The Little Ball Club That Could The Twins keep winning, in the overadrenalized manner of someone fighting off Death.

July 14, 2002

The most beloved sportsman in Minnesota this summer isn't Kevin
Garnett or Daunte Culpepper or Torii Hunter. He's a 63-year-old
security guard named Gary Baggott. Two weeks ago in Minneapolis,
after Twins leftfielder Jacque Jones was called out at third
base, Baggott abandoned his post in the Minnesota bullpen,
bolted down the leftfield line at the Metrodome and--inflamed by
injustice, incapable of inaction, indifferent to consequence--
offered his eyeglasses to umpire Joe West.

The rent-a-cop was, of course, summarily ejected and forced to
exit through the Twins' dugout. "Never seen that before," says
Hunter, the Twins' All-Star centerfielder. "But that's Gary
Baggott. He loves his Twins, and he takes care of his boys."

For the last eight months it has been like this: Minnesotans
against the world. Or so it has seemed since last November, when
Twins owner Carl Pohlad, an 87-year-old billionaire banker, and
his loyal sidekick, commissioner Bud Selig, tried to contract
the Twins out of existence. That's when a Minnesota judge named
Harry Seymour Crump ordered the franchise to honor its stadium
lease through the 2002 season. Now, 41 years after Robert
Zimmerman left Minnesota (to become Bob Dylan), the state has
two new antiestablishment heroes, and they only sound like a
firm of Dickensian solicitors: Baggott & Crump, God bless you.

The Twins themselves are Tom Sawyer, thriving long after their
own funeral. At the All-Star break the team was comfortably in
first place in the American League Central and was making a name
for itself, even if that name was often unpronounceable. "I hear
everything from 'Minkowitz' to 'Maneschewitz,'" says Doug
Mientkiewicz, the Twins' Gold Glove first baseman, whose name is
properly, but not often, pronounced Mint-KAY-vitch. "I just
don't let it bother me. If I did, I'd be mad all the time."

And yet, Mientkiewicz knows it could be much, much worse: His
mother's maiden name is Kechiemeister. For the record, says
Mientkiewicz, his mother never seriously considered hyphenating,
much to the relief of Twins equipment manager Jim Dunn, who was
thus spared sewing KECHIEMEISTER-MIENTKIEWICZ on the back, under
the armpits and across the chest of several uniforms. Thus the
longest name in baseball history remains 13 letters, a record
shared by 14 players, none of them Twins.

Though often mistaken for a kosher wine, Mientkiewicz
nevertheless says, "The people here love the Twins." Which is
why so many in Minnesota were coldcocked when Selig and Pohlad
tried to smother the team with a pillow. Says infielder Denny
Hocking, "This was the first American League franchise to draw
three million fans in a season. We had the fifth-best record in
the league last year."

"This franchise has no more business being lumped in with the
Montreal Expos," says one club official, "than we do with the New
York Yankees."

Though the Twins' payroll is just $40 million (fourth lowest in
baseball), the team keeps winning, in the overadrenalized manner
of someone fighting off Death. This week the Twins sent three
All-Stars--Hunter, closer Eddie Guardado and catcher A.J.
Pierzynski--to Milwaukee's Miller Park, the House that Taxpayers
Built for Bud Selig. Hunter was quoted in the Saint Paul Pioneer
Press as saying of Selig, on the eve of Minnesota's series this
season in Milwaukee, "It'll be nice to shove it up his [rear]."

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire held a team meeting before the
first game of that series to remind players that their opponent
was the Brewers and not the Brewers' former owner. And anyway,
in the spring, after Selig was legally barred from euthanizing
the Twins, the commissioner told Hocking that he'd love to see
baseball "flourish" in Minnesota. Such logic has echoes of O.J.
Simpson, who once said that if he had killed his wife, "it would
have to have been because I loved her very much, right?"

Riiight. And so some Twins fans have demonized the commissioner.
Literally. During the Twins' last home stand, in which the team
hosted the Brewers, a fan held a devil-horned cardboard cutout
of Selig's head on a stick. Others have worn OSAMA BUD SELIG
shirts. Outside the Metrodome, as a nonprofit labor of dislike,
33-year-old Jason Gabbert sells, before every Twins home game, a
line of T-shirts, hats and buttons that read SELIG IS NOT MY
BUD. Though unlicensed, the salesman says he counts some police
among his supporters. "They've even bought some shirts," Gabbert
says.

The Twins will need a new stadium to survive. Among its many
other deficiencies, the Metrodome turf--stained, faded, worn to
a nubbin--resembles the surface of a seedy barroom pool table.
"Every time I dive on it," says Hunter, "I'm worried I'll start
a fire."

Still, it will do for now. For this team has died, seen the
white light and is returned to life. "We know that the best way
to prove someone wrong," says Hocking, "is to be winning on the
field in September." The Twins, and their fans, think they can
do just that.

They think they can, they think they can, they think they can.
This is, for the moment, the Little Market That Could.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER GREGOIRE

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