RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks Vs. Kansas City T-Bones

The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks rode the pitching of Tyler Alexander to a 5-0 win over the Kansas City T-Bones on Tuesday night at Newman Field in Fargo, and photographer Russ Hons was there. Alexander allowed just three baserunners (one hit and two walks) while striking out 13 batters in the American Association game. Third-baseman Josh Mazzola drove in three runs with a single and two-run homer for the RedHawks. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)

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.

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — Grand Forks Blues Vs. Casselton

The 2017 season of the Grand Forks Blues ended Friday with a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Casselton in the North Dakota Class A American Legion Tournament at Kraft Memorial Field in Grand Forks. The Blue trailed 3-0 going into the seventh and scored two runs before leaving the bases loaded in the loser-out game. Parker Monette had three hits for the Blues, while Peyton Lotysz and Zach Vodden each chipped in two.

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — American Legion Baseball: Grand Forks Royals Vs. Fargo Trappers

The Grand Fork Royals took two games from the Fargo Post 400 Trappers in North Dakota Class AA American Legion play Friday night at Kraft Field in Grand Forks. The Royals won the first game 5-0 and the second 7-3. The first game was the completion of a game started June 13 in Fargo that was halted in the second inning because of rain. Brock Reller led the Royals in the first game, going 2-4 with a home run and picking up the win in relief. Rakeem Wright, Zach Murphy and Landon Kraft each chipped in two hits. In the second game, Connor Richardson led the Royals, picking up the win in relief and going 2-2 with three RBI. Reller and Murphy each added two hits. The Post 6 Royals upped their record to 18-4 with the wins. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — American Legion Baseball: Grand Forks Post 6 Vs. Fargo Post 2

A lot of people believe that’s there’s nothing better to do on a nice summer night than go to a baseball game. And that’s exactly what Grand Forks photographer Russ Hons did Wednesday night. Here are some of the photos Russ took of the American Legion game between host Grand Forks Post 6 and visiting Fargo Post 2 at Kraft Field in Grand Forks. Post 2 won the opener 8-2 behind the pitching of Cameron Blazek (nine strikeouts) and the hitting of Luke Sandy (3-4 with a triple). However, the Royals of Post 6 took the nightcap 5-4, rallying for three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to claim the win. Leading the Royals were Isaac Berger, who was 3-3 at the plate, and Brock Reller, who pitched a complete game and was 2-3 (double and single). Also contributing two hits apiece for the 4-1 Royals were Rakeem Wright (homer and single) and Ben Carolin (double and single). Landon Kraft was 1-4 with two RBI. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)

MIKE BRUE: Cubs-Indians World Series Game 7 Ranks As One Of The Best — But THE Best . . . .?

For high drama, Wednesday-into-Thursday’s historic World Series Game 7 between the long-suffering Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians franchises made for worthwhile baseball viewing and listening. In my case, it was some of both. Thank goodness for car radios.

A cleanly played game? Not really. You could question some of the unorthodox managerial decisions, too.  Still, the contest featured enough some clutch hitting and gutsy pitching from both teams, and enough fascinating strategy to keep millions of baseball fans’ bed pillows untouched into extra innings. Besides, after waits of 108 and 68 years for a World Series championship, what’s a few more late-night innings, commercials included….?

In many ways, the Chicago-Cleveland game (minus the rain delay between innings nine and 10) reminded me — for different reasons — of two climate-controlled Minnesota Twins contests that I actually attended.

One was the 2009 division championship-clinching game that Twins fans sometimes refer to simply as “Game 163.”

For you casual MLB fans, a 163rd regular-season game follows a 162-game season if two teams in a division finished tied for first. The winner of Game 163 moves on to the playoffs. The loser slinks into the off-season.

Twins followers tend to forget that, in 2008, the team narrowly lost the division title, 1-0, to Chicago’s White Sox in a Game 163. Forgetting may be by design, since Minnesota’s bats went balsa after Game 162.

So, when a Minnesota fan mentions Game 163 and grins, bet your autographed Tony Oliva bat that it’s the 2009 game.

Memorable? Definitely. An ultra-tense, do-or-die, back-and-forth, 12-inning sweat producer, the walk-off winner climax of a historic Twins season. It capped a franchise-loving comeback that began the previous week with Minnesota two games behind in their division’s standings with just three games to play. The Detroit Tigers stumbled out of that lead and then lost a hard-fought Game 163, too.

