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Tom Coyne

After a 36-year career in broadcasting, Tom Coyne admits he’s getting old. Coyne is a former North Dakota TV sportscaster who worked in Williston, Bismarck and Fargo for the KX Network from 1980 to 1991. The past 24 years were spent as a broadcasting instructor at Sanford-Brown College (formerly Brown Institute) in Mendota Heights, Minn. Born in south Minneapolis and raised in Golden Valley, Minn., the University of Minnesota journalism graduate has been a teacher, sports director, newspaper reporter, radio broadcaster and advertising copywriter. He also enjoys freelance writing and poetry. He taught more than 20 different classes at Brown and saw hundreds of his students take to the airwaves. Coyne was the North Dakota Sportscaster of the Year in 1987 and a Broadcast Instructor of the Year in 2000. Still, he’s probably most proud of his now 27-year-old twins, Ashley and Patrick, both college grads of their own. Tom and his wife, Laurie, live in Apple Valley, Minn., with their beloved sheltie, Chase.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Baseball: Best Of Times Or Worst Of Times?

The All-Star Break has come and gone and baseball junkies can go back to their daily fixes this weekend as a full schedule of games resumes Friday. But the annual downtime in mid-July has again ramped up discussion about the general state of the game.

Just by chance, I attended the Minnesota Twins’ final game before the break. It seemed to fittingly represent so much of what’s good and bad these days about “America’s Pastime.” Does that longtime slogan still apply or has baseball passed its time?

My first hint that the game might be in trouble came the night before, when my son, Pat, turned down the offer to join me at Target Field. Pat played both high school and Legion ball, still loves watching Twins’ games and seldom passes up the chance to get a beer and a brat with his old man.

But on this occasion, the game conflicted with soccer’s World Cup final. Like a lot of millennials, Pat has caught the bug for that “other” football. It has global appeal, offers a faster pace than baseball and is really taking off in the Twin Cities now that a major league team has arrived. There’s even a new stadium close to completion.

Having better luck with someone closer to my demographic, I convinced brother-in-law Jim to join me, as the Twins took on the middle-of-the-pack Tampa Bay Rays on a warm, muggy Sunday afternoon. While Jim likes the game, he only attends occasionally, so I privately hoped the home club would put on a good show.

What followed was a mixed bag of pros and cons I could never have imagined. So let’s begin with one that somehow qualifies as both:

Jim was immediately impressed with Target Field’s amazing amenities. Countless food options include a new “Bat and Barrel” restaurant with big screens, numerous locations to sit in air conditioned comfort and avoid the high heat index, plus endless great spots to stroll around the stadium and still get a clear view of the day’s action. In fact, the Twins have done such an efficient job of appealing to the casual fan,  few are sitting in the stands. With so many choices other than baseball, it also appears debatable how many are paying attention to the action on the field.

What followed was a four hour and 38 minute marathon that included 18 runs, 14 walks, two bench clearing confrontations, a costly Rays’ balk related to a defensive shift and ultimately, a thrilling walk off grand slam by the Twins’ Brian Dozier. The Rays used nine pitchers and the Twins six. Tampa Bay started a reliever who only pitched two innings. Minnesota used their closer in the fifth inning. And, oh by the way, there was also a controversial video review of a play at the plate that left Twins’ fans skeptical of an “out” call that went against the home club.

During this time, Jim and I consumed two Polish sausages, two beers, a bag of peanuts and two Gatorades. We made four visits to the restroom, three walks around the park and discussed both in-game strategies and family vacations.

As we walked out of the stadium with dinner time approaching, Jim called it one of the “most exciting” games he’d ever attended. I agreed. Then again, we’d both contemplated leaving just minutes before. Such is the state, of a sport struggling to determine its identity while still trying to attract a wide base of followers.

 PRO: Stadiums have never been more interactive and fan friendly. Selfies, Twitter responses, quizzes and kiss cams are all ways for spectators to get noticed on the big screens.

CON: Too many of these distractions have separated fans from the game itself. Attendance is down for all but six of the 30 Major League teams in 2018. Even winning teams are seeing dwindling numbers.

PRO: Aware of its slow pace, Major League Baseball has made attempts to speed things up. There’s a running clock when pitchers take the hill, a limit of six mound visits from coaches and the waiving of four wide pitches for intentional walks.

CON: None of these cosmetic efforts has made much difference. In fact, the average game now lasts more than three hours, as batters step out frequently, pitchers shake off signs and lengthy challenges eat up minutes.

PRO: Baseball has tried to stay pro-active, with heavy reliance on analytics, defensive shifts based on statistical data and video replays to make sure umpires get important calls right.

CON: Traditionalists doubt the validity of analytics. Defensive shifts have created declining batting averages since most hitters fail to adjust. And even with numerous angles and slow motion replays, calls remain controversial and often drag on far too long.

PRO: Even the innovators and forced to look for an edge against teams with bigger budgets, teams like Tampa and Minnesota have smartly experimented with relief pitchers as starters or exaggerated shifts against dangerous pull hitters.

CON: The divide between the haves and the have-nots is getting worse, not better. Already in late July, the five American League playoff qualifiers look fairly predictable. Wealthy MLB clubs like the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Dodgers all own good records and are poised to add key pieces for the stretch drive.

PRO: Baseball was wise to select young, rising stars for its’ recent Home Run Derby in Washington, D.C. Bryce Harper and his pitching father winning it at home didn’t hurt, either. Throw in the live interviews with fielders during the All-Star Game and the 10 homers launched that night and the pros scored big points with young viewers.

CON: Baseball’s silly blackout rules and unwillingness to share streaming video rights have limited their social media presence. So they shouldn’t be surprised when megatalented Mike Trout is still far less recognizable than stars like LeBron James or Tom Brady.

I’ve seen some of the suggestions for improving baseball: Shorten the game to seven innings. Ban the shifts, so sluggers can rip impressive shots in the hole and increase batting averages again. Put a runner on second base to help end extra inning games quicker.

Call me old school. But I hate all of those ideas because they water down an already beautiful game.

What has always attracted me to the sport is probably what keeps many from finding it appealing:

  1. I love the leisurely, unpredictable pace of a game with no clock. But that doesn’t mean 10-inning games need to last 4½ hours. If you want a faster game and must have restrictions, keep hitters in the box, force pitchers to work quicker and limit the actual number of pitching changes.
  2. I miss the spontaneity of a questionable call. I miss the managers and umpires going toe to toe. Use the technology if you must, but make the decision in a minute or so and live with it. We’re finding that, in all sports, there are plays that will never be clear-cut no matter how many ways we dissect them.
  3. I hate the overdependence on the long ball. Yes, home runs are eye-catching and majestic. But teach and embrace the nuances of the game we’ve gradually shifted away from. Base stealing is way down. Bunting is a lost art. Would you rather encourage inflexibility by banning shifts and encouraging strikeouts or make adjustments to an always changing sport?
  4. One of baseball’s greatest attractions has always been its personalities. I remember nicknames like Walt “No Neck” Williams. “Stan the Man” Musial. “Charlie Hustle.” Make the promotion of your most colorful and talented players your highest priority, regardless of the price. Make your product more accessible and be less greedy.

Those of us old enough to remember the Twins’ Game 7 of the 1991 World Series will undoubtedly recall the level of drama that played out that night. Many consider it the most exciting game in team history.

Interestingly enough, there were no home runs. The Twins used only one pitcher. A well-executed bunt helped set up the winning run. Defensive shifts and video challenges were not employed.

Twenty-seven years later, analytics are a smart and natural progression of the game. Advanced technology is a good thing, too. Fan-friendly stadiums and faster forms of communication all come with the territory.

Is baseball in trouble in 2018? Not necessarily. But the caretakers of the game need to remember what made it “America’s Pastime.” Taters and technology are terrific.

But I’ll still push for pace, performance and professionalism.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Making Sense Out Of Our Futility

As I drove across town Thursday on one of the first lovely afternoons in an otherwise lousy spring, I attempted to put a positive spin on life in Minnesota. Sure, we’ve had April temperatures 30 degrees below normal. And yes, I could still see, out of the corner of my eye, those dirty, lingering snow piles along the side of the road.

But the sun was out, joggers were everywhere and I could even ponder a firing up of the old grill later that night. After all, Minnesotans savor the change of seasons, so when the weather finally does improve, we tend to appreciate it that much more.

For me, another sure sign of spring has always been the sound of  Twins baseball on my radio dial. This year it’s particularly satisfying to tune in to WCCO-AM again, the home of my beloved club for 46 years before baseball’s economics sent them on an 11-year hiatus from the “Good Neighbor” to other locations on the local airwaves. It’s something I grew up with and savor, still today.

On this occasion, there was even more reason for optimism. My Twins were just three outs away from a rare win in the Big Apple. Maybe it’s time to put that potential accomplishment into proper perspective:

The New York Yankees are baseball’s most storied franchise. They’ve won the World Series a record 27 times. They own 40 American League pennants. Throw in another 18 divisional crowns.

Sure, the Yanks have some built-in advantages. Their television revenue is so outrageous that they have their own network. Forbes Magazine recently listed the team as the second-highest valued sports franchise in the world, behind only the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.

Given that the city is America’s largest and the franchise estimated to be worth somewhere around $3.7 billion dollars, it’s only logical to expect New York to enjoy at least a modicum of success against our boys. OK, maybe they should kick some butt.

But here in Minnesota, losing to The Pinstripers has become more than just a somewhat regular experience. In fact, we’ve come to know our place when it involves baseball with the Bronx Bombers. It’s essentially something like, “Shut up, don’t complain and take your medicine.”

Somehow, the Twins have made “compliance” a theme, in this painfully lopsided matchup. Let me throw some numbers at you: Since 2002, the Twins have played the Yankees 127 times. Their record is 33-94. That includes a less than scintillating 2-13 in postseason play.

Consider, too, that in spite of their haughty history, New York has won just one World Series since ’02. In fact, they’ve only appeared in two of them since that time. While the Twins have had their ups and downs after winning two World Series titles in ’87 and ’91, they’ve been good enough to compete favorably with nearly everyone else in the American League.

So why this off the charts level of ineptitude with the Evil Empire?

I’m convinced it’s in our heads. And it’s also in the Yankees’ heads. To be this one-sided over a period of 17 seasons, with so many different players and coaches on both clubs coming and going, the numbers make no sense. Yet it keeps happening again and again. In fact, there are so many bad memories, we EXPECT them to keep occurring.

So as I listened intently to Twins’ announcer Cory Provus return from a break to describe the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday, I began to put up my defenses. It’s something all Minnesotans are conditioned to do, given our track record.

“The Twins lead it 3-1 but these last three outs won’t be easy,” Provus hinted. Any warnings at this point were surely unnecessary to loyal Twins’ followers. We all knew the most recent numbers. Six straight losses on the current road trip, including three blowouts to the Bombers. The threat of a four-game sweep.

Yet once again, hope was springing eternal. The sun was shining, Kyle Gibson had been nearly perfect on the mound and for once, those Yankee bats seemed destined to go quietly into the afternoon splendor.

As I carefully merged onto the freeway and rush hour congestion engulfed me, I momentarily pictured Twins’ closer Fernando Rodney, out on that Yankee Stadium mound, confidently negotiating a similar challenge. Maybe, just maybe …

Then, like lightning, Provus painfully described a Miguel Sano boot at third base, followed by a trickling infield single that gave the Yankees two baserunners they hadn’t deserved. Just like that, the sinking feeling of Minnesota inevitability was already snapping me back into harsh reality.

Slugger Gary Sanchez was up and the traffic was now grinding to a complete halt. “And there’s a long drive to left …” Provus shouted. I didn’t need to hear any more.

Make that 33-95.

Maybe I’ll save my grilling for another night. Thank goodness the Reds are coming to town.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Living A Sheltied Life

It’s been a long, cold winter. I know. … After all these years of living in Minnesota and North Dakota, I should be used to it by now. In fact, I freely admit to having sneered with derision at those overmatched out-of-towners who complained all the way to the airport, upon spending a few moderately cool days here for Super Bowl weekend.

We’re supposed to be tough. But when you reach your mid-60s, the cold just seems colder and the snow a bit snowier. Maybe that’s why so many of us, while never acknowledging it to those shivering visitors, privately dream of warm weather destinations as we shovel our driveways for the 15th time.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no intention of leaving. At least not permanently. There are reasons why my two states recently finished 1-2 in “Quality of Life,” based on a study from the U.S. News and World Report. But isn’t complaining also a rite of passage for loyal Midwesterners, particularly when March rolls around and it still looks and feels like January?

While it can often prove therapeutic, let’s face it. Nobody likes a whiner. Which brings me to my, if you’ll pardon the pun, “bone of contention.” When you’re down and out and you just need someone to be a good listener, seek satisfaction from your shetland sheep dog.

For me, it all started in the summer of 1987. Only married a couple of weeks and already short on cash after buying a new house, my wife’s birthday was coming up. Ever the romantic, I pondered my options. Jewelry was out…we were still paying for those engagement rings. Flowers seemed frivolous. So I chose to go high-tech instead, surprising Laurie with something new and exciting: a compact disc player with speakers included.

Maybe I had some visual of Friday nights in Fargo with wine, woman and song. So much for romance. Less than a month later, we were trading in that CD player for Laurie’s real desire … a new puppy.

Little did we know, but three dogs and 31 years later, we’d still be smitten by shelties. In fact, one is snuggled up next to me now as I compose this piece.

To this day, I have no idea why we chose this particular breed. Both of us grew up with poodles as house pets and had generally good experiences with those sometimes skittish, but intelligent and lovable animals. But after a bit of searching, we stumbled upon a sheltie breeder not far from home and the rest is history.

I’m sure other families have similar tales to tell about their pets. I can only speak for our three boys — Cole, Star and Chase. While each has had a uniquely different personality, the love and affection they’ve provided us is what helps get us through good times and bad.

Cole was there when our twins were born, a constant companion as they played in the backyard. While he only lived nine years, due to heart complications, he was famous for barking at airplanes and providing companionship after hard days at the pharmacy or television station. When he died, Ashley and Pat placed a paper airplane in his little box, which we had buried on a friend’s farm.

Star was the heart and soul of the family, giving us 15 wonderful years as our children became adults. He was the snuggler of the bunch, smart and so easy to train. Gentle, well-mannered and understanding but didn’t care much for the loud sounds of fireworks or motorcycles. As other pet owners will attest, the day we had to say goodbye to Star will always be remembered as a bittersweet moment. Filled with sadness, yet so grateful for the unconditional love he’d given us.

