In 1960, the Lakers left Minneapolis for Los Angeles. The cities only professional sports franchise was gone. Minnesota was left with no professional teams to follow. Fortunately, the the vacancy would be filled in 1961, as the NFL's Vikings were founded, and MLB's Washington Senators were moving to Bloomington to become the Twins. 6 years after that, the NHL expanded, placing the North Stars in Blooomington. The NBA would arrive again in 1989 when the expansion Timberwolves came to town. The cities that were sportsless in 1960 now had all four major franchises. Except for the gap between the North Stars departure in 1993 and the arrival of the Wild in 2000, the Twin Cities have been a 4 sport community ever since.
Minnesota, perhaps more than any other state in the union, is dedicated to hockey. Of course, the NFL is the most popular sport in the country, and things aren't that different in the Twin Cities, where folks are obsessed with the Vikings. In Minneapolis especially, the Timberwolves are regaining popularity. The popularity of the state's only Division 1 school, the University of Minnesota, can't be understated either.
The hearts of Minnesota are drawn to many players. Fran Tarkenton, Kirby Puckett, Lou Nanne and on and on. The quirky thing about the Twin Cities, and perhaps I just notice because I live here, is that we Minnesotans like to attach our stars to rather mediocre players. Lew Ford, Mark Madsen, Derek Boogaard, Bob Lurtsema. If there is one position that has featured guys that endeared themselves to Minnesotans and has featured incredibly talented players. That position is the Twins First Baseman
When the Twins first came into being, they came with a hall of famer manning firs
t base. Harmon Killebrew was 25 and in his 7th season, his third full year. He would spend 13 more seasons in Minnesota before ending his career in Kansas City. He was the first Hall of Famer the Twins had, thanks to his 573 career home runs and his outgoing, fan friendly attitude. Interestingly, it took until April 30th before Killebrew played his first game in Minnesota. Don Mincher was the regular first baseman through May before he was injured and Killebrew took over.
In the late 1976, pure hitting Rod Carew moved from 2nd base to 1st. His 2nd year there, he hit .388 and won the MVP. He was always a .300 hitter, but the 1977 was his best. After this, he would always be a first baseman, even after he left for California.
In the early 80s, the Twins were really bad. They had a young core, however, featuring third baseman Gary Gaetti, a center fielder in Kirby Puckett, a right fielder named Tom Brunansky and a home town kid at first base named Kent Hrbek. Hrbek was only an all-star in his rookie season, but was what many Minnesotans came to believe a clean up hitter should be. Upright at the plate with a strong swing. He was part of two world series wins and provided the most memorable plays in each, from his grand slam in 87 to the Ron Gant play in 91. He still remains a figure in the Twin Cities, with his own weekly outdoors show. A Minnesotan through and through indeed.
After Hrbek retired, the Twins slumped in the standings and at first base (Scott Stahoviak?). Things started to come around in the early 2000s thanks to a new crop of Twins, like slick fielding but light hitting Doug Mientkiewicz. He provided just the personality the team needed to go along with the new found success. The upstart team quickly outgrew the need for a solely defensive 1b, but his huge year in 2001 was one of the impetuses for the Twins turning it around.
He was replaced by the Canadian Crusher, Justin Morneau. Morneau has already become a prennial all-star, winning the 2008 Home Run Derby and most notably the MVP in 2006. Though Joe Mauer might be the star on the team, Morneau is continuing to carry the mantle of the Twins Position in the Spotlight. In a way, Mauer is the Kirby Puckett to Morneau's Hrbek in that regard.
There have been, in the return history of Minnesota sports, many larger than life characters. Only one position has a history of those characters. The measure of the Minnesota Twins can be seen at first base.
Honorable mentionTwins hometown hero
- Since the 80s, the Twins have done an excellent job luring baseball luminaries to the hometown team. Hrbek spent his career with the Twins, then future hall of famers Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield spent there twilight years back in Minnesota. Even Terry Steinbach came home to be the first home town catcher. It's safe to say that Joe Mauer definitely fits with this category as well.Gophers big man
-The Gophers basketball team has generally done a good job finding it's share of cord fed burly centers and power forwards from outstate Minnesota. and beyond Joel Pryzbilla, Rick Rickert, Kris Humphries and John Thomas were all of Minnesota stock. Mychal Thompson, perhaps the most famous was from Miami.Vikings wide receiver
-I would be remiss if I didn't include something from the Vikings here. It's tough to decide though. Quarterback? Tarkenton yes, Wilson and Kramer no. Running back? Peterson and Foreman yes, Nelson no. So I will go with wide receiver for the boon in the 1990s, from Anthony and Cris Carter to Jake Reed and Randy Moss.
Labels: Position in the Spotlight