis on sports) to come from the Twin Cities this week is the trade of Timberwolves superstar Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics for about seven players, two draft choices, a selection of fine wines and cheeses, and a rare bootleg copy of the never-officially-released Jerry Lewis film The Day the Clown Cried. Although Minnesotans have a right to be angry about losing one of their few remaining sports superstars (Moss and Culpepper long since gone), they should be more angry about how the franchise has squandered KG’s best years than over the trade itself. After twelve seasons and only one legitimately successful year (2003-2004), the time had obviously come for the Timberwolves to try something radically different.

But while the Timberwolves probably won’t be good again for a long time (at least as long as Kevin McHale is in charge), I don’t buy that the Boston Celtics, who now boast starters Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, will just waltz to the Eastern Conference title. Though no one would dispute Garnett’s overall greatness as a basketball player, he has, like Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki, a reputation of under perfoming in big games. It also seems like more than a coincidence that throughout his time in Minnesota, he never seemed to develop any chemistry with any of his teammates, the most promising of which — Tom Gugliotta, Stephon Marbury, Sam Cassell, and
Wally Szczerbiak — seemingly couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Minnesota. Could have been McHale or Flip Saunders or maybe just the lousy winters, but I don’t doubt that Garnett had something to do with it. I just don’t believe that three major superstars like Garnett, Allen, and Pierce are going to be able to put egos aside and play as a cohesive unit. Will they be good enough to go deep into the Eastern Conference playoffs? Likely, since the Mandrell sisters could get to at least the second round in the East. But it’s way too early to hand them their pass to the NBA Finals. I don’t think they’ll get there.

With Garnett gone, the biggest sports star that the Twin Cities has is now probably Twins starter Johan Santana. But he’s not happy either. After the Twins — still very much in contention for the AL Central and the AL Wild Card — not only failed to sign a needed bat but traded away steady performer Luis Castillo — Santana verbally attacked the team, saying that the team will “never get beyond where we’ve gone” and that “it doesn’t make any sense for me to be here.” While I have no problem with wanting to win championships, the fact remains that many clubs would be happy to be the perennial contenders that the Twins are; in fact, they are on track to post their seventh consecutive winning season. Pretty remarkable for a team that MLB commissioner Bud Selig wanted to contract just five years ago.

Santana’s words sound remarkably like a quote that Randy Moss gave about the Vikings and his future with the team after Minnesota was embarrassed in the NFC Championship Game in January 2001. What happened to Moss? He was eventually cast off to the seventh circle of NFL Hell, or as it is most normally referred to, the Oakland Raiders, where he subsequently disappeared for two seasons. Perhaps the same fate awaits Santana. Maybe he’d be happier as a Tampa Bay Devil Ray or as a Washington National. Perhaps never being close to sniffing the postseason is less frustrating than getting there but never making it to the Fall Classic. Or perhaps Santana should just shut up and pitch.

Speaking of Moss and the lousy franchise that is the Oakland Raiders, Moss’s former Viking teammate Daunte Culpepper just signed a one-year deal there, based largely on the Raiders’s ineptitude at getting first pick JaMarcus Russell signed. Culpepper going to the Raiders is like if Britney Spears were to date Dick Cheney. A miserable union with two miserable partners that is assured of ending miserably for all involved. The Raiders stink and Culpepper stinks (and, except for one over performing season, has always stunk) and together they will cause a stench of the sort not experienced since the time my father accidentally ate some jalapeno poppers thinking they were chicken nuggets. I would be stunned if Culpepper starts more than one game for the Raiders. Oakland, meet Josh McCown and enjoy having the first pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

Before I go, best wishes to everyone affected by the Twin Cities bridge collapse, including all of the brave rescue workers.

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One Response

  1. I like the approach you took with this article. It is not often that you just find a subject so concise and enlightening.

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