Now, it’s Chase’s turn to capture our hearts. Befitting his name, this guy is the most athletic and energetic of the three, adept at catching balls and Frisbees, while almost never barking. That is, unless he thinks you’re in the mood for playing, while shoveling some of that snow I’ve been complaining about. Chase will be seven years old this summer.

What we’ve learned about this breed is that it’s crucial to socialize them early in your training. All three of our dogs have been wonderful around children, but it means working a bit to make them comfortable around other dogs and other people.

Because they’re so smart, shelties savor “mental exercise,” such as advanced obedience and agility training, making them good candidates for competition. But their soft and sweet temperament is what has captured our attention.

In Chase’s case, we continue to marvel at his uncanny knack for knowing when something is wrong. He will stare directly at you, put his nose up close or find the most central location to observe family members in the midst of a serious discussion. He’s also capable of clearly distinguishing the meanings of various words and is quick to learn tricks that will earn him treats if performed correctly.

In short, our shelties have hopefully made us better people. No matter how long the winter nor how difficult the day, that wagging tail and enthusiastic squeal upon arrival home is the best medicine for occasional whiners like me.

I think our dogs remind us that people are generally about as happy as they want to be. In fact, they almost make you feel guilty about grousing over silly things like predictably cold and long winters in Minnesota. Almost.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Living In Denial

They call them “gawker slowdowns.” Delays caused by curious spectators unable to resist checking out a major accident. While we may shake our heads and feel bad for the victims, there’s often a bit of relief, maybe even some sadistic satisfaction it wasn’t us involved in that car wreck.

I grew up in the Twin Cities, earned my degree from the University of Minnesota and went on to cover sports for much of my career. So, late in 2016, when details of a sexual assault scandal broke in Dinkytown, I had more than a passing interest.

The incident involved an attack on a female student, which led to the suspension of 10 Gopher football players. After several months of investigation, four players were expelled, one suspended for a year and five had their suspensions overturned. All of the accused were young African American males. Lines were drawn about who to blame.

At the time, it seemed fashionable to chalk this one up as another case of pampered and privileged athletes, immature and out of control. Some pointed at the administration. Others surmised that these were players from broken homes. Many of us wondered why it always seemed to happen at Minnesota, lamenting the fact that Gopher athletics had already earned a reputation for having an unfriendly culture toward women, with the stunning departure of then athletic director Norwood Teague in 2015. He’d admitted to groping women and sending graphic texts, before stepping down in disgrace.

Fast-forward to 2018. Lest you believe that sexual assault only exists in isolated incidents or with predictable participants … think again. Last week’s conviction of Larry Nassar should both sicken and alert you to the realization that we’ve all been closing our eyes too long and pointing our fingers in the wrong direction.

Once viewed as a world renowned sports physician, Nassar participated in four Olympics and treated Team USA’s foremost gymnasts. He won the prestigious Jack Rockwell Award for his sports medicine contributions. Sadly, he also abused young women and girls. For decades. In record numbers.

What Nassar did to warrant a sentence of 40 to 175 years is shocking enough. For the length of time he was allowed to do it seems incomprehensible. Nassar has been rightfully assailed for his betrayal and manipulation of vulnerable victims, labeled a “pervert” by some and a “monster” by others.

Where there’s smoke, there’s often fire. Nassar got his start at Michigan State University, so now that school has come under fire for allegations of a long-time pattern of denial and coverup to protect its largely successful sports programs. The university’s president and athletic director have already resigned. High-profile coaches Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio are facing tough questions about the degree of their involvement. Welcome to the pool, MSU. The water is warm and getting warmer.

The “Me, too” movement isn’t going away anytime soon, nor should it. Instead it’s time all of us dispose of our preconceived notions and become part of the solution, not the problem.

Let’s start with the “Who.” While we prefer to believe these violators are individuals nothing like ourselves, the reality says just the opposite. The demographics are all over the map. Rich and poor. Black and white. Young and old. Democrat and Republican.

Athletes. Comedians. Politicians. Movie stars. College kids. Journalists. Film producers. And now … even doctors.

Without mentioning names, try on a few of these profiles for size:

  • Celebrated osteopathic physician. 150-plus accusers.
  • Stand-up comedian, actor, TV star, writer, producer. Winner of four Emmys, 10 Grammys and the Kennedy Center Honor. 60-plus accusers.
  • Film producer. Knighted in France. Honored by the Queen of England. Academy Award winner. Seven Tonys. 40-plus accusers.
  • Chief Justice in a State Supreme Court. Candidate for U.S. Senate. Accused by at least nine women of inappropriate sexual or social conduct with some as young as 14.
  • Nationally renowned TV talk show host. Walter Cronkite Award winner for excellence in journalism. Emmy and Peabody awards. Seven-plus accusers.
  • U.S. senator, comedian. Seven Emmy nominations and considered a champion for women’s social causes. Eight-plus accusers.
  • A 22-year old Minnesota man from a wealthy white family, attending the University of Wisconsin. 30-plus charges.
  • A 26-year old African American former basketball star from Michigan State and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Born with a learning disability, whose mother died at 41 from an asthma attack and whose father did drugs and wasn’t around. Lauded for turning his life around and raising large sums of money for cancer. But now released from a G-League team for a pending rape charge from 2010.

About those car wrecks. We may hate to admit it, but isn’t it always easier to say, “I told you so” when we don’t know or care about anybody involved in the accident?

If you think Hollywood producers are “sleazy,” you probably weren’t surprised to hear about Harvey Weinstein’s troubles. Maybe you even enjoyed it.

Not from Alabama? Didn’t vote for Donald Trump? My guess is, you shook your head at those backward Southerners crazy enough to want Judge Roy Moore to be a U.S. senator.

Until you heard about Al Franken. Your state? Maybe your party?

Or you watched Charlie Rose deliver the details of those breaking stories with his usual professionalism. Only to have the man you admired all those years suddenly disappear, too, after charges of groping, nudity and lewd phone calls. Then again, if you don’t trust the media, you probably really piled on when you heard Matt Lauer’s name added to the list.

Can we stop taking sides for a moment and wake up? Sexual harassment is not about social status. Or race. Or party. The people committing these acts represent all of us. In fact, this isn’t even solely about men. The Michigan State University president who stepped down last week amidst the Spartan scandal is a woman.

No, sexual assault continues to occur because this is about a culture that allows it … even fosters it. For far too long, we’ve turned our heads to protect people or institutions in positions of power and authority-generally, men.

Credit my strong-minded and independent 28-year old daughter for gradually winning me over, after numerous spirited and sometimes heated discussions about how we men are unfairly under siege.

Every time I talked about guys getting a raw deal, Ashley reminded me about all those moments in her life when she worried about walking home alone. Or felt unsafe at college parties. Or noticed deferences to men in business meetings. Sometimes, subtle. Maybe, sometimes not.

Oh, I admit. I am still bothered by the Pitchfork Nation mentality that seeks immediate retribution for bad behavior. I continue to contend that not all sexual harassment cases are alike. Sometimes, men can be falsely accused, reputations unfairly ruined, and each case should be examined on its own merits.

