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An old millennial’s first taste of Twins playoff baseball

From league laughingstock to championship contender in 2002

BBA-ALDS-TWINS GUARDADO-ATHLETICS Photo credit should read JOHN G. MABANGLO/AFP via Getty Images

This past year, I’ve provided remembrances of the magical 2002 campaign:

‘02 Memories

One sentiment not expressed in all that nostalgia was how new and exciting this all seemed to Twins fans. After the two-World-Series-titles-in-5-years period (1987-1991), this franchise dropped into doldrums that had to be experienced to truly be understood. The enormous blue swaths of Metrodome seats—the unwillingness of Carl Pohlad to put anything close to a competitive product on the field—the growth of the derisive, sponge-cake nickname that we’ve co-opted for this space. The 1993-2000 Twins were the absolute laughingstock of baseball—bar none.

Marlin Levison - STRIB 07/11/04 - Twins vs. Tigers. Tigers win 2-0. IN THIS PHOTO: There were plenty of seats available in the left field lower deck of the Metrodome for the Twins-Tigers series played this past weekend.
A typical mid-90s sight
Photo by MARLIN LEVISON/Star Tribune via Getty Images

This meant that a very specific generation of Twins fans—“old millennials” like myself—had only experienced regular-season baseball until ‘02. I’m not going to recap the entire Twins/A’s ALDS (you probably remember most of it), so I’ll instead touch on two moments forever burned into my hippocampus.

Moment #1—The Beginning

Imagine being a baseball-obsessed teenager and having the first playoff baseball game you are cognizant of—beginning as you are sitting in 10th grade trigonometry. I was absolutely crawling out of my skin waiting to get home in front of the TV. Fortunately, the instructor felt the same way and put the game on the little television in the corner of the room—you know, the one that showed Channel One News each morning. Ostensibly we were in “group study time”, but unless you count the break on Tim Hudson’s sinker or the launch angle of a Doug Mientkiewicz home run as “studying”, no mathematics were being pursued at that moment.

Minnesota Twins’ Doug Mientkiewicz (R) is greeted
Good luck focusing on sin, cos, & tan when this is transpiring!
Photo credit should read JOHN G. MABANGLO/AFP via Getty Images

Moment #2—The End

In a thrilling, back-and-forth series, survival came down to the final innings of Game Five in Oakland. Though seemingly in the bag for the Twins with a 5-1 lead heading into the A’s last-ups, Eddie Guardado—as per his penchant—made things interesting. As Oakland cut the deficit to one run and Twins fans were down to their cuticles, at some point my Dad turned to me and said “Zach, you have been waiting your entire life for this moment”. When Mr. Everyday induced a pop-up into the Coliseum’s vast swath of foul territory and it finally nestled into Denny Hocking’s glove, it was truly an emotion I had not experienced theretofor. The Minnesota Twins had won a playoff series!

Minnesota Twins’ Torii Hunter (L) gets beer spille
Let the celebration begin!
Photo credit should read JOHN G. MABANGLO/AFP via Getty Images

Truth be told, I remember very little about the subsequent ALCS versus the then-Anaheim Angels. I do recall Joe Mays giving me brief hope for a Twins World Series appearance, but then it was all Thunderstix, Rally Monkeys, & David Eckstein and that was that. At the time, the chance to experience any Twins October baseball was so thrilling and improbable that it buoyed the fan base through the four straight Angels defeats. They’d be advancing deep into the playoffs quite frequently now, right—right?!

I have a deep conviction that most of us are united under this Twinkie Town banner in large part because of 2002. From staving off contraction to running away with the division to winning a playoff series, ‘02 proved that the Twin Cities wasn’t just “Vikings territory”. You don’t get team reunion celebrations (or do you?) for ALCS appearances, so instead that special group must live on in the mind’s eye of those who were around to experience it.