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Somebody Owns a Bob Wells Jersey (10/13/04) --
As you have heard me say before, witnessing a game in any of the four major sports leagues is a big thrill. With the nearest teams playing five hours away, the privilege of seeing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Atlanta Thrashers is something that has to be worked towards. You just don’t score free tickets and then get back in time after the game to see the highlights on Sportscenter.

With that said, this past Saturday presented the sporting opportunity of my life thus far. Three buddies and I made the drive to the Twin Cities to see the Twins try their hardest not to let the flood of Yankee dollars drown them on their way to the ALCS.

On this Saturday and in that series, the Twins were the Titanic with none of the glamour and all of the mortifying shipwreck.

The day started on a sour note. After a loss in Game 2, which had the Twins winning in the 12th with a very real shot at going home up 2-0, I was incoherently angry. I’m talking the kind of mad where you can’t sleep, where your speech is interrupted by random and involuntary vulgarities, and where you have friends asking you the next day if you are “ok.” This loss was magnified more now that I was going to Game 4. Win Game 2 and I’m heading to see the Twins clinch this thing. Lose Game 2 and I’m going to see the Twins hold on for dear life.

Obviously the difference is striking. Whereas the party atmosphere was in effect on Saturday, it was not a celebratory party. It was more like the kind of party you have for a friend leaving for the military, where everyone gets excited and happy, but deep down you know that your friend’s immediate future is pretty much screwed. That’s how we all felt.

With Johan Santana, this year’s probable AL Cy Young Award Winner, taking the mound, I felt good about our situation. His pitching performance didn’t do anything to diminish that excitement. After five innings, Millionaires’ Row had managed just a single run.

Then Gardy pulled him.

The latest in this Fort Knox of dubious managerial decisions known as the 2004 ALDS, Gardy’s yanking of Santana after 87 pitches is one that many will ponder for some time. But after a bottom of the fifth which saw a homerun by Henry Blanco (to which my friend Tye said, “I refuse to stoop to cheering for Henry Blanco”) and a clutch double by Lew Ford (“Leeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeew,”) we were all too excited to care.

Then it started happening. That “this shouldn’t be going on, but I’m not going to stop it, and I know deep down that it’s going to be the downfall of us all” feeling in your gut. Everyone in my group and in the sections around us started talking about Game Five. When is it? Who are we going to throw? Do you put Lew back in left field? I didn’t want to play this game, but I didn’t want to be the overly superstitious party-pooper either. So like a complete idiot, I started setting up my pitching staff for Game Five. I had the starter, the relievers, the lineup set…

And then Ruben Sierra broke his Rawlings Big Stick over my head and shoved the splinters into my eyeballs.

While the eighth inning was already starting badly, with a cruising Grant Balfour being replaced by Juan Rincon, things got way worse in a hurry. Rincon gave up the second run and then served up a heaping helping of meatball to Sierra who smashed the ball over the baggie.

That homerun is something that will stick with me until I stop watching baseball or when Bud Selig anoints himself “commissioner for life” (this is the same day.) We were all screaming and waving our Homer Hankies. But with a class-action shot to the junk, Ruben Sierra shut us all up. The ball hung in suspended animation over right-field, its laces twisting into a mouth which said, “This homerun was bought with the blood money of Steinbrenner and paid for with the steroids of Sierra. Juan Rincon? You damn fools.” How could we argue? Why were we surprised?

The rest of the game was marked with the collective knowledge that even if the Twins were spotted a scoring-position base runner in each inning for the remainder of the game, there was no way they were scoring again. Blanco, who had two great at-bats, had been lifted, and Jim Thome isn’t on the team. Nor is any power hitter for that matter. Luis Rivas is, but my chances of hitting a homerun might have been slightly better than his.

In the end, it was an 11th inning wild pitch that got by former Eisenhower cabinet member, Pat Borders, that did the Twins in. Dejected, broken, and weak, I left my only professional playoff game with a renewed hatred for all things Yankees. Whatever doesn’t kill me AND makes me hate the Yankees more can only make me stronger, I suppose, but it still won't let me forgive the bastards for ruining my one brush with postseason greatness.


- This day was a lot of fun because everyone had some sort of Twins shirt on. While the Santana “jersey-shirt” was the garment of choice, I was more interested in the jersey selections. While I was more proud of my Mientkiewicz jersey that I wore now than when he was on the team, it didn’t make the top three which were:

3) Matt LeCroy. If it looks like a softball player and it plays like a softball player… it should be worn on your back for the world to see.
2) Tom Kelly. The sight of the “Kelly 10” jersey in the row in front of me made me applaud the genius of its owner.

And the winner….

1) Bob Wells. I saw this one on the concourse outside on a chubby, graying guy. I immediately called Dan, the biggest Wells fan in the world, and let him know of this startling and hilarious sight. He immediately responded with the question I had asked moments earlier “Are you sure it isn’t actually Bob Wells?”

- I sat in the upper deck in the Metrodome for the first time I can remember. They were satisfactory seats for a playoff game, but anybody who sits up there just to save $5 during the regular season is an idiot and is deserving of the vertigo he is plagued with.

- In our group of four, at least I didn’t lose the seat lottery. We randomly distributed our tickets and the loser in our group was Bingo, who had the guy with the longest, greasiest hair north of the 40th parallel sitting directly in front of him. Every time this guy stood up, Bingo had to shelter his pop for fear that he would have to taste his hair if it fell into his drink. I tried to reassure him, but my claims that “at least it won’t taste like shampoo” seemed to fall on deaf ears.

- On Sierra’s drive to right, not a single person in my section yelled “BAGGIE!” to convince it to stay in. The ball then proceeded out of the park. Coincidence? If you think so, you just don’t know the Metrodome or Twins baseball.

- I picked up the 2004 Homer Hanky, which (for the moment) completes my collection of all five Hankies (87, 91, 02, 03, 04.) As a Twins fan, waving a Homer Hanky at a playoff game was pretty much the ultimate thing I could do, although Tye pretty much killed the thrill when he noted, “Only Minnesota fans would think to wave their snot towels to support their team.”

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