But make no mistake about it. Sexual harassment is never OK. And until men begin condemning it with as much conviction as women, it will continue.

Here are some general thoughts about what needs to change.

  1. Stop blaming the victims. Too often we like to conclude that “provocative clothing” played a role. Or “the victim should have known what they were getting into.” Consensual relationships are one thing. Forcing one’s will on another, particularly those in positions of power or authority, is never acceptable.

2. Lose the belief that victims are waiting too long to report the assaults. Put yourself in the survivor’s place for a moment. Since the accused almost always holds the upper hand, fear of repercussions and embarrassment are very real concerns. In the Nassar case, the victims were both young and impressionable. Not only did they and their parents trust the doctor, they were caught up in a rigid Olympic training culture where gymnasts were expected to “tough it out” under any circumstances. Then, to top things off, when victims DID report the assaults, they were strongly discouraged not to discuss it with anyone. Despicable.

3. Quit assuming that good people aren’t capable of making bad choices, particularly if the culture enables them to prey on those they’re allowed to control. A quick look back at those profiles I listed displays evidence that most of those offenders also had otherwise impressive resumes.

4. Men, in particular, need to be more sensitive and speak more prominently in addressing this issue. A Michigan State chancellor was ripped last week when he tried to suggest the school had more to worry about than “that Nassar thing.” No wonder critics question his priorities. Tom Izzo is one of the most respected coaches in college basketball. But even he’s taking heat for looking uncomfortable and refusing to answer questions about his handling of sexual assault charges against several of his former players. In fairness to Izzo, the charges occurred eight years ago, and he’s caught between a rock and a hard place when his attorneys want him to keep silent. But with the current climate at MSU, the tough questions won’t go away. Blame the reporters if you like … some of them may have unscrupulous motives. Yet while it’s understandable for him to feel defensive, it will be crucial for Izzo to support the survivors, be as transparent as possible and let his fair-minded reputation speak for itself.

5. Finally, I wish education would trump punishment from time to time. Yes, people like Nassar and Weinstein deserve harsh sentences. Even jail time. But instead of wishing all of these aggressors would just disappear forever, why not put them to good use and evoke change? Charlie Rose harassed women but was also a darn good journalist. Have him interview victims and explain where he went wrong. Harvey Weinstein could produce a movie. Al Franken needs to be out there, too, even if not as a U.S. senator.

It’s time for those gawkers on the highway to pull over and do something, instead of slowing down and causing congestion. Who knows when one of the victims might be someone you know? And forget about the fancy cars. Let’s start saving the people.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — What’s In Your Wallet, Viking Fans?

It’s been nearly 41 years since the Minnesota Vikings last played in a Super Bowl. We’ve had seven presidents in that time. The price of gas has risen about two bucks a gallon since the Purple fell to John Madden’s Oakland Raiders back on Jan. 9, 1977.

While the Vikings played in relative splendor that day in Pasadena, Calif., Twin Cities’ residents awoke to a temperature of 31 below. By late afternoon, it felt even colder as we watched the Raiders stomp the Vikes 32-14 to hand the franchise its fourth straight Super Bowl defeat.

I remember hosting a party for my college buddies on that shivering Sunday, loading up on steaks and champagne in anticipation of a championship. By halftime, the steaks were cold, the champagne lukewarm and my wallet much lighter than I could afford.

Since then, I’ve finished college, gotten married, raised two kids and am semi-retired after 40 years as a broadcaster and teacher. Sadly, my favorite football team has not returned to the Big Game.

Oh, there have been close calls through the years. Darrin Nelson dropping that pass at the goal line in ’87, in a loss at Washington. Or that 15-1 team in ’98 that seemed like a sure bet to be Super Bowl-bound. Until Gary Anderson missed his only field goal of the season and the Vikings lost in overtime to Atlanta. At home.

Even millennials have had their nightmares. The script for success appeared to be perfect in ’09. Brett Favre poised to stick it to the Packers, as he joined the enemy out of retirement and engineered a playoff run for the Purple that took us all the way to the NFC Championship Game in New Orleans. Driving for the winning score, only the Vikings could find a way to screw things up. Twelve men in the huddle, a rushed pass and another painful loss in overtime to the Saints.

So here we go again in 2018.  Just when you thought the level for potential heartbreak couldn’t possibly exceed previous campaigns, the stage may be set for what might be the granddaddy of them all. As another new year dawns, bright and cold, the temptation to be lured in for one more kick in the teeth may never be greater. Take a moment to consider these nuggets, presented not simply as speculation by some purple Kool-aid drinking Viking fan, but facts that even the most skeptical of Minnesota supporters cannot deny:

  • As of this morning, the Minnesota Vikings are the 4-1 favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. According to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, top-seeded Philadelphia is merely a 12-1 choice, after losing star quarterback Carson Wentz to a knee injury. Only New England has better odds to win the whole thing and the Vikings wouldn’t have to face Tom Brady and company until Super Sunday anyway.
  • They say that offense sells tickets but defense wins championships. Minnesota finished the regular season as the NFL’s top-rated team in Total Defense, with a stingy 276 yards per game average.
  • They were also best in Scoring Defense, allowing less than 16 points a game. Nobody else was close.
  • In addition, the 2018 Vikings set an all-time league record for Third Down Efficiency, at 25.2 percent. What this means is that opponents are only able to convert first downs about one-quarter of the time. In fairness, the NFL has only been keeping this stat since 1991. But that percentage is beyond amazing.
  • The Vikings’ 13-3 record marks only the second time in team history, the club has won this many games in a single season. Only that 15-1 team in 1998 was better.  The Vikings have won 12 games five times and 11 games five times, but never 13. Again to be fair, not all Minnesota teams played a 16-game schedule, but the number is still impressive.
  • Of the six teams still alive in the NFC, the Vikings have beaten three of them: New Orleans, Los Angeles and Atlanta.  Their only loss was to fifth seeded Carolina, a team that would have to face the Vikings on the road, if they got that far.
  • Want more? If you believe in home field advantage, this year’s Viking team may have the greatest edge ever. For starters, their No. 2 seed gives them a week off during the Wild Card Round. Round 2 is a guaranteed home game Jan. 14, where the Vikes went 7-1. Keep winning and Minnesota has the potential to become the only team in NFL history to play three home games, since Super Bowl LII just happens to be scheduled for U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4.
  • Whether you want to accept it or not, most of the so-called “experts” are tabbing your Vikings as the team to beat in the NFC.

None of this, of course, guarantees anything. There’s a reason this franchise has failed to win an NFL championship since its inception in 1961. Yes, even the Browns, Lions and Eagles own titles prior to the Super Bowl era, which began in 1967. And the woeful Bills somehow won a couple of AFL titles in the 1960s before dropping four straight Super Bowls. This is MINNESOTA. A wonderful place to live, but where close only counts in horseshoes, dancing and local sports teams.

So lest you start getting all worked up again, only to be fractured by another frigid February failure-this time maybe even on our own home turf before a national audience, let me sober you up before it’s too late.

Let’s say the Vikings DO get to the Big Dance. Let me offer some sage advice to keep you from making big mistakes:

1. Skip the steaks and champagne on Super Bowl Sunday. If you absolutely have to assemble a Purple Party, go with hot dogs and beer. It will be much cheaper and the beers can always be saved for later this spring, when the Timberwolves lose a playoff series.

