The Minnesota Sporting News

Patrick and I had a manly weekend of lots of sporting events: we were at the Gopher football game on Saturday, versus that perennial powerhouse, Western Illinois University; and then on Sunday, we went to the Twins game to watch a team that was equally adept at their sport.

Both won. Oddly enough. But the storylines and points to be made by both, and even the Vikings’ loss on Sunday, make for some interesting discussions.

I’ll give a quick discussion of the Jerry Kill/epilepsy issue by simply saying that coaching is his job. He’s put in place other coaches who have been with him for a long time, and they take right over in situations like this because the coaches, medical staff, and players have all been prepared properly to deal with the unlikely event of a seizure. I don’t think it affects the team. I don’t think it really affects the football program or the athletics department or the university. It only affects fans in the stadium (honestly, though, half of them weren’t in their seats at halftime and didn’t know he wasn’t on the field in the second half), and those on TV. Because we’re a society that loves to overreact, seeing a man go down like that and get carted off the field makes you feel horrible. And people want it to stop. Our society is uncomfortable with that. Our society is uncomfortable with things we can’t treat or fix or solve or make go away or easily ignore. When a head coach of a Big Ten football program collapses on the field in view of television cameras, we have to watch and feel something we aren’t comfortable with: helplessness and compassion for a fellow human being.

The game itself was a yawner for the first half, because it felt like neither team could figure out the other. Which was disappointing when you considered that the Gophers should have been all over Western Illinois. And it made me ask what the point is in playing a team like this if you aren’t going to experiment and work on improving and maybe trying to get your players to improve. But we’ve got a quarterback who is great at running, horrible at throwing, and mediocre at reading the defense. And I don’t know if he’s really the best we’ve got or not. Thanks to his injury (which really isn’t a good thing), we got to see one of his backups, and he looked marginally better than the starter. So that’s not saying much, especially as we’re a couple weeks away from the Big Ten season when everything gets tougher.

Meanwhile, the striking thing about the Twins’ lineup on Sunday is that had I not been paying attention to them this season, I’d never have heard of over half of the lineup. Josmil Pinto, Alex Presley, Oswaldo Arcia, and Eduardo Escobar. No Mauer. No Morneau. Honestly, no one who people would be drawn to the ballpark to watch play the game.

That’s the problem here, and I don’t think it’s a problem with the game anymore. For several years, the Twins proved they could be in the mix as one of the best teams in baseball. But they had good position players and, more importantly, a couple of good starting pitchers and a collection of great relievers. Morneau’s been traded, and I think the quiet hope all the way around is that he’ll be back next year when he’s a free agent. Mauer’s been concussed, so who knows when he’ll be back. But if I asked you to name our best pitcher, I don’t think anyone could. Because we don’t have a number 1 starter. Nor a number 2 starter. For a while it was Brad Radke and Johann Santana. Then, a couple of years ago, it was Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano. Or Carl Pavano.

The Twins need a number 1 starter. Someone who you can count on grabbing 15 wins a season even in a bad year. But we won’t pay for one. And I’m pretty sure we don’t have one in the minors. That’s the problem this team is facing: their own unwillingness to both develop from within and trade for what they need. Historically, we’ve given up prospects for a big player, or traded a big player for prospects. On a few occasions, it’s worked out. In others, it’s been ugly.

It was actually sad and boring to see Target Field so empty and lifeless for seven innings on Sunday. We mounted a late comeback and managed to win, but I’m sure that there weren’t a whole lot of people left to see that (Patrick and I were tired from everything, so we left early, too). I’m hoping for a big offseason for the Twins. But I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed.

Let’s round this out with a similar call out of the Vikings: I haven’t watched much of their games yet this season, so I can’t speak too well on the subject, but from what I have seen, it’s pretty obvious that we’re a one-dimensional offense: our quarterback is shaky at best, and so we have to rest on the shoulders of Adrian Peterson. And to win in the NFL, you need at least two of these things: a great quarterback, a great running back, a great wide receiver, and a great defense. We have…well…One. That ain’t enough.

So, Minnesota teams, take heed: make a commitment to actually get better. Get that leader who wants to and can win. Get them here regardless of the cost. And then work on getting the rest of the team around them better. This town used to have a lot of superstars, even at the same time, and those teams were great, even when they didn’t make it to the top.

See you tomorrow.