However, as April approaches, there is hope for the Minnesota sports scene. The Twins have an opportunity to regain the prominence they enjoyed in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Foremost, the Twins return a pitching staff which the finest in their division, if not the American League. Cy Young Award-winner Johan Santana recently signed a four-year contract, while pitchers Brad Radke, Carlos Silva and J.C. Romero each have two years remaining on their contracts. In addition, relievers Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan each signed two-year contract extensions last week.
We can only hope that the pitchers will be especially motivated in their efforts because of their recent signings. With such a strong pitching staff the Twins have the potential to win many close contests this year.
In terms of offensive power, the Twins will look to outfielders Jacque Jones (23 HRs in 2004) and Torii Hunter (22 HRs). The team would benefit greatly from a breakout year by young first baseman Justin Morneau, who hit .271 with 19 home runs and 58 RBI during a his half-season stint with the team last year. Furthermore, catcher Joe Mauer, a product of St. Paul's Cretin-Derham Hall High School, appears to be recovering steadily from his 2004 knee surgery.
Indeed, 2005 looks promising for the Minnesota Twins, and I think that a successful season could help Minnesota rekindle its sports memories of Kirby Puckett, Jack Morris and of course, Homer Hankies.
There was a time, before Kevin Garnett was "KG" and even before Randy Moss sent Vikings fans into a frenzy, when baseball was king in Minnesota.
I remember it well.
I remember going to the Metrodome and listening to Twins PA announcer Bob Casey scream "Kiiiiirrbbby Pucketttt" into the microphone. I remember cheering loudly as I watched my heroes, Dan Gladden, Puckett and Chili Davis run enthusiastically around the bases. Baseball in Minnesota was once truly enjoyable.
While many will argue that the sport which truly captures the American sports fan's imagination in this day and age is NFL football, I think that baseball remains America's foremost pastime. Baseball is the game of the passionate yet meticulous fan. Only a baseball fan can find true enjoyment in the at-bat which lasts 13 pitches, because the batter succeeds in fouling away numerous curveballs. Only a baseball fan can take pride in having witnessed a 1-1 pitcher's duel, in which both starting pitchers complete the entire nine-inning game.
In a sports world which praises the visceral and the fantastic from slam dunks to hat tricks baseball stands as a notable outlier, with its emphasis on the precise and the comparatively mundane. But nonetheless, baseball, especially Twins baseball, brings moments of excitement. During Game Six of the 1991 World Series, Puckett leapt up against the fence to retrieve a fly ball and, in doing so, stole a series-winning extra base hit away from the Atlanta Braves. The Twins went on to win that game (thanks to Pucketts dramatic 11th inning homer) as well as the deciding Game Seven to be crowned 1991 World Champions
It has been 14 years since the Twins achieved baseball greatness. Puckett and his teammates may be gone, but Hunter, Santana and Radke have the potential to build a memorable season of their own. During a year in which Minnesota sports fans have had little to smile about, I know that many fans will join me as I pull out my old Homer Hanky and cheer the Twins on to victory.