This article relates (if not directly) to this week’s theme of what makes a person cry in sports. The Twins have had a history in which tears would be perfectly understandable. Does anyone remember the mid 1980s when Ron Davis was our closer? Those were tense, arguably tragic, times. Before the homer hankies, there were just…hankies. But the real tears in Minnesota sports belong to Vikings fans. Before there was a toilet paper shortage, there must have been a Kleenex shortage in January in Minnesota. But I’ll get back to the Vikings in a minute.
My personal Twins worst game (though not an important game) occurred on July 15, 1982 against the Detroit Tigers. It was the first Twins game I personally attended in the Metrodome, I was in college and had spent money on the best seats I’d ever had at a baseball game. I thought I was returning the favor to my Dad who had taken me to games forever, by taking him.
New stadium, new beginnings. Detroit scored eleven runs in the top of the first. That was such an inauspicious beginning for the Metrodome for me, that crying didn’t seem necessary. Bowing my head in shame seemed more appropriate than did sadness.
In any event, it didn’t really seem like a great new beginning. Of course, by then, the Metrodome was already taking heat (too much heat, as A/C wasn’t installed that first year) and the Twins were awful. So, attending a loss wasn’t much of a surprise, but being down 11-0 before the home team bats…that’s rough. Can’t say as I’ve ever enjoyed a game less.
A Twins memory that more of us probably shared as a low point, must surely be the 2009 playoff game 2 in Yankee Stadium in which Joe Mauer’s critical double (top of the 11th leading off) was ruled foul. It was before replay could overturn a call…so the endless replays shown on TV just rubbed salt in our wounds as they showed how truly fair the ball was, and thus how truly unfair life was. The Twin went on to lose the best of five series, in three games. Did that call make all the difference? Probably not, but it didn’t help, and the Twins versus Yankees playoff woes seemed etched in sorrow from that moment. Not only could we not catch a break, we didn’t even get credit for the hits we truly deserved.
Which brings me to the emotional aspect of all of this, and the concept of crying in baseball. We are so attached to our teams, that the we/they aspect of winning and losing becomes so very real. “We” win! As if, “we” were playing second base or something. “They” stink, making certain all who know, know that we ourselves are in no way responsible for the ineptitude displayed on the field. If our teams are good, they are “ours,” and “we” win and lose together. But if they stink, “they” are “they” forever and always. Remember when “our” Twins won the World Series? Remember when “those” Vikings lost all those super bowls?
It’s more than language, it’s how we make ourselves a part of things, and perhaps it explains, ultimately, why the police worry more about the winning teams after a championship than the losing ones. The winners take to the streets, overturn police cars, start fires, generally cause mayhem….the losers stay home and drink alone. The winning fans feel invincible and all powerful, once again, as if they played a real part in the victory. The losing fans are…well…defeated. No need to go out and advertise such humiliation in the presence of others. Most of Minnesota sports fandom has involved watching other teams have parades, while we modestly feel happy for them.
Whether we were celebrating together, or drinking alone, we all have memories that put us in the center of things. With the Twins, as with almost every team, that has meant a fair amount of sadness, and rhetorical tears, if not the occasional real tear. Calvin Griffith’s penny pinching, Carl Pohlad’s penny pinching. The death of Kirby Puckett, the destruction of Tony Oliva’s knees, the trades of Frank Viola, Johan Santana, and Rod Carew.
The destruction of Met Stadium caused some tears, while the implosion of the Metrodome did not. Maybe it’s because the Metrodome’s time had come and gone, maybe because the Twins had such success there, while huge success at Met Stadium never quite happened. It was as if the Metrodome had seen it all, and it was time to say goodbye, while Met Stadium never quite got to see the top, and it all felt unfinished. Anyway, our stadium situation over the years, until Target Field, caused plenty to shed tears.
