Park and Ride

Anyone following sports in the Twin Cities over the past 20 years knows that whether the hometown team won or lost wasn't always as important as where they played the games. The first substantive sports story to appear in City Pages (then known as Sweet Potato) quoted the superintendent of the old Met Stadium acknowledging that the prospect of indoor baseball at the Metrodome made him "shudder a little bit." Sports fans and City Pages scribes have been cringing at the ugly pincushion ever since--but still prefer it to the fat-cat con artistry of taxpayer-financed alternatives.

While the Dome debate, the Target Center buyout, and St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman's hockey palace have all figured prominently in City Pages' coverage, the paper hasn't overlooked the more beguiling, human aspects of sports. Between a steady regimen of cover stories and news items, Craig Cox regularly made the pilgrimage south for the Twins' spring training and was one of the first baseball beat writers to proclaim that the 1987 World Champions were legit. (In covering Gophers basketball, Cox also made some prescient observations about the difficult balancing act between academics and athletics confronting coach Clem Haskins.)

Under Steve Perry, annual baseball issues melded extensive previews of the local nine with pungent analysis from baseball union rep Marvin Miller and Sabrmetrics guru Bill James, plus an offbeat feature story or two. Luring writer Ann Bauleke away from the Readerwas a coup for this paper, for no one in town humanized athletes with the empathy and incisive eye for detail that she brought to the ballpark. Confronted by years of condescending and discriminatory treatment from then Twins media relations head Tom Mee and other members of the team's front office and staff (not to mention the good ol' boys in the press corps), Bauleke, an exceedingly gentle soul, finally erupted with a brilliant column that skirted p.c. cant and eloquently laid out how and why she was being denied the access accorded her male peers. Not coincidentally, she eventually "burned out" on baseball writing.

Over the past two seasons, the baseball beat has benefited from the wit and wisdom of Brad Zellar, while Zellar's buddy Mike Mosedale has shored up the paper's football and boxing coverage during his year on the City Pages staff.

As a die-hard basketball junkie, I have been fortunate enough to cover the Timberwolves (and occasionally the Gophers) for the paper since 1991, a period that has seen the team evolve from the dunderheaded Bob Stein and Jimmy Rodgers to the (mostly) shrewd machinations of Kevin McHale and Flip Saunders, best summed up by the arrival and blossoming of Kevin Garnett, who seems destined to become the greatest athlete ever to don a Minnesota uniform. If Garnett's $121 million contract symbolizes the extent to which sports have become infected by the glitz and greed of show biz, his smile and style of play reaffirms why, for those of us who write or read about what we watch, the joy of the games will persevere.


 

Cal Griffith and Carl Pohlad circled each other like doddering sumo wrestlers as they tried to squeeze the last possible dollar out of the deal. In the meantime, it was easy to overlook the fact that baseball is more than an investment opportunity.

Ann Bauleke, July 25, 1984

 

What the Twins want, in a nutshell, is for all of us to get together and buy them a new ballpark more deliberately tailored to a well-to-do clientele that will make the Pohlads a lot more money. The public, understandably, does not want to go along. So a number of the best minds in local politics and finance are now consumed with finding the most artful means of skirting the popular will.

Steve Perry, October 16, 1996

 

Finally, the advanced age of the Civic Center may make all these negotiations moot--or provide a Trojan horse for the construction of a new facility....We haven't heard anything from Mayor Coleman about a brand-new hockey arena in St. Paul. At least not yet.

Britt Robson, January 29, 1997

 

[T]he North Carolina option is full of holes: [Don] Beaver wants to move the club to the 46th-largest media market, where he must spend millions to upgrade a ballpark that currently holds just 10,000, while he awaits a $150 million stadium referendum that's more unpopular in the polls than the proposal here. Further, Beaver has no season-ticket holders or upfront fan money for his venture, and the NHL franchise that just came to the Triad is drawing squat.

Page Three column, October 8, 1997

 

No doubt Philadelphia Phillies owner Bill Giles spoke for many of his colleagues when he told the Star Tribune last week that he wouldn't approve [Twins owner Carl] Pohlad's sale to Beaver until funding is secured for a proper facility in Carolina....A canny businessman who is not used to being outmaneuvered, [Pohlad] obviously didn't anticipate that the local community would be shrewd enough--and disgusted enough--to call his bluff.

Britt Robson, December 3, 1997

 

Even with the recent slump, the team is playing better than it has in years--yet nobody's getting excited...people are suspicious of success, hesitant to stick their necks out and believe this team is for real. Believe it.

Craig Cox, July 1, 1987

 

It was just crazy how 200,000 people could party away with the police waving Homer Hankies. No DWIs and no arrests by our blue knights. Fine fellows all!...I saw a burly construction worker hug a thin fellow in a Brooks Brothers suit. I saw professional women giddily blocking three lanes of traffic with a staggering human pyramid, and I even saw a man dance with his wife. Right here in our Twin Cities.