2. If you must watch the game, at least refrain from viewing any of the six hours of pregame coverage. It will only make the predictable bad break or missed field goal around 9:30 p.m., that much more difficult to handle.

3. Don’t get angry when Al Michaels relives his “Do you believe in miracles?” call on NBC, only to be describing an impossible comeback by the AFC team.  Just remember he’s only doing his job and doesn’t really hate Minnesota teams.

4. Avoid listening to all weather reports on the days leading up to the big game. We’ve got enough to be worried about with our football team, let alone warm weather big shots ranting about our subzero readings and traffic tie-ups in a blizzard.

5. Finally, here’s the big one. Under absolutely no circumstances, should you consider the possibility of buying tickets to Super Bowl LII. The last time the Vikings played in a Super Bowl, the average ticket price was 20 bucks. If you looked online today, StubHub lists the phrase “starting from $3,200” as its most affordable option.

Yeah, I know. You’ve waited over 40 years for this. It could be the only time in your life, your horned warriors make it to this contest again. And it’s a mere 30 minute drive from home.

Over three grand? Are you kidding?!! Forget about it.

OK, maybe I don’t really need this old Mazda. Wonder if anybody would be interested in renting out a comfortable Apple Valley basement … with a warm fireplace … for a few days in early February? Nah.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Can Teddy Bear Up Or Is Case Your Ace?

Super Bowl LII is only 80 days away. It’s coming to Minnesota before you know it.  But if you follow pro football, you know a lot can happen in much less time than that. To properly illustrate this point, let’s go back just 65 days.

It’s late Monday night, Sept. 11. Your Minnesota Vikings have just disposed of the New Orleans Saints 29-19 in their NFL season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. Quarterback Sam Bradford has calmed your fears about a lackluster pre-season, by looking laser sharp on this evening: 346 yards passing.  27 for 32.  Three touchdowns.

As you walk out of the stadium that night, you’re elated to think your team finally has its franchise QB. It’s time to sign old Sam to a multiyear contract and be done with it. After all, Teddy Bridgewater is still months away from returning to the field following an injury a year ago that was so gruesome, his trainers thought he might even lose his left leg. Heck, maybe Teddy will never play again. And backup Case Keenum, who was dumped by the Los Angeles Rams in the off-season, is at best, a competent second stringer.

Or so you thought.

Fast-forward the tape, and there have been a few unexpected developments, now that Thanksgiving nears. In fact, the lives of four quarterbacks have been altered so dramatically since that night, that nothing makes sense.

  • Sam Bradford: Just a couple of days after Bradford’s remarkable showing against the Saints, the Vikings began to hint that there might be a problem. A lingering soreness from left knee surgery was evident. Bradford would never look the same, remaining on the sidelines until attempting to play a few weeks later in Chicago, with disastrous results. It soon became clear that this was a chronic injury and eventually he was placed on injured reserve, ending his 2017 season. Say goodbye to that multiyear deal and sadly, maybe even his career.
  • Case Keenum: After initially looking lost when thrown into a Week Two start in Pittsburgh, Keenum hardly seemed like the answer to the Vikings’ quarterback quandary. But given a few more days to get comfortable, he rebounded impressively against Tampa Bay. Keenum pleased the Purple pessimists by putting up three TDs and 369 yards passing in a romp over the Bucs. Then he bailed out Bradford in Chicago and engineered a comeback against the Bears. And despite some ups and downs, he’s now led the Vikes to five straight wins and a 7-2 record. That includes Sunday’s four TD triumph in Washington.
  • Teddy Bridgewater: On Aug. 30, 2016, Bridgewater had high hopes as Minnesota’s franchise quarterback. But in a heartbeat, a freak noncontact injury tore tendons, dislocated his left knee and had him rushed to the hospital with serious structural damage. Even optimistic estimates had Bridgewater needing at least 18 months of rehab. Not to mention, little chance of ever regaining his previous form. Despite encouraging reports of his hard work, prayer and hours of therapy, Bridgewater was placed on the physically unable to perform list in September. That meant he would at least miss the first six games of the 2017 season. Plus, with Bradford assuming the reins in 2016 and displaying great accuracy, most figured Teddy would be traded if and when he was ready to play. But then Bradford went down, and Bridgewater’s name began to resurface. Defying the odds, he was back in uniform and activated in an emotional and heartwarming display in Washington last Sunday.
  • Aaron Rodgers:  Oh, yeah.  There’s one other major player in this signal-calling saga. Regardless of who the Vikings planned to use this season, it was generally assumed that their path to the NFC Central Division title would always be blocked by that guy in Green Bay. A perennial All-Pro with tremendous touch and amazing mobility, Rodgers had only missed nine games in nine seasons. Until linebacker Anthony Barr firmly planted him to the turf on Oct. 15, breaking Rodgers’ collarbone and quickly tilting the landscape in Minnesota’s favor.

So here we are, more than halfway through the regular season, and everything is different. Bradford out, Keenum in, Bridgewater looming and Rodgers off the radar.

In the unpredictable and often dangerous world of pro football, the Vikings have somehow taken a circuitous route into contention less than three months before the Super Bowl comes to the Twin Cities. This despite losing their starting quarterback. Their promising rookie running back Dalvin Cook. And playing with a rebuilt offensive line.

But of course, no Viking season is complete without some level of controversy. Which brings us to Wednesday’s announcement by Head Coach Mike Zimmer that Keenum will remain the starter, at least for this weekend’s home showdown with the equally surprising 7-2 Los Angeles Rams.

The decision would seem fairly obvious, given Keenum’s big numbers in Washington and the uncertainty of Bridgewater’s readiness after so many months away from the job. Yet, as it began to become apparent that Teddy would at least be activated, Zimmer has done little to quell the rumors of a possible change. Stay with the hot hand in Keenum or give the job back to Bridgewater?

For days, Zimmer has teased reporters with talk of “a plan” for the stretch drive, while sports radio talk show hosts have fanned the flames and compared the pros and cons of the two quarterbacks. Never one to open up much about game plans or strategies, Zimmer has nonetheless seemed to delight in keeping fans guessing on this issue.

Here’s my theory why:

I’m convinced Zimmer wants to play Bridgewater. We shouldn’t forget that he and General Manager Rick Spielman went out of their way to move up in the 2014 draft to land the Louisville star at the end of the first round. You don’t do that unless you believe he’s worth the investment.

Zimmer also appreciates hard-nosed, unselfish players, and Bridgewater is both. It’s hard not to root for a guy willing to make the kinds of sacrifices he has made to get back on the field. Bridgewater stayed around the Vikings while rehabbing and is clearly well-liked by his teammates. That kind of loyalty means a lot to the head coach.

Yet this is still a business, and Zimmer knows how important it would be to somehow make a playoff run this year. No team has ever won a Super Bowl in its own stadium. Yes, it’s a longshot. But the Vikings have one of the NFL’s top defenses, are staying relatively healthy and know this season’s field appears wide open.

Keenum is arguably the team’s most valuable player right now. He’s built a rapport with talented receivers like Adam Thielen and Stefan Diggs. His mobility has meshed nicely with an offensive line gaining confidence, and he’s playing at his highest level thanks in part to a good relationship with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. The team has won five in a row, under his leadership.