Minnesota fans must cry the most about the Vikings, though. So close, yet so far. The Minnesota Miracle elation followed by a total beatdown in Philadelphia. The New Orleans bounty-gate fiasco, a game that still could’ve and should’ve been won, but for throwing across the body one too many times, and too many men on the field, one too many times. For the Vikings, it’s always something. Like Rosanne Rosanna Danna (for those of you old enough to remember old Saturday Night Live), it was always something.
And speaking of being old, I can remember the 1987 and 1991 championships, but even I’m not old enough to remember the 1965 World Series loss to the Dodgers. So, for me, the Twins are the anti-Vikings, when they get to the big stage, they make the most of it. That means the Twins, even with a history of more losses than wins and more losing seasons than winning ones, are a championship franchise.
The Vikings, in contrast, with more wins than losses and more winning seasons than losing ones, are….well….not so much. It may not seem entirely fair to Vikings fans, but the truth is, until you win the big one, you just aren’t a championship franchise. The Vikings are a great franchise in many ways, and I’m a big fan, but they aren’t a championship franchise, and the Twins are, it’s just the way it is. The old adage that winning cures a lot of things, is so true, and our two most popular sports teams are proof of that.
If it would come down to making one very makeable field goal, the Vikings would miss it, and frankly, as fans, we pretty much knew they would. So close, so many times. 41-doughnut. Four super bowls but no wins, and, at least from what I’m told, the outcome of each of those four games was never really in doubt, as the Vikings were pretty much throttled each time.
But the Twins in 1987 and again in 1991 finally broke through the “Minnesota Nice” standard of getting close to the top and then letting another team have the victory and the celebration.
What makes a Minnesota sports fan cry? So many things, really. So many troubling memories. But rising above all those tears, “our” Twins are the one major team that has gotten us over the top, and as Minnesota fans, the Twins hold and should hold, a special place for all of us because of that. Winning it all, gave us all a chance to see, in some ways, how unimportant it all was, as we still were the same people the following day, but yet, it was all somehow different. Winning it all, meant that the Twins would never be viewed the same way.
Teams that get to the championship game or series, but lose, hold a certain place in the hearts of fans, and Vikings fans and Buffalo Bills fans celebrate those teams with a high level of passion. But, teams that actually win those championships are the stuff of legend. Mention the years 1987 and 1991 to a Minnesota sports fan and they’ll tell you immediately that those were the years the Twins won the world series. Other years, all those years in the 70s in which the Vikings made the super bowl, but lost, are just distant memories, not the stuff of legend.
Perhaps the line from “A League of Our Own” in which Tom Hanks says “there’s no crying in baseball” is true for Twins fans. We’ve seen it all. World championships and many consecutive losing seasons. Fear of contraction, the grim reality of the later years of the Metrodome, and now the beauty of Target Field. When it comes to Minnesota sports, the pain resides mostly with the Vikings on the eastern edge of downtown. The sun rises in the east, and hope springs eternal for the Vikings. But for the Twins, on the western edge of downtown, the sun has already set on championships.
As an older and long-time Twins fan, there’s something different about supporting a team that has won it all. The Twins can disappoint me, but I’ll always forgive them, for the joy they’ve provided us all. Championships, even when those championships are thirty years old, separate a franchise from the rest, and crying just doesn’t seem necessary. As for the Vikings, keep hope alive, but keep the hankies handy too, I fear there’ll be plenty more crying to be done, before a Lombardi Trophy is raised.
In 1987 and 1991, Minnesota sports fans had the chance to finally exhale, after decades of holding their collective breath. I’d really like to see the Twins win another, and many of you reading this weren’t even around in 1991 to have experienced a championship. But I was, and I did, and it truly changed the way I viewed the Minnesota Twins forever. For you Vikings fans out there, I hope they can do for you, what the Twins did for us, it would make every succeeding year seem much less important, in short, it would allow you to take a nice deep breath and exhale. Namaste, as they say. Winning it all can do that.