Mike O'Neill, November 4, 1987

 

"You know," Gaetti explains, "there's that kind of tension when you're sitting next to somebody and they use Jesus' name vainly and it's something really precious to you. They feel weird about what naturally came out of their mouth, and I feel pretty offended by their comment even though I'd said it many times before. That's just part of the change that's taken place in my life."

Ann Bauleke, April 3, 1991

 

A couple of hours after Larkin's Series-winning hit, the locker room is calm. Tom Kelly Jr. distributes green, foot-long cigars from a wooden box. Smoke hangs in the air while Greg Gagne gauges the consequences of lighting up. "If I smoke it," he says, "my wife won't kiss me tonight."...Shane Mack slides into a chair opposite Puckett and meekly asks, "One more year?" Puckett knows exactly what Mack is suggesting. His response is at once definitive and playful. "No," Puckett says, busying himself in his locker. "You've been under my wing for two years now. Like when I was a kid, my dad said, 'I want you to grow up to be a man.'"

Ann Bauleke, November 6, 1991

 

If [pitcher] Willie Banks wasn't exactly nurtured by the Twins, his trials were tame stuff compared to what he'd already seen....At an early age he saw crime, even murder, on the streets. Life wasn't much safer inside his home: He was a toddler sitting on his cousin's lap when her husband shot her in the head. Banks still remembers the gun in the man's hand, the look in his eyes, the cops arriving to take him away.

Ann Bauleke, September 1, 1993

 

Hrbek stands. On the seat of his underwear he has personally printed, in permanent orange, the phrase "New Gas Tank Holder."..."I haven't been feeling good," he continues, "but I'm not thinking about committing suicide or anything....It's been the same old thing the last four or five years. I don't wake up in the morning and run around the block. I never did. But I could have. Now I have trouble getting up to take a piss."

Ann Bauleke, July 27, 1994

 

Haskins has to worry about keeping his job through the hard times, then worry about keeping his ethics when the good times roll....Fans are patient when they've got no choice, you know; if you can't out-play Iowa, out-character them. But when you've finally got the horses, it's damn tough to see the students under the saddles.

Jack Armstrong, December 2, 1987

 

How else do we explain the so aptly named Golden Gophers? This is a team that gives no fewer than nine young men a chance to have an impact on the outcome of the game. Eight of those nine (the exception being guard Bobby Jackson) cannot be counted upon to play even two or three good games in a row. And yet, as rife as they are with individual inconsistency, the Gophers have won 31 out of 34 games, and stand just two victories away from a national championship.

Britt Robson, March 26, 1997

 

The Gopher basketball program will generate something in the range of four million dollars over the next four years, Haskins notes. "Add all that up and you tell me the U shouldn't be committed to pay [the players] an income of eight to ten dollars an hour," he says.

Craig Cox, July 6, 1988

 

By finding that the former head of the U's office of minority affairs did not need the approval of Paul Giel or Frank Wilderson (or Lou Holtz) to give away several thousand U of M dollars to football players who needed new cars, the jury implied that only Darville was crooked. The whizzes who pretended to be his superiors, on the other hand, were simply honest, upright citizens who didn't have a clue about what was going on.

Craig Cox, November 22, 1989

 

By the time I'm inside Lambeau Field, I've been handed a Packer refrigerator magnet, a Packer pocket schedule, and a Packer merchandise brochure. It comes as no surprise that the pay phone booths resemble oversized Packer helmets.

Dan Heilman, September 5, 1990

 

At this point in my career, the limitations put on me in the workplace, compared with my male colleagues, are absurd to say the least. Earlier this year a radio producer, wearing a season pass on a neck chain, told me he shows up for batting practice a couple of times a season to score a free meal. Plus, he said, "Being around the players is such a lark." But if clubhouse access were the real issue, I would not also be prohibited from the press dining room and the press box. They still issue me a field pass day-by-day instead of a season pass. They still can't understand why I "need to be there all the time." It's a puzzle wrought with innuendo. Under ordinary circumstances, the desire to put in time on a job is considered dedication, commitment. But since they can't fathom that I'm serious about my work, I must be there on the make.

Ann Bauleke, October 17, 1990

 

[Tom] Kelly doesn't have a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality; there's not that much upside.

David Brauer, April 8, 1992

 

"The front office was giving me heat about getting a computer," says coach Rick Stelmaszek. "And TK says, 'Well, we won two world championships with a legal pad; what's wrong with that?' So that was the end of the theory about electronic computers and stuff like that."

Britt Robson, August 14, 1996

 

[I]t's one thing for a scout to identify with the players; it could mean trouble [for Terry Ryan] as a general manager. Particularly when the field manager is Tom Kelly, whose idea of developing talent is better applied to breaking horses than managing prospects....His approach has had repercussions for Ryan when it comes to draft selections fulfilling their promise.

Ann Bauleke, October 12, 1994

 

There's no longer any point in denying that Kelly has for the most part failed miserably in his dealings with promising young players, from top draft choices to consensus prospects. While he appears to genuinely relish pointing out that none of his hotshot whipping boys has gone on to any sort of success anywhere else, such a cruel notion misses the point that the development, or lack of development, of such major leaguers is ultimately Kelly's responsibility.

Brad Zellar, April 22, 1998

 

During the preseason, the media were given a "Minnesota Timberwolves Preview by Jimmy Rodgers."...[It read] "After being around the players over the summer, I realize this team has an excellent rapport. The Timberwolves have something else that impresses me: Talent."

Bullshit. Six weeks into the season, Rodgers had traded the Wolves' best player and was trying to peddle their second-best player too. So much for rapport. Throughout the season, in losses to even non-playoff teams such as Philadelphia, Sacramento, and Orlando, he cited the superior ability of his opponents as the reason for defeat. So much for talent.

Britt Robson, April 15, 1992

 

It's no surprise that Kevin McHale is the most popular person in the Timberwolves franchise. What's less apparent is that he is probably also the most powerful person in the organization right now...."If Kevin isn't the [general manager] next year, he'll handpick the guy who is," says one knowledgeable source within the organization.

Britt Robson, February 8, 1995

 

[T]he firing of Bill Blair is another sign that Kevin McHale takes no prisoners. The huge risk in drafting the high-schooler Garnett indicated that McHale didn't mind a little scrutiny. By dumping Blair just 20 games into the season and installing his protégé [Flip Saunders] in his stead, McHale has burned his scapegoat early....The most exhilarating thing about the sad and in many respects unjust dismissal of Blair is that the Wolves are being guided by someone who wants to be more than just a nostalgic hometown hero--someone determined to create a winner, or go down in flames trying.

Britt Robson, December 20, 1995

 

First there is Kevin Garnett. At 19 years old...he's got the stuff that can't be taught--extraordinary coordination for a person just an inch under seven feet tall, great peripheral vision and court awareness, and a burning desire to win.

Britt Robson, November 22, 1995

 

[I]t was no coincidence that Laettner's contributions gradually diminished as Garnett emerged....[Then] Laettner complained that there was too much individual-style basketball being played (something Laettner is also guilty of) and that "the rookies" should shut up (something Laettner never did as a rookie). The outburst was transparent: Laettner might just as well have pissed on the four corners of the court to mark his territory.

Britt Robson, February 28, 1996

 

Most obviously, the Wolves' troika of budding stars--in order of current value, Kevin Garnett, Tom Gugliotta, and Stephon Marbury--are all healthy and playing with an unselfish maturity that synergizes their considerable talents....With contracts, injuries, and attitudes constantly churning the circumstances of the NBA, nobody really knows how long this situation will last, or how much better it can become. For now, it is a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Britt Robson, January 8, 1997

 

Asked point-blank last week if where he played was more important to him than how much he was paid, Marbury replied, "That's right." Coupled with the New York City native's comments last year about the relative demerits of the weather and social life in Minnesota (both of which are predominantly cold and white), logic would indicate that he's on his way out of town.

Britt Robson, February 3, 1999

 

There are those who would argue that it is foolhardy to give so much money to a 21-year-old kid who has yet to win a single playoff game. It is persuasive logic until you watch Kevin Garnett play. Put simply, it is hard to imagine a more inevitable superstar.

Britt Robson, October 15, 1997

 

Mike Veeck does not trust secrets...."The point in the speech where you can hear a pin drop in the entire room is right after I say I was a bed wetter until I was 13 or 14," Veeck says. "Because people know there is nothing worse. It changed my life....One day I decided I couldn't stand it anymore and I went and told everybody that I wet my bed. And I never wet my bed again. I think it was because it wasn't a secret anymore."

Britt Robson, August 9, 1995

 

In the eyes of the public and press alike, he was seen as too arrogant, too cheap, too corporate. Now, with the Vikings en route to their seventh consecutive win, the 62-year-old Headrick regards the team's sudden flush of success with mixed emotions. And why not? In more than a few ways...the best Viking team in at least 20 years is his.

Mike Mosedale, October 28, 1998

 

Larry Fitzgerald: It is personal in Minnesota with respect to Dennis [Green]. When [Star Tribune sports columnist] Dan Barreiro called him Dennis Amin Dada and Denny Dada, it almost made me throw up. You are talking about a guy from Uganda who is a dictator, who killed people savagely. And when [Pioneer Press sports columnist] Bob Sansevere says Dennis Green reminds him of a cockroach, and when [Star Tribune sports columnist] Patrick Reusse calls Dennis Green delusional....

Ray Richardson: I am sort of in the middle of this because I work for [the Pioneer Press] and I am having a hard time with my loyalties and my professional work ethics....Me and Bob [Sansevere] always considered each other fairly good friends. But that is strained because I know what he is doing now. I know Bob hates Dennis, hates him with a passion. And for two reasons: One, because he thinks Dennis is a bad person, and secondly because Dennis is black and he's got power, which is almost like a white man's worst fear. It is something a lot of journalists can't accept.

Britt Robson (interviewer), January 14, 1998

 

If someone wants to kill the president," [Vikings] offensive coordinator Brian Billick says, "they can, if they don't mind giving up their own life. If you want to stop our passing game, you can do it. But you better hope we're not handing the ball off to Robert Smith on that play."

John Pribek, September 2, 1998

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