No one knows how long this will last. Keenum is still occasionally prone to mistakes and was a backup quarterback in the past, for good reason. But then, who knows how effective Bridgewater will be after months of rust? Will he be able to take a hit? Will his ability to roll out of the pocket and make plays, be compromised?

Like most NFL coaches, Zimmer is also pretty conservative with a lead. In Keenum, he has one. So by making Case believe his starting job is never a sure thing, while still giving Teddy hope that a start is forthcoming, he’s not letting either guy get too comfortable.

Regardless of his approach, Zimmer knows that Bridgewater will need to play at some point. Best case scenario (no pun intended) would be a Viking blowout win or an early clinching before the playoffs start.

My guess is, the former seems more likely than the latter. Minnesota has a much tougher remaining schedule than the Detroit Lions, who’ve already beaten the Vikings once and could get right back in the Central race by defeating them again Thanksgiving morning. But home games against Cincinnati and Chicago in December look like possible targets for a Bridgewater return.

In the meantime, let’s just keep our fingers crossed and savor the weeks ahead. After all, if Phileas Fogg could make it around the world in 80 days, why can’t our football team make history in a similar window of time?

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Walking, Writing and Wondering

When I don’t know what else to do, I like to take walks.  Or write.  Yesterday, I did both.

The walk had to come first, because I find it helps me think a bit more before attempting to just pound out random thoughts.  That’s always a good thing.

And the cool, cloudy conditions were definitely a factor in my brisker-than-normal pace, particularly when I’d already come to realize I was too far from home to go back and get long pants.

As I pondered our troubled world, a couple of miles in, I spotted a large, red sign planted on the lawn of a home in a modest neighborhood.  “Drive like your kids live here…” the message read, an obvious inference to slow down in this residential area.  Soon I noticed others just like it, dotting the street.  It made me wonder if something had happened there recently, possibly involving a careless driver and an innocent child.

Forgive me for jumping to conclusions.  Like everybody these days, I want answers to questions even when they aren’t readily available.  Knee jerk reactions are always easier than thoughtful discussion, especially in this “We want to know now!” world.

Another mass shooting last week brought no shortage of reactions.  Sadly, most of them felt recycled.  We all know the routine by now.  The shock and disbelief followed by thoughts and prayers followed by anger.  The Second Amendment lovers going toe to toe with those convinced America needs greater gun legislation.  Or if nothing else, at least the opportunity to discuss the matter.

But 58 more people are gone.  Over 500 injured.  Countless others affected by one man’s decision.  Oh wait…even that becomes debatable.

Before long, the conspiracy theorists will present all sorts of possibilities: The shooter wasn’t alone.  He got help from ISIS.  He was a Democrat who wanted to take out Republicans at a country concert to ultimately promote gun control.  He was a Republican who loved guns.  He was lonely.  He was a psychopath.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like intelligent, curious people not afraid to ask questions.  So all of these possibilities are fair game for discussion.  It’s not the theories I oppose.  It’s the conclusions we like to draw, based on our already biased agendas.

It feels like the perfect storm.  We want answers and there are plenty of places to find them quickly.  We particularly like being right.  So we gravitate to websites, blogs or TV channels that tell us what we want to hear, even if there are questions that can’t be answered immediately.  We feel empowered now to post “Click if you agree” messages, seeking greater confirmation of our superiority.  Find enough people to like it and there’s no stopping us.  Disagree and face the sudden insults and humiliation of your “ignorance” from our internet posse.

That’s where we are now.  Civility is long gone.  We’re too fearful and distrusting of opposing views because we’ve been told there’s so much “fake news.”  Yet we’re too impatient and defensive to find out we might occasionally be wrong.

I was struck by the public’s response to three stories last week, all of them involving women.

NFL Quarterback Cam Newton made headlines when he smirked and laughed at a female reporter’s question regarding the “physicality” of his wide receivers’ route running.  Newton took enough heat to lose one of his sponsors and days later issued a video apology.  While I appreciated the fact that he seemed contrite and the message was unscripted, I had little sympathy for him.  Her question was legitimate, her approach professional and she was simply doing her job.  In my eyes, Newton was smug, sexist and unfairly embarrassed the woman.

Yet reaction was surprisingly mixed.  Many blamed the reporter.  Some felt she was seeking attention or should have had a thicker skin.  Fans of the star athlete complained that he was “getting picked on.”  Others simply had no time for the media, in general.

Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was also under fire, following a New York Times report that detailed nearly 30 years of sexual misconduct.  Like Newton, Weinstein admitted his bad behavior, sought forgiveness from the public and immediately began to suffer some consequences: officially dismissed from his own multimillion dollar company with more serious charges forthcoming.

Again, reaction varied, but this time producing a silly political spat that took attention away from the real point: That unsuspecting women had been subjected to inappropriate and in some cases, criminal behavior by a sleaze bag who used his power to curry favors.

Instead of focusing on the victims, many dug up the usual dirt.  Tying liberals to Weinstein and wondering why their condemnations hadn’t come faster. Or tying conservatives to Trump and seeing their condemnations of Weinstein as hypocritical following the President’s discretions that came to light during the campaign last fall.

Even more disturbing though, was the tired, old belief that somehow some of these women were only “getting what they deserved.”  Weinstein is a liberal, rich, white guy.  Trump is a conservative, rich white guy.  Bill Cosby is black, Bill Clinton is white.  Forget which side you’re on for a moment.  ALL of them should be condemned for their bad behavior.

Finally, my last observation involved a happier story, but in my mind, deserving of greater recognition.

A week ago, the Minnesota Lynx won their fourth WNBA championship in the last seven years, a remarkable achievement for any pro franchise.  Their clinching victory came just one day after our local baseball team, the Minnesota Twins, had their surprisingly successful regular season end abruptly with a playoff loss in New York.

As a former sportscaster and big fan of both squads, I was thankful for the joy they brought this summer to a market seemingly always starved for success.

It is indisputable that the Twins draw more fans, have been around much longer and generate far more revenue than the Lynx.  I own Twins’ partial season tickets, while I seldom attend Lynx games.  The difference is evidenced by the reality that is women’s basketball.  They play second fiddle to the men’s teams, get pushed around to whatever date and location is available and often perform in nearly empty, outdated arenas.  Nobody is debating that.

So it’s apples to oranges.  But what continued to surprise me was how often many were quick to dismiss the latter’s accomplishments following the elimination of the former.  Mostly men.

“Nobody cares about the Lynx,” wrote one guy on a Facebook post.  “Yawn,” was another.   I even had one friend seem almost ashamed to admit he’d attended the game.  Wow.  I wondered why this level of hate.  Was it about gender?  Race?  Just disdain for the game as a whole?

I covered women’s basketball in the 1980s, at all levels.  The product was nothing like what it is today.  If you caught any of the five games in the final series, you know what I mean.  Minnesota and Los Angeles were evenly matched, had two games decided in the closing seconds and delivered high-level excitement and entertainment.

Admittedly, we all have our own tastes and interests, so my goal is not to convince you to tune in.  But you might be surprised if you did.

Which brings me back to that red sign I noticed on my two hour, head-clearing walk.  I kept thinking about those words… “like YOUR kids live here.”

I wondered if you might be more inclined to slow down and listen to as many viewpoints as possible, if those had been YOUR kids at that Las Vegas concert.