It was a dramatic, deafening, celebratory Metrodome win for Manager Ron Gardenhire’s Twins — an atmosphere in some ways reminiscent of Minnesota’s Homer Hanky crazed World Series home games under skipper Tom Kelly in 1987 and 1991.

It also was the Twins’ last win under the dome roof.  In the 2009 division series that followed Minnesota’s celebratory partying, ambition quickly deflated vs. the team’s post-season Achilles’ heel of the 2000s, the New York Yankees. The best-of-five series became a three-game sweep. Minnesota’s last loss, in the Metrodome, also put its dome years in the rearview mirror and Target Field in its headlights.

Anyway, MLB bigwigs decided they liked Game 163s so much that they artificially created a make-or-break single-game in both the American and National Leagues.  Two teams in each league with the best won-loss records but no division title get one game to determine which one advances to a playoff round with one of its league’s three division winners.

Meanwhile, many Twins fans groused that all but one of their recent multiple division-winning teams weren’t good enough to get beyond the first playoff round.

That was six losing seasons ago. But I digress.

I thought a lot about Game 163 during Wednesday’s final Cubs-Indians duel.

The other Twins game that came to mind that night was a Game 7, too:  1991’s 10-inning, 1-0 pitching tug-of-war with another “worst-to-first” combatant, Atlanta. Both teams had gone from dredging their respective divisions’ cellars the previous year to MLB’s pinnacle showcase.

 What a game.  Twins warhorse Jack Morris pitched an extra-inning shutout for the ages.  The Braves’ future Hall-of-Fame pitcher John Smoltz and several relievers proved just as unyielding, until inning 10.  Both teams had bases loaded with one out in their halves of the eighth inning — and neither was able to score.

Really, not many similarities at all to the Cubs-Indian Game 7.

I will never forget row upon Metrodome roll of stressed spectators gripping knotted and tightly twisted Homer Hankies.  I can still see thousands of thoroughly shredded food wrappers, napkins and paper cups at their feet.

Perhaps the Metrodome’s air-lofted lid would have ruptured had the tension gone unvented another few extra innings. We’ll never know. In the bottom of the 10th, pinch-hitter Gene Larkin’s bases-loaded, game-winning fly ball single over a drawn-in Atlanta left fielder sent an elated Dan Gladden home from his momentary perch on third base. That game-ending pin-prick spared the roof but burst Atlanta’s title-seeking balloon.

 Like ’91’s Game 7 masterpiece, 2009’s Game 163 elimination game ended with a walk-off hit — infielder Alexi Cassila’s grounder to right field, scoring outfielder-a- “Go Go” Carlos Gomez from second base — that produced an explosion of Metrodome celebration unrivaled since the Twins’ World Series wins.

Even without walk-off heroics in the Cub’s 10th-inning win at Cleveland in the wee hours Thursday, the game no doubt created plenty of anxiety for fans.  Lots of food wrappers, napkins and paper cups shredded there, too, I suspect.

Best World Series ever?

I still think the Twins-Braves Series 25 years ago was better start to finish, with four of the final five games — two for Atlanta, two for Minnesota — decided in the final at-bat, and then in front of the game-winners’ home crowds. In all, five 1991 Series games were decided by a single run, and three games — including elimination games 6 and 7, went into extra innings. Did I mention Kirby Puckett’s “We’ll see you tomorrow night” Game 6 winning home run…?

Even with multiple great storylines, Cleveland and Chicago had only three games decided by a single run and only one that went past nine innings and no walk-off hits.

Sure, yours truly is a unabashed Twins fan boasting about a Series that Minnesota won. But I already know plenty of non-Twins or non-Braves fans would agree with me about the marvel that was the ’91 Series.

Still, was the best Game 7 ever played just completed by the Cubs and Indians?  The internet and airwaves already have had plenty of takers on that claim.

I think back to what veteran TV play-by-play announcer Buck said around the last inning of Game 7. I’m not talking about FOX’s Joe Buck, but his late father Jack, who headed CBS’ Series coverage of the Twins and Braves.

“You know,” Jack Buck told viewers back then, “a lot of times, you attend a sporting event, or watch a World Series, or some other athletic competition, and not realize at the time how sensational it is. . . .But tonight, it’s so apparent that this is one of the most remarkable baseball games ever played.”

That’s when former catcher and CBS analyst Tim McCarver added, “You’re trying to look for some historical perspective to look back on, but you can’t find any.  It’s a one of a kind.”

Valid comments, still, these 25 years later. More than anything, the Twins-Braves Game 7 was one of a kind — and the best World Series game I’ve ever witnessed, in person or on TV.

 Disagree, if you must. Maybe you liked 1960’s Game 7 better, or 1997’s. Maybe 2001’s. Disagreement is a welcomed part of the joy of following baseball. The same cannot be said for the U.S. presidential campaign. And I mean 2016’s.

The Cubs-Indians Game 7 still belongs among the most memorable World Series elimination games in MLB history, and not merely because it was TV’s most viewed Game 7 since — drum roll, please — 1991’s Twins-Braves Series battle. 

Wow. Better yet, holy cow!

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Trending To The Back In The Front Office

As another steamy summer slips slowly southward, I’ll remember this one for two reasons: monstrous Midwestern mosquitoes and batches of bad baseball.

Yes, our lawn has never looked greener in late September,  but I’m looking forward to the fall. I would imagine the Minnesota Twins are, too. It seems we’ll both be eager to get the bugs out.

While the plentiful rains and high humidity left me scratching my arms and legs too often this summer, the Twins had me scratching my head from April to September.

It’s not just the losing, either. Oh, we’ve seen several 90-loss seasons, since the team moved into terrific Target Field back in 2010. Yet this year, the club seemed to really hit rock bottom, after a surprisingly promising bounce back season in 2015.

An 0-9 start is never good. But historically bad pitching and defense, boneheaded base running and a front office that appears to still be locked in a 1990s time warp, has me worried this funk will be with us indefinitely.

With two weeks left in the season, the Twins are on a crash course to lose 100 games. That’s only happened one other time since the franchise moved from Washington to Minnesota in 1961. The 1982 Twins finished with a record of 60-102, a mark still very reachable for this year’s edition.

Now for the BAD news. Since Terry Ryan was relieved of his duties as general manager in mid-July, the team has been looking for what they call a “leader of baseball operations.” They’ve even hired a search firm and are eager to complete the hire by the end of the season.  Just one problem. They’re getting little interest from the most sought after potential candidates.

Ryan was highly respected for many years as a savvy baseball man known for using a low payroll and building from the ground up, to contend successfully with big money opponents. But times have changed, and it’s becoming obvious that people around baseball aren’t convinced the Twins have kept up with those times.

Dodgers executive Alex Anthopoulos and Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington were the hot prospects a month ago. Anthopoulos now says he was never a serious candidate. On Wednesday, Cherington took a lesser role with the Toronto Blue Jays after declining an interview with the Twins.

Don’t get me wrong. Landing a front office job with a major league team will always be enticing. The latest names to surface include Tampa Bay Rays executive Chaim Bloom, Mets executive John Ricco and Jason McLeod, who is the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development. Both Bloom and Ricco are considered strong “analytics” guys — new wave baseball people who understand and use statistical analysis effectively. A couple of other names are Cleveland assistant GM Derek Falvey and Kansas City Royals exec J. J. Picollo.

But here’s what has me worried. Jeff Passon of Yahoo! Sports recently tweeted that multiple candidates had turned Minnesota down before the interview stage of the process. Shouldn’t that be a warning sign? Yet the Twins seem anxious to get this done quickly.

Two reasons for the hesitation to hook up with the Twins seem obvious:

The decision by owner Jim Pohlad to keep Paul Molitor on as manager in 2016, regardless of who their new hire is, sends a bad message to prospective clients.  This team is in dire need of fresh leadership, yet the person coming on board has already been stripped of the power to make the most important hire of his or her regime.

And Pohlad’s press conference following the Ryan dismissal didn’t do him any favors. Saying he seeks a GM that’s “lovable” for an organization that, in truth, needs a good old-fashioned butt kicking, was a bad choice of adjectives. His admission of thumbing through “media guides” as a first resort for such an important position, made it sound as if he wasn’t very serious.

Pohlad doesn’t need a media guide, and he certainly shouldn’t look for “lovable.” Just walk across town and you’ll see Minnesota’s other professional teams cleaning house and hiring respected outsiders not afraid to make tough decisions.  Mike Zimmer. Bruce Boudreau. Tom Thibodeau. None of those guys are seen as soft and fuzzy.

One thing that does seem to get Pohlad’s attention these days is lost revenue. In recent visits to Target Field, the crowds continue to dwindle. Even more alarming are the number of food and drink stands closing around the stadium. And competition from those Vikings, Wild, Wolves and Lynx isn’t promising, either, particularly when all of those organizations appear to have made far more positive strides than the beleaguered Twins.

Last week, I got a “Dear Tom” letter. It was a personal, heartfelt message from Mr. Pohlad himself. As a partial season ticket holder, I probably attend more games than most Minnesotans can stomach these days. So my good pal, Jim, spent several paragraphs lauding me and others of us for our undying loyalty.

The letter also offered assurance that the search for new leadership would “create positive change while reinvigorating the fun, passion, hustle and heart that is the fabric of the Twins Tradition.” In fact, it wasn’t until the final line of the full page letter, that the BS turned to PS. Just a quick reminder about renewal for next season, with the generous promise that “pricing will remain unchanged and your first payment date will be extended until the end of October.”

Since we both love the Twins, I have a suggestion for Mr. Pohlad: You take your time with that new hire and I’ll take my time renewing those tickets. I’d rather be itching to see a winning ballclub than scratching my head again.

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — Fargo-Moorhead Vs. Wichita Wingnuts, May 29, 2016

The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks lost 14-4 to the Wichita Wings on Sunday at Newman Outdoor Field but still picked up their first series win of the season in American Association baseball play. The RedHawks defeated Wichita 13-3 on Friday and 7-3 on Saturday. They are now 5-5 on the season and are two games behind the 7-3 St. Paul Saints in the North Division. Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.

CHUCK SCHUMACHER: Coach Chuck — Training Young Athletes: Finding The Balance

A few years ago while I was teaching a karate class at my gym, a mother and her son arrived for the youngster’s first private karate lesson. As they sat down to wait for the lesson to begin, I noticed the boy was sitting on his mom’s lap — he was 12 years old. An hour later, another 12-year-old arrived for his baseball lesson. His father informed me that they had just come from the 12-year-old’s strength and conditioning coach at another gym and then were off to football practice after the baseball lesson.

The truth is, training a 12-year-old as if he’s a 22-year-old doesn’t work. Overtraining puts young athletes at risk for fatigued muscles, injury and mental burnout. In his book “Any Given Monday,” orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews says “over-use injuries are at epidemic levels and every year more than 3.5 million children will require medical treatment for sports-related injuries, the majority of which are avoidable through proper training and awareness.”

Yet (with dreams of making it to the pros), we see kids being overtrained in youth sports all the time. Or we often see the opposite; treating a 12-year-old as if he’s still 6. Neither situation represents good balance in training.

A person’s interest level is most often the deciding factor whether they continue to improve and advance in their sport or activity.

All sports require that certain skills be developed to continue on to higher levels. That’s a fact. Talent is nice, but a kid’s interest level will play a significant role in that development. Parents must remember that just because their child is good at something, it doesn’t mean they want to do it at the level the parent has in mind.

Once a kid has found their passion, however, some real progress can be made because they will be the one who wants it ― they will be willing and able to sustain the effort required for more serious training and will come to enjoy the process.

Training young athletes has much to do with teaching kids to have a routine. Learning proper technique and how to consistently apply the movements with precision and rhythm is crucial, and this will lead to sustainable performance skills.

A young athlete’s training regimen should include techniques and exercises that are appropriate for their age, ability and fitness level and should be progressive in nature to avoid overtraining and burnout.

Emphasizing stability and physical balance in the early stages of training will enable the nervous system and muscles to adapt over time, allowing motor learning to take place. Once the neuromuscular system has adapted and the exercises or techniques become effortless, it’s time for more advanced training ― but not before.

Knowledge about how skill is developed and about how interest is sustained is the key to keeping the fun in it while training young athletes.

“Not taking the shortcut, is the shortcut.”

Lots of us get ahead of ourselves. It’s easy to do because we often focus on the goal and not the journey to get there. In today’s society, we want things quickly and because of this we trip ourselves up as we speed past the basics, never really mastering them. We continue to struggle because there’s no foundation to build on. Developing skill will happen one step at a time ― over a period of time.

chuck2How much time? That depends on a person’s interest level, natural ability ― and an understanding of appropriate training levels every step of the way.

To prevent overtraining and burnout in young athletes, it’s important to remember that there are fundamental physiologic differences between children and adults. Kids are very capable of training hard and learning advanced techniques, but without a realistic, balanced approach, loss of interest, injury and eventually ― quitting ― will be the likely result. When winning becomes the top priority, it’s easy to forget an athlete’s young age and, as a result, lose perspective.

The fact remains that a kid’s top priority is — having fun!

Order a signed copy of Coach Chuck’s book, “How to Play Baseball: A Parent’s Role in Their Child’s Journey,” at www.chuckschumacher.com.

TOM COYNE: Back in Circulation — Baseball Can Be Worth The Wait

The major league baseball playoffs are in full swing and if this year’s early games are any indication, we could be in for a memorable fall.  There have already been masterful pitching performances, monstrous home runs, odd plays and plenty of drama.  Toss in the fact that the four teams still alive haven’t won a World Series in at least 22 years and the recipe is both fresh and captivating.  But then, I’ve been caught up in these Fall Classics for a lot longer than that.

tom4I guess it started in the early 1960s.  My grandfather, Bill Johnson, was always a hard-working man.  Even after retirement, Grandpa needed something to do.  The Minnesota Twins were looking for parking attendants at the then brand new Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.  Bill jumped at the chance to steer Twins’ fans straight, as they attempted to negotiate the vast spaces around the park, conveniently identified by sections named after major league teams.

Barely into double digits, I was curious why Grandpa always seemed to avoid parking his car in the New York Yankees lot.  I was too young then to understand the hatred for the Bronx Bombers.  But I did enjoy those drives up Cedar Avenue in his gold Bel Air Chevrolet, because it meant I was going to a ballgame.

One of my favorite perks was getting to the Met early.  Most of the afternoon games back in those days started around one.  But for Grandpa to do his job, he needed to be on the grounds by 11 AM.  Since the gates to the stadium opened at the same time, it meant I had free rein around the mostly vacant stadium.  So when batting practice began, foul balls would rattle through the rafters with regularity and I had little competition in hunting them down.

tom3As I grew older, my love for sports certainly wasn’t limited to baseball.  In high school, I played football and basketball, and ran track in the spring.  I played years of softball, took up sportscasting as a career and still enjoy golfing with old friends.  Yet there was something about “The Grand Old Game” that kept luring me back.

Like a slow brewed cup of coffee or a fine wine aged gracefully, baseball builds its drama carefully.  Don’t get me wrong.  Other sports  can certainly have exciting moments, too.  Football offers the game-changing catch or electrifying long touchdown run.  Hockey and soccer games can end unpredictably with a magical goal in overtime.  But that kind of spontaneity is there and then it’s gone quickly.  What makes baseball special is its pace.

For years, baseball has been struggling to maintain its popularity with the younger audience.  When kids have grown up with smart phones, social media and action-packed videos, they can get bored in a hurry.  Yet my contention has always been that what makes a mid-season, blowout, four hour baseball game nearly unwatchable in the summer, can often work in reverse in the fall, if the circumstances are right.

I’m not saying baseball doesn’t have issues.  They’ve attempted to address these with time limits between innings and pushes to get hitters back in the batter’s box more quickly.  And those endless conversations at the mound between managers and pitchers can send teenagers to the exits or at least to their cellphones for relief, in a heartbeat.

But give me a game with something big on the line and a sellout crowd.  Now those moments between pitches and those hours between playoff games allow fans to slowly soak up the drama and ponder their teams’ fates.  Consider what Chicago Cubs’ supporters are experiencing these days, knowing their team hasn’t won a World Series since 1908.  Waiting impatiently to discuss who should pitch when or what strategies to employ against the New York Mets, must be building to a fever pitch.  And in the Big Apple, Mets’ fans are savoring the rare chance to watch their team go for it all, instead of their Yankee counterparts.

When the Toronto Blue Jays rallied to beat the Texas Rangers the other day, winning the series in the fifth and deciding game, it reminded me why I love baseball.  Watching nearly 50,000 screaming folks decked out in blue and white, stand in unison as Jose Bautista launched a game-changing home run into the Rogers Centre sky, it brought back wonderful memories for this Minnesota kid.  The Kent Hrbek grand slam, the Homer Hankies, the incredible noise inside the Metrodome as our Twins captured their first championship 28 years ago…and I had been lucky enough to cover it all as a sports reporter.

Bautista’s 7th inning blast was the big news this week.  Yet if you watched that game Wednesday afternoon, you also know that the entire inning lasted nearly an hour.  Not exactly a great endorsement for baseball’s attempt to “speed things up.”  But try telling that to Toronto and Texas supporters and millions more watching at home, who saw an incredible mix of controversy, gamesmanship and edge-of-your seat drama that had a little bit of everything.

When Grandpa Johnson and I went to Metropolitan Stadium 50 years ago, I was probably more interested in snatching foul balls and eating hot dogs on a lazy summer afternoon than whether or not my team won the ballgame.  But I remember wishing those days would never end.  I’m guessing that fans in Chicago, New York, Toronto and Kansas City have similar thoughts these days.