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ISSUE 121 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/28/2007

Inside the Lines: Tough reality: So long stars

By Barrett Kennedy
Sports Editor


Friday, September 28, 2007

Being a Minnesota sports fan is like perpetually being in sixth grade relationships. Young attractive talent, some new prospect or draft pick, tantalizes us. Next thing we know, we profess undying love for our favorite budding star player after a couple brief years in the league. But, inevitably, big market money walks all over our poor hearts while we helplessly watch our favorites go.

This cycle of love and despondency is crueler than a ride on the Power Tower in sleeting rain. Fans hope for such great things from our stars, only to be dropped without mercy or retribution right back to where we started, the prospect search.

Kevin Garnett's exodus from his rightful homeland this summer served as the latest stinger in Minnesota fans' heart. The Timberwolves' front office decided it might be fun to set a record, so it sent the face of Minnesota basketball to Boston in the NBA's largest trade to date.

KG was the only, and I mean only, reason Stephen A. Smith could locate Minneapolis on a map. Now what is Stephen A. supposed to do? More seriously though, what are the fans going to do? We watched KG grow from a lanky but freakishly athletic high school prospect into the 2004 NBA MVP, all while wearing only Timberwolves blue and green.

KG was ours. We picked him, we watched him grow, we loved him, and we sold him. Welcome to the Minnesota farm that sells its produce for millions of dollars.

Of course KG had to go if Minnesota front office types are to adhere to precedents concerning departures of star players.

Before him it was Randy Moss' turn. Say what you will about Moss' character while he was here, unless you happen to be Joe Buck on a hysterically prudish tirade about certain end zone gestures in Green Bay, but count up the number of purple 84's still hanging in closets across the state. When the Raiders dealt Moss to New England, Minnesota sports writers covered it like he had never left Minnesota, and it was the Vikings making the wrong move yet again.

Even before Moss, the MSP International sent David Ortiz on his way to Boston in 2003 after the Twins did not elect to pick up his contract. We knew Ortiz back when he went by David Arias, years before he was voted Boston's "most clutch hitter of all time." Even today, Minnesota fans can't help but wonder what Big Papi would look like wearing Twins pinstripes on the cover of his recent book.

We Minnesota fans are the little brother who spent all morning digging through the cereal box in search of the mini Batmobile, only to find big brother Boston and his buddy New England already playing with it outside.

Big market teams have consistently gobbled up our favorites in the past, and it is about to happen again.

On Sunday, Torii Hunter played what was probably his final home game wearing a TC cap. Hunter is set to be a free agent at the end of the season and likely will follow the money-laden trail to a larger-market team. When Gardy pulled him in the top of the ninth, Minnesota fans saluted one of their heroes and began bracing for the worse news that is likely to come.

Even White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen, who is about as popular in Minnesota as prolonged road construction, understands. "I think [Hunter] makes the fans proud to be part of the Minnesota area," Guillen told reporters after Sunday's game. For the first time in my life, I wholeheartedly agree with Ozzie Guillen. I hoped I would never type a sentence like that, but Guillen is right.

Hunter saved Twins baseball during that senseless summer of contraction contemplation. He defied Barry Bonds on the national stage during the 2002 Midsummer Classic, wearing "Minnesota" in bold red across his chest. Of the readers from Minnesota, who didn't go outside that summer and jump into a few outfield fences?

Hunter turned down a 3-year, $45 million offer from the Twins in August. He's looking for a longer contract which, frankly, he's earned, but the Twins won't likely shell out that kind of commitment. Especially because they see what else is coming.

After the 2008 season, both Johan Santana and Joe Nathan are eligible for free agency. I wish placidity to new Twins GM Bill Smith during his upcoming decisions. I wish the same for myself while I prepare to somberly wave goodbye yet again to another star who first flickered potential right here in Minnesota.

Take a second to think about how many Kirby Puckett-type athletes have slipped out of the Minnesota sports scene in recent memory.

Minnesota fans are just like Cubs fans; we all anxiously await the next season, the next prospect, the next fresh start. Luckily, despondent Minnesota fans rebound just as quickly as 'dumped' sixth graders. We'll keep our eyes locked on the latest young phenom to air on FSN North with hands so jittery with excitement that our fingers can barely cross in hopes that this one works out.

But I'm austerely serious when I say that if the Twins trade Joe Mauer, I'm moving to North Dakota.





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