Regardless of your perspectives or biases, I wondered if you’d still feel Cam Newton was being picked on, had that reporter been YOUR daughter.

I wondered if you’d be so quick to post political perspectives or blame victims if that had been YOUR daughter auditioning for Harvey Weinstein.

And I wondered if you might be inclined to begrudgingly share more pride in those four WNBA championships, if by chance it was YOUR daughter on that team.

By the time I turned the corner and caught a glimpse of our driveway, I realized a few things had changed.  The sun was out, it was warmer and I no longer needed those long pants.  I was also walking much slower.  Eight mile strolls will do that to you.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Purple Pain Just A Part Of NFL’s Bane

A chilly Sunday morning gradually blossomed into a gorgeous, late summer afternoon. But being a golfer of marginal talent and fully aware that our local football team had an enticing matchup in Pittsburgh, I still wondered if I’d made the right choice. Our annual fraternity scramble was on tap at the University of Minnesota course, and I’d reluctantly agreed to once more expose my shaky game to all those alums eager to sneer at my worm-burning iron play.

After watching the Vikings cruise past New Orleans in surprisingly easy fashion last Monday, it was tempting to leave my cell phone on when we gathered at the first hole for our late morning tee off. But I’d convinced myself that I would avoid all distractions and forget about football … for at least a few hours.

Before long, we were sharing old stories, shedding our windbreakers and even making a good shot or two. So it wasn’t until we were returning our golf carts and sipping on beers, that someone mentioned the Purple. “They were losing big, the last I checked,” said one of the brothers.

Suddenly it hit me. I’d managed to spend a Sunday afternoon away from the Red Zone Channel and hadn’t suffered NFL withdrawal symptoms. In fact, I found myself grateful to have reconnected with old buddies and gotten some much-needed exercise and sun, in the process.

What should be worrisome for Roger Goodell and the rest of the league’s cronies, is that my revelation about life without pro football is happening to many others these days. And that spells trouble for a business already too greedy for their own good.

Let me attempt to connect the dots by starting at the bottom of the food chain of a multimillion dollar operation that has been captivating Americans for years. Or conning them … depending on your perspective.

Ruben is an avid pro football fan. We’ll call him “Rube” for short. He loves the Vikings, wears everything purple and shells out thousands of dollars to occupy a nosebleed seat at US Bank Stadium. Rube watches NFL games Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. He plays in six fantasy leagues. But lately, Rube has been angry and frustrated for a variety of reasons.

First, there were those annoying preseason games where he was forced to pay full-price for tickets in Row Z. The games where the teams played mostly third stringers to protect their stars from getting injured, since they still figured the studs would get battered around in weeks to come.

Then Rube put in months of planning to prepare for his fantasy draft and was thrilled to land the top-rated running back, David Johnson, of Arizona. But a couple of days later, Johnson went down with a season-ending injury. In fact, many top players were dropping like flies, tearing ACLs and separating shoulders.

Speaking of injuries, Rube was really down in the dumps when he learned his favorite quarterback, Sam Bradford, also had to sit out for the Vikings on Sunday. Why, just a few days ago, Bradford had displayed laser-like accuracy in carving up the Saints, only to come down with a mysterious swelling of the knee prior to the Pittsburgh game. No wonder the Steelers throttled our boys, 26-9.

And remember, Sam was supposed to be replacing Teddy (as in Bridgewater), the previous Viking QB who suffered his own major injury just a year ago. Poor Rube had envisioned a dream where his squad would be the first NFL team in history to play a Super Bowl in its own stadium, since Minnesota will host the event this February. Now, in Week Two, that already seemed highly unlikely.

Realistically, Rube already knew he’d never be able to afford a seat at the Super Bowl anyway. Most of those would go to rich folks or corporations. Now his team might not win half its games, with a worst Case (as in Keenum) scenario at quarterback. His fantasy teams weren’t looking much better with all those injuries.

So here’s what’s unfolding: The Rubes of the world are beginning to notice a few things. Their wallets are lighter. The endless games they’ve been watching seem less interesting. Every team in the league lacks depth, at one position or another, resulting in poorer execution.

An obvious sign of trouble is already evident in Los Angeles. Since departing from San Diego over the winter, the Chargers made their home field debut in La La Land Sunday. Capacity for StubHub Stadium is 27,000 and only 25,381 purchased tickets. Far fewer actually showed up. Fittingly, the home team lost in the closing seconds when their rookie kicker blew a 44-yard field goal attempt, more evidence that rosters are short on competency.

For Minnesota fans, at least misery loves company. Their biggest rivals, the Green Bay Packers, got blown out by Atlanta last night. Already missing their two starting tackles, the Pack had six more players leave due to injury. Defending champ New England was beaten at home by Kansas City last week and is without several key players. Both have stellar QBs in Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady yet are no better than 1-1 thus far.

A watered down product due to countless injuries, skyrocketing ticket prices and numerous off-the-field issues are penalties that have NFL owners losing ground with followers. Too many games on too many nights have made even important contests seem less significant.

As we walked off the golf course Sunday, one of my buddies mentioned how happy he was that he didn’t “waste another weekend” watching football. Another said he’d taped the Viking game but now planned to skip reviewing it, after learning of the result.

It’s only September. Maybe when the snow begins to fly and we’re cooped inside, I’ll be glued to my television. Watching Case Keenum engineer a comeback to help the Vikes finish at 8-8. Then again … there’s always bowling.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — As Hopes Peter Out, Twins Become Sellers

The dog days of August have arrived and our favorite baseball team is apparently “rebuilding” again.

For the better part of four months, the Minnesota Twins teased local fans with a brand of ball just good enough to make us believe there was hope. In fact, as recently as July 20, the Twins were within a half-game of first place Cleveland in the American League Central Division standings.

Never mind the numerous warning signs. Despite a 48-46 record on that day, the club had one of the worst home marks in the majors, had been outscored by more than 60 runs and owned an unsightly team ERA near 5.

But after losing 103 games the previous season, who could blame boosters for feeling optimistic? New front office moguls Derek Falvey and Thad Levine represented fresh faces after frequent failures … five of the previous six seasons, to be exact. Veteran pitcher Ervin Santana was having an All-Star season, the defense appeared much-improved, and youngsters like Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios and Byron Buxton all seemed headed in the right direction.

Then came the disastrous West Coast road swing, as Minnesota’s bullpen blew one game after another, losing five of six games to the red-hot Los Angeles Dodgers and the middling Oakland A’s.

When I climbed out of bed on the last day of July, the Twins were suddenly seven games out of first place. Baseball’s annual trading deadline had arrived and a good deal of grumbling had returned to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

As she gulped down her coffee and headed for work, my wife had a couple of reasonable questions for me. “Is it true the Twins just traded that guy they picked up a couple of days ago? How does that make any sense?” She was correct about the first part. It’s just that my answer to the second would need more time than she had available.

“That guy” was Jaime Garcia, a solid, if not spectacular, left-handed pitcher the Twins had acquired in a trade with Atlanta for a minor-leaguer earlier in the week. In fact, Garcia was the only Twin to win on that cross country crusade to California. And that wasn’t all. By day’s end, Minnesota had also unloaded their All-Star closer, Brandon Kintzler, for cash and a no-name from Washington.

