Let us now praise famous Minnesota men

Mark Dayton and Joe Mauer are retiring at the same time, and neither has fallen from grace.

Mark Dayton and Joe Mauer are retiring at the same time, and neither has fallen from grace. Glen Stubbe/AP

Two tall men spent their whole childhoods crouching and winning at sports.

Both grew up in Minnesota and loved it. They were lucky -- gifted, athletically, and from well-off and stable families -- and knew they benefitted from the culture this state allowed: charitable, friendly, fair, people who could be decent to each other when money was on the table and open to people in need.

What a nice place to be from.

Both decided to stick around. Mark Dayton, eldest of four siblings, went into public service. He skipped the chance to take his father's grandfather's business, one you've heard of and probably like (even if you shouldn't), because he was more interested in helping those less fortunate than in... plotting shopping malls? Or ruining workers' efforts to unionize. (Or wearing a red T-shirt with concentric circles on it to make it seem like you're "one of the people" when you're actually just a millionaire.)

Mark played hockey, was a really good goalie, used (sacrificed) his body to block shots. He went to one of the best high schools in the state, one only available to those whose parents could afford a big tuition bill.

Speaking of tuition, Mark kept playing hockey at Yale. Almost died doing it. Thank God he didn't.

Being above six foot tall and tucking his shoulders in under the hockey goal for hours and hours as a boy and young man messed Mark's back up. He doesn't move around so well these days. He's needed some surgeries, and when he was younger he self-medicated with drink. His shoulders slump. He's energetic and wonderfully well-spoken, but it's clear there are days when he's in some pain.

He fainted at work one day; everyone saw it. He shrugged it off and hustled to get back on the job --which, as he understood it, meant taxing people who'd made a lot of money or been born lucky, fortunate people, like him, and spending the money raised on the poor, the elderly, and children in need of education. (At public schools, mind you; not like the one Mark got to go to.)

He doesn't complain about it, just goes about his work. People who know him well admire and worry about him. He tells them not to.

He also hires well, and married well, and his sons love living here too; you're probably familiar.

Mark has his critics, but he's too busy to spend much time responding to them. He self-analyzes, anyway, and once said he'd grade himself an "F" as a United States Senator because he didn't think he got enough done on the job.

His enemies tried using that confession against him. Minnesota kept right on electing him anyway, asking him to protect the environment and let the state economy blossom. Mark also wanted people to be able to vote, even (especially!) if they had some issues in their life that blocked them from owning land in an expensive place. Defended women with unwanted pregnanciesFeuded with Big Ag and mining companies, tried stopping them from running all over everyone.

It worked. Minnesota's thriving, and Mark's not solely responsible (and insists on not taking credit). But count how many people you meet who live in the Twin Cities and hail from Wisconsin, Iowa, or one of the Dakotas, and ask yourself why they live here instead of where they originated. Minnesota functions as a state, has awful-but-not-that-awful healthcare outcomes, good schools, smart people starting new businesses (beer!), and tries planning its land use to make it so broke citizens can have a place to sleep a at night, takes a thoughtful approach to water (which, as Mark knows and his enemies won't admit, is a limited resource), and treats its children well.

If Mark has a regret from his two terms in office here, we bet it's that he couldn't give free childcare to people who can't afford it. It's a good idea, but rich people who can afford it blocked him over and over again, largely because they were more concerned with getting tax relief for their corporations and letting their children inherit inherit every cent of their enormous wealth, even when the numbers run into seven or eight digits.

And Mark knows and acknowledges that he was born lucky. Know who else is lucky? You, if you live here, because your state was governed by a gentle man with a big heart and deep policy knowledge and a long memory who loves where he's from and wants to protect it.

In 1983, Dayton was serving in Rudy Perpich's administration, trying to help people find decent jobs -- had just lost his bid for a U.S. Senate seat; didn't turn tail and run, just went back to work -- when a baby was born in St. Paul whose parents named him Joe Mauer.

Joe, like Mark, got to go to one of the state's best schools, effectively a sports factory. Joe grew up to be tall and strong, starred in three sports, quarterbacked a great football team and (fatefully) caught on a great baseball team.

Joe, like Mark, was built a little too big for his position, yet volunteered to spend many hours of his childhood crouching. He excelled. Could work well with pitchers, got them to chill out or hype up, whatever they needed that day, and to throw strikes -- or close enough, anyway, inspired pitches that made batters think they could hit them and umpires think they flew through the zone. And if you were on first base and tried stealing second Joe'd throw you out, easily. And the next time you were on first base you wouldn't run on him.

Jocks get license to be pricks, especially when they're teenagers, yet Joe's reputation was sterling. He never messed with anyone, far as we know, even though his female classmates would've enabled him to, not to mention the adult men who were obsessed with his statistics and staked their own happiness on Joe's ability to win a sports game.

Joe, like Mark, speaks with a flat, unaffected tone, and with this humble "aw shucks" Minnesota accent and a verbiage that isn't telling anyone what to do. Both Mark and Joe are a little boring sometimes. So what? They don't think too much of themselves, even if one of them has received millions of votes numerous times and the other hit .3-fucking-47 as a 23-year-old catcher.

Joe, like Mark, married a nice woman (a nurse!) and had a couple kids with her. Joe and his wife had girls. Twins, matter of fact; quite a coincidence, given the name of the team he grew up watching and played for as an adult.

Joe has his critics, shit-talkers who resent him because when he was young and gifted his team offered him a lot of money and... he accepted it? And then he showed up to work every day he physically could, even though his body tried letting him down and even though taking his role meant he had quite literally risked his (handsome) face and (kind) mind.

They're both retiring now, Mark and Joe, and their critics will get to sound off about them once more. Ignore that noise. Try being grateful. To live in a state where the person in charge is heartful and your baseball stud are both homegrown and humble is rare.

Mark and Joe know they were fortunate. Their dedicated service to the people of Minnesota means we were fortunate, too.

Thank them.