Thursday, October 29, 2009

The return of Gabby

If you go back in the archives to last April, you can read about the feelings I had when Marian Gaborik played his last game at the X as a member of the Wild. I didn't want him to leave, and nothing in the ensuing months has made me change my mind.

He's supposed to be back tonight as a member of the New York Rangers, but he injured his leg Monday, missed Wednesday's game and will likely be a game-time decision here against the Wild.

But of course, he's ripping things up for the Rangers. Ten goals and 18 points so far, both among the league leaders, and he's the toast of Broadway. I understand the business of hockey, and I know why it was necessary for him to go elsewhere, but that won't make it any tougher to see him out there on the ice sheet where he should have played for the next dozen years.

It's been a tough Wild season so far, and if he comes in and scores a goal or two and the Rangers win, it's going to be really hard to take.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

One that hits close to home...

One of my high school classmates - Princeton High School, class of 1974 - was a fellow named Randy Bergquist. We mostly interacted through sports, though we were never teammates. His sports - football and wrestling - were not mine, but what I really admired was his work ethic. He wasn't a big guy, playing football at about 150-160 pounds in high school, but he still played offensive guard, and he survived by being quick and strong. Whenever we watched game film, you always saw Randy firing out of his stance a half-count ahead of the snap. Great anticipation, great quickness.

In the winter he would drop down to wrestle at 138 pounds, and used that same strength and quickness to succeed.

After high school, he went straight to the U.S. Marine Corps, where he quickly stood out and at one point was selected as an embassy guard, a prestigious post in the Corps. He learned to fly, and later went to work for U.S. Customs Service, flying drug interdiction planes.

After retiring from the service, he went to work flying for a private company that provides military and government flights. In 2007, he began flying in Afghanistan for what were called "Counter Narcoterrorism operations." According to his wife Pam , he went back this year for a third tour because, he said, "We can't let the bad guys win."

On October 13 his plane crashed during a NATO surveillance mission, and Randy's body - along with that of two others - was recovered last week.

Gone at age 53, he leaves behind his wife of 27 years, an 18-year-old son and a heroic legacy of loving and serving his country. RIP, Randy.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Warning: Proud grandpa ahead....

On one level, I realize that no one really wants to see pictures of other people's grandkids. But on a whole different level, I think "How could anyone not want to see my adorable granchildren?"

So, here is The Smartest Little Girl in the Universe and her nine-week-old brother Sammy, dressed up in their Gopher finest. Class of 2029 and 2031, I believe, although it seems obvious to me that Annie's ACT scores will get her into an even better school, and Sammy will likely just skip college and go straight to the NHL.

"Reunion week" for the Wild

I can't take credit for the headline, since the Strib's Mike Russo already called it reunion week, but it's an interesting few days for the Wild.

Monday night they play in Chicago, which means it is Martin Havlat's first regular-season game in Chicago since he left there to sign with the Wild. On Wednesday, the Wild host Nashville, where defenseman Greg Zanon played the past couple of years. (It's also the franchise Wild owner Craig Leipold used to own.) On Friday, Marian Gaborik comes back to town with the Rangers, and on Saturday the Wild travel to Pittsburgh, where GM Chuck Fletcher (former GM) and Petr Sykora will receive their Stanley Cup rings from last year. Strange days indeed.

Goofy start to the season. The Wild are 0-7 on the road, 3-0 at home (all three in OT or shootouts) and I'm not sure what to make of this team yet. It seems to me that the talent level is high enough that we should expect a playoff spot, and we just need to fight through an early injury bug and adjust to the new coach's system, and things should be all right. But then I look around at all the teams that seem to be playing well in the Western Conference, and I realize it's going to be tough to dig out of the hole they've created with their slow start. You know Detroit, San Jose, Chicago and Calgary are going to be up there, but now we're looking up at teams like the Kings, Avalanche and Stars. Things have to turn around pretty soon or it's just not going to happen this season.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

There may be hope for this country...

Sorry there were no blog posts from Myrtle Beach. Seems the condo we rented, which advertised "free wi-fi," really meant "you can sometimes poach a wireless signal from the neighbors." Except the neighbors all have secured wi-fi, so nothing was happening, internet-wise.

Or much else-wise. The weather was frigid, as most of the southeastern U.S. was having an incredible cold snap. It's hard to get excited for golf when it's 45 degrees and the north wind is kicking up around 20 mph. We fought our way through 7 rounds over five days, but very little of it was much fun. Oh well, after 11 trips, we were bound to have one that was something less than perfect.

On my flight home, however, I had a great moment that improved my mood. I was sitting in a window seat, reading National Review, and the poor fellow trapped in the center seat of our row pulled out a Glenn Beck book to read. The woman to his left said, "Oh, I just read that, and it was great. I'm not always very political, but he really made me think." Then the guy reached into his bag and said, "You might like reading these as well," and handed her two copies of Imprimis, the great conservative idea journal published by Hillsdale College. So there we were, three strangers on an Atlanta-to-Minneapolis flight, each reading and enjoying conservative material. I said to the two of them, "There may be hope for this country after all."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

In my mind, I'm gone to Carolina....

I once worked for a fellow who loved to deer hunt. He used to say that the other 51 weeks of the year were just preparation for deer hunting week.

Well, I feel the same way about my Myrtle Beach golf week. For 11 years, my buddy Pete Thrane and I have gone down to Myrtle in October and spent 5-6 days on the many courses (about 130) in the area. Over the years we've played about 60 or so of them. This map shows about 100 of the courses...there are others. (Sorry that it's a little on it for a better view.)

We usually play four days of 36 holes, then on getaway day, we play one of our favorite courses, Oyster Bay, and catch an afternoon flight home. In between, we enjoy eating fresh seafood, southern BBQ and going to sleep early so we can make those 7:30 tee times that are necessary this time of year if you want to get 36 holes in. It's golf heaven, and I'll try to provide blog posts while I'm there, but no guarantees. Enjoy the early winter!

Monday, October 12, 2009

What does Joe Mauer dream about?

First, let me say that I have no special insight into what makes Joe Mauer tick. My only real contact with him was when he was a sophomore in high school, and I umpired a game behind the plate with him catching. He was already becoming something of a high school legend, and it was obvious after just an inning or two that he had special talent.

But as the Twins bow out of the playoffs again (3-16 in their last 19 post-season games) and Mauer enters the final year of his contract, I find myself wondering what his goals and dreams are.

Obviously, the life he already has far surpasses the dreams of most people: Playing for your hometown major league team, winning three batting titles, becoming a perennial all-star, making millions of dollars and serving as a hearthrob to the young ladies of the Upper Midwest. Nice work for anyone, let alone someone who won't turn 27 until next April.

And if that's all he wants out of life, he can continue to have that by staying here. Target Field appears to be a good park for hitters, he can continue to be the most popular man in Minnesota and as long as the Central Division is comprised of Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City and Chicago, the Twins should be able to compete on a regular basis. He can play here another 10 years, make $150 million or so in that time, and keep living the life he leads.

But what if other things matter more? What if the chance to win a few World Series titles is what really motivates him? What if he wants the REAL money, the $250 million or so that the Yankees, Angels, Dodgers, Mets and, presumably, a few other teams will be willing to throw at him, money that is probably not available in the Twins' budget? Is he content with the amount of fame he garners here in Minnesota, or does he want to be on the bright stage of New York or Los Angeles, with the increased business opportunities that would bring?

I don't know the answers to any of those questions. But he seems to have a bright competitive spirit, and if winning is what matters most, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that his opportunites are better elsewhere.

The Twins didn't lose this series to the Yankees because of the payroll disparity; They lost because they didn't pitch well in the clutch and they didn't run the bases very well. But long-term - say, over the next 10 years - I think it's hard to find anyone who believes that the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers will have fewer post-season opportunities than the Twins. And these are clubs that can spend the money when it's needed.

I love to watch Mauer play. But if I'm in his shoes, and I look across at the Yankee dugout and think about catching a pitching staff with guys like Sabbathia and Pettite and Rivera, and then I look down the Twins' bench and bullpen and see guys like Pavano and Crain and Mijares and Keppel, I have to wonder where I'm going to have the best chance to earn a World Series ring.

As I said, I don't know what goes on in Joe Mauer's mind, but we're going to find out sometime in the upcoming months.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The wave of the future

I think this is the first pictoral appearance on this blog of future NHL star and six-week-old grandson Samuel Roman Westphall. I think he's smiling because he's thinking about when he'll be old enough to golf with Opa.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Strange Night at the X

Last night was one of the oddest nights I can remember at the Xcel Energy Center, and one I won't soon forget.

For Opening Night, the normal 7:00 game time had been pushed back to 8:00 to accommodate television, but then the Wild decided to open the doors at 4:00 so people could come in to watch Twins in their playoff game against Detroit. Only a handful of fans were there at 4:00, but by 6:00, the crowd was coming in pretty steadily. Pretty soon there was a good crowd sitting in the arena, watching the Twins on the scoreboard jumbotron.

And it would have been a great night if the Twins game had followed a normal arc. They would have been done around 7:00 or so, and people could have mentally transitioned from baseball to hockey, enjoyed the Opening Night festivities and watched the game.

Except the Twins game, as you know, became an epic. It went into extra innings, and meandered through a series of remarkable plays that kept everyone intensely interested right through the 12th inning. Which was great, except that it ran past the start of the hockey game.

As the 9th inning began, the Wild put a message on the scoreboard that said that, beginning at 7:20, the scoreboard jumbotron would begin carrying Wild-related messages, and that the Twins game would be on the televisions in the concourse.

The Wild are used to coming out of their locker room and being greeted - even for warmups - by a noisy group of several thousand people. Last night they hit the ice for warmups about 7:35, and they must have looked in the stands and wondered if there had been a bomb scare. No more than a few hundred people were in their seats, because virtually everyone had gone out to the hallways and concourses to watch the Twins.

And they stayed out there through the warmups, through the pre-game ceremonies and even through the start of the game. At the first puck drop, there were about 17,000 people in the building, and my guess would be that 10,000 or more were watching the Twins on TV. In a building that is famous for its sellout streak - and the noise level of its fans - it was very strange.

There were only a couple minutes left in the first period when the Twins finally pushed the winning run across, and it produced a loud roar that traveled from the outside hallways into the arena. Wild coach Todd Richards said later that it was so loud he began looking all over the ice to see what he might have missed, until it dawned on him that everyone was cheering for the Twins.

Everyone then flocked into their seats, to see the last 90 seconds or so of the first period, then returned to the TV sets during intermission, watching replays of the Twins and their locker room celebration.

With the start of the second period, it seemed that things had returned to normal. People were back in their seats, the focus was on hockey and all seemed right with the world.

Except that the Wild stunk. Herb Brooks used to tell his players - when things weren't going right - "You look like a monkey trying to hump a football." That expression passed through my mind during the second period as I watched the Wild give up three goals in a six-minute span and fail to generate any offense at all. It was wretched hockey, and the fans booed the team off the ice at the end of the period, with Anaheim leading 3-0.

Lots of people left, and even more left after the first five minutes of the third period, when things didn't look much better.

And then came John Scott.

With Derek Boogaard out for a while with a concussion, the Wild have converted the 6-foot-8 Scott from defense to wing, and sent him out to bang bodies a little bit, and be available to fight. Early in the third period, with the Wild still trailing 3-0, Scott decided to taken on George Parros, one of the real heavyweight fighters in the league. It was no contest, as you can see here.

It ignited the crowd, and the Wild as well. A bit later, Mikko Koivu scored to make it 3-1. Then Petr Sykora got his first goal as a Wild player. And Eric Belanger blasted a shot through J.S. Giguere to tie the game. Finally, Andrew Brunette scored in overtime for a 4-3 win, the first time the Wild has ever overcome a three-goal, third-period deficit at the X.

Crazy night. The Wild has still never lost a home opener (eight wins and a tie), the Twins are headed to the ALCS and I had a truly memorable night.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Happy Birthday!

The Smartest Little Girl in the Universe - my granddaughter Anne - turns 2 years old today, and I was able to spend part of the morning babysitting while her mom and baby brother went to the doctor. She's a huge fan of "watching the kid," which means watching video of the 4-year-old who does the Herb Brooks pre-Soviet speech (see Sept. 21 blog post.)

She's watched it enough that she's beginning to retain parts of it. If you say "Tonight we skate with them. Tonight we stay with them" she will respond with "And we shut them down, because we CAN."

Two years seemed to have flown by since she came into our lives, and she is an indescribable blessing. I've had a few different job titles in my life, but "Opa" is the very best one.

Happy Birthday, Annie.

Friday, October 2, 2009

There's ego, and then there's EGO!!

I had no strong feelings about Chicago's bid to host the 2016 summer Olympics, because hosting the games is, at best, a mixed blessing. But as I read about Chicago's failure to even make the second round of voting (the games eventually were awarded to Rio), I came across this paragraph in a story from Chicago's CBS affiliate, talking about the history of Chicago's bid. Last summer the Chicago organizers held a rally to build excitement for the city's bid, and CBS2 recalled the appearance by candidate Obama:

"At a rally in Daley Plaza five months before the election, Obama drummed up enthusiasm for the bid. He said: "In 2016, I'll be wrapping up my second term as president, so I can't think of a better way than to be marching into Washington Park alongside Mayor Daley, alongside Rahm Emanuel, alongside Dick Durbin, alongside Valerie Jarrett as President of the United States, and announcing to the world, 'Let the games begin!"

I've been around a lot of politicians in my career, which means I've been around a lot of giant egos, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone cram as much ego, presumption, arrogance and self-aggrandizement into one sentence as he did that day. That kind of hubris explains a lot of this administration's problems.