Knowing the Garcia swap to the hated Yankees would be difficult enough to explain, I was especially thankful I wouldn’t have to break down the logic behind Kintzler’s departure as well. Laurie was already out the door by then.

Meanwhile, on Facebook and Twitter, there was the familiar frustration from Twins’ fans who had seen this act before. Even veteran infielder Brian Dozier publicly expressed his disappointment with the moves, as others lamented how the big money teams like the Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs predictably got richer while the “have-nots” were forced to start planning for the future again.

But sprinkled amidst the dissenters, was the equally predictable call for calm from those who like to think they know better. At the risk of coming off like a baseball snob, you can include me in that group.

In response to our slugging second sacker, I would like to suggest to “Doz” that perhaps his five strikeouts Sunday may have contributed to this housecleaning.  Then again, the moves by management were already happening. And they should’ve been.

Convincing casual fans like my wife, and even more passionate ones simply sick and tired of seven seasons of mediocrity, would seem more difficult. But let me try.

To begin with, if you want to be upset, the anger should be directed more at major league baseball in general rather than the Twins. Teams like the Yankees and Dodgers make mountains of cash from both national and local TV deals. Even with attempts at parity, the clubs with more money will spend it. Recently, the Yankees signed nine of the top 25 international prospects. Because they could.

So when the Bronx Bombers scoop up players like Sonny Gray, David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Jaime Garcia, it shouldn’t be surprising. Or the Dodgers snatch the biggest prize at this year’s deadline, pitcher Yu Darvish. They clearly have a competitive advantage.

That still doesn’t guarantee a pennant. But it does mean teams like Minnesota must always be creative and savvy to compete. It’s becoming clear that Falvey and Levine see pitching as their club’s greatest need. The roster is already blessed with a number of young, everyday players ready to contend at the plate and in the field.

For starters, let’s be realistic. Minnesota was going nowhere with this shaky staff. Garcia was viewed as a rental player, needed solely for the remainder of this season. Both he and Kintzler are eligible for free agency and could re-sign with any team next season. Both are over 30. What’s more important is to examine what the Twins got in return:

  • Zack Littell: Picked up in the Garcia trade, this 21-year old has been tearing it up in the Yankee organization. The right-hander is not overpowering but has great control, profiles best as a long reliever and is 14-1 in stints at High A and AA levels.
  • Dietrich Enns: Another former Yankee, this lefty is much closer to being ready for the major leagues. The 26-year old from Central Michigan has a good curve and changeup and should help in the late innings.
  • Tyler Watson: Acquired in the deal with Washington, Watson just turned 20. A big southpaw at 6-foot-5 and projected to be a back end of the rotation starter, this kid has potential breakthrough stuff.

If you agree that the Twins are still in dire need of pitching, then you should welcome any fresh arms to the system, even if it means those players may be a few years away from contributing. Considering that only Cincinnati and Baltimore have given up more runs this season, that would seem to be a logical deduction.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing Santana traded as well. He will turn 35 in December, is having a better than expected 2017 season and would likely yield more young arms from a contender desperate to win now.

Also lost in the shuffle was an interesting side benefit to the Kintzler trade. Remember that stat I mentioned about the Yankees and their ability to sign players overseas? Washington has included $500,000 in international bonus pool allocation, giving the Twins a better chance to compete on that level, too.

Yes, our boys have emerged from the cellar, only to become sellers one more time. But as Andy told old Red in “The Shawshank Redemption,” it’s either time to “get busy living or get busy dying.”  For now, the Twins need to die first to live later.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — The Bittersweet Experience Of Growing Old

It’s been a busy last few months, as a part-time job has become more “full” than “part.” At 64, there’s this ever-growing struggle between the need for self-worth and the realization that it might not be wise to put off retirement too long.

Senior discounts and AARP notices have already become staples for several years. At this age, we begin to listen more carefully to those commercials we tuned out in the past. Cremation Society? Annuity Rates? Assisted Living?

OK, well, maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit on a couple of those. But for every time I’m told how much smarter it will be to work into my 70s, I read about a friend who’s left us before they even got the chance to “walk off into the sunset.”

The reality is, we just don’t know what the future holds. My parents both worked full-time jobs into their 60s. But Dad battled health issues and died at 73, leaving the two of them little opportunity for much deserved vacations after retirement.

The advent of social media has given us the opportunity to keep up more on the lives of classmates and friends. There’s something satisfying about seeing our contemporaries sharing old memories, posting Throwback Thursday photos and growing old together. But sometimes the more we know, the more we’re not ready for those updates we’d rather not hear.

Just last week, a former colleague shared the prideful news that he and his wife were celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary. Although he and I hadn’t been close friends, we’d worked together as television news people many years ago. Somehow, through Facebook, we’d renewed our acquaintance about five years ago and had begun to catch up on each other’s lives.

His last post told of a quiet, yet romantic dinner, followed by a champagne toast just before bedtime. I remember clicking “Like” and adding the obligatory “Happy Anniversary!” message to his thread.

Two days later, a childhood pal was displaying a photo of the two of them on his page. Quickly scanning the daily news feed, I spotted the phrase “will be terribly missed.” Tragically, my friend and colleague, had died in his sleep just hours after celebrating their anniversary. Sleep apnea or heart attack were mentioned as possible causes. He was 62.

This wasn’t the first time I’d felt the shock of sudden disease or unlikely departure. Three of my fellow instructors at Brown College have died recently, two of them from cancer. One was only 59. A close buddy I’ve known since grade school has seen his life turned upside down following his wife’s out-of-nowhere diagnosis of acute lymphoma leukemia. Another great friend has watched his granddaughter fight a similar battle before the age of five.

None of this should come as a major surprise to anyone. We all have heartbreaking stories to tell about loved ones gone too soon. Or lives altered drastically by unexpected major illnesses or injuries.

That’s not all. Unemployment. Divorce. Bankruptcy. Changes we never saw coming can put a dagger in those grand schemes we envisioned not that long ago.

Earlier this month, the Coyne family celebrated its first wedding in 30 years, as my sister’s daughter, Elizabeth Ullyot, would marry Mike Borneke on a steamy Saturday on Boom Island, overlooking the Mississippi River. It brought out a flood of emotions, particularly since the last wedding happened to be ours.

As Laurie and I later paged through photos from both events, we were struck by the similarities. A warm weekend in June, the joy and anticipation of what might lie ahead. Friends and family members gathering to dance and celebrate the union of two people with great plans for the future.

But it also brought back bittersweet reminders that life goes on, with us or without us. Just seven years after our 1987 wedding, my dad would be gone. A few years later, one of my groomsmen would pass, too. Many of the guests we welcomed that day wouldn’t be around to celebrate Lizzy and Mike’s big moment in 2017.

Perhaps the photo that hit home the most, though, was the one near the back of our wedding book. It featured a group shot of the bride and groom, my sister Cheryl, her husband, Jim, and their 1-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

Thankfully, the five of us were all there to celebrate again some 30 years later. But this time it would be that little girl’s turn to own the spotlight.

Oh, yeah … one other thing. I had a chance that day to work overtime hours and make some extra cash. Bolster that self-worth. Build on that retirement nest egg.

Forget that nonsense. To borrow a couple of lines from a Kenny Chesney song: “Don’t blink. Life goes faster than you think.”