Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Let's not beat around the bush: A certain vocal portion of Twins fans are never going to be entirely happy with Ron Gardenhire until he brings home a world championship. His bullpen usage will always be second-guessed, his tendency to jaw-jack with umpires will get a few cynical eye rolls, and even this year's Punto-free roster doesn't guarantee that Gardy won't get hectored for leaning on light-hitting, utility-grade infielders. But this Twins team, now more than ever, requires a careful chemistry to make all the right things happen. In following up his 2010 Manager of the Year-winning season, Gardy is going to be in charge of a returning adopted fan favorite battling age on the way to his 600th home run, a Japanese phenom adjusting to the majors with two dozen reporters tracking his every move, the careful balancing act of an overstocked starting rotation and a short-handed relief corps, a top-caliber powerhouse teetering back from the brink of a career-jeopardizing concussion, and the great expectations of the current franchise icon living up to the blockbuster contract that kicks in this year. And he'll have to do it with Chicago and Detroit throwing the whole "weak division" argument out the window. If you need somebody to hold the clubhouse together and take the AL Central under those conditions, why not put your faith in the man who's made it his calling card?
Summer or winter, no part of Minnesota compares to the breathtaking scenery of the North Shore of Lake Superior. Start your day in Duluth with a drive all the way to the tip of Lake Avenue, a long, thin strip stretching into the vast great lake. Winter brings glimpses of hardy folk engaged in sports you've never considered; in summer, you'll feel as though you're driving straight into the sea. Continue up the coast and stop at the Superior Hiking Trail shop in Two Harbors for trail info. Then head north to Gooseberry Falls and the Split Rock Lighthouse. If it's warm or you're winter-hardy, there's no better way to relax than backpacking the Superior Trail—the stretch between Bean and Bear lakes near Silver Bay is one of the more challenging and lovely. As an alternative, lodges and rental homes abound near Tofte and Lutsen. At the tip of the state in Grand Marais, build a birch-bark canoe or make your own moccasins at the North House Folk School.
There's nothing better than an adventure down twisty country roads to revel in the smug knowledge that we live in the best part of this country. A drive south around Lake Pepin, straddling the borders of Minnesota and Wisconsin, is a day trip full of winding roads and scenic stopping points. Head out of town on Highway 61 south through Hastings, swing through Red Wing for shoes or stoneware, and then down through Winona. Head to Wisconsin on Highway 43 to Wisconsin 35. Be sure to keep an eye out for majestic bald eagles that hunt along the river and their giant nests perched on telephone poles and pines. Head back up on the Wisconsin side on Great River Road. If you're hungry, stop at the Monarch in Fountain City for a home-brewed beer and an Uncle Harry's burger topped with olives and special sauce. Then drive through Alma. Stop for ice cream at Nelson Creamery. If your eyes grow weary, Pepin has coffee at Great River Roasters. Or have an elegant bite at Harbor View Café. Continue to Stockholm for a quick shopping stop: Scandinavian gifts, art galleries, antique store, the region's best pie at Stockholm Pie Company, and more. Continue north to Prescott, watching the hypnotic rolling farmland alternating with jagged rocks, bluffs, and cascades of green trees before reluctantly crossing the border on Highway 10 and heading home.
It isn't just that Joe Mauer is the best player on the team—an "off" 2010 produced a .327 batting average, along with Silver Slugger and Golden Glove awards—it's that he is the face of the small-market franchise that can compete with the big boys from New York, Boston, and Chicago. It's Mauer's face that has graced the cover of baseball video games over the past two seasons, not Derek Jeter's. And when it came time to explore the market when his contract was up, Mauer—unlike a certain superstar from Ohio—decided to stay with his hometown team. On the field, he plays catcher, certainly the most difficult position in baseball, both mentally and physically, with the enthusiasm and joy of a boy heading to the park to hit some fly balls on a summer afternoon.
That unforgettable 2009 season sure seems like an eternity ago, doesn't it? If Brett Favre's arrival in Minnesota was all about making the impossible seem effortless, then his sad swan song started with the embarrassing and moved steadily toward the unbearable. By the end of it all, few had been spared: Brad Childress lost control of his team and was fired; Randy Moss returned, insulted the food, and was gone again in four weeks; even the poor Metrodome didn't last the season. But all was not lost for the Purple and Gold. Adrian Peterson came through in the biggest way, finishing the year as the league's second-highest rusher. In a season where everything else seemed to go wrong, A.P. was a joy to watch—one player who, so long as he was in the backfield, still ignited the hope for that crucial first down or breakout play, the sort of game-changer that can help turn a season around.
Kevin Love was created in some sort of diabolical basketball lab under test conditions extrapolating what would happen if you gave Moses Malone an outside game. He's the Next Big Kevin, the man who threatens to turn the humble rebound into highlight-reel fodder every game, and the main reason anyone outside the FSN North broadcast radius pays attention to the T-Wolves. Even then, some of his greatest moments border on the apocryphal—his spectacular 31-point, 31-rebound performance against the Knicks on November 12 wasn't even televised—adding another level of mystique to the national market that only diehard out-of-state fans get to fully appreciate. Given the niche nature of the Twin Cities NBA market and the general victory-deprived malaise of the local fan base, Love has become one of those much-needed players the team can rally around—and build around.