10-8-10: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

I have to start today with a disclaimer: I begin this column as thoroughly bummed out as I've ever been when I've started out to write. So this is either going to be one of the great catharsis columns of all time, or it's going to be the blogging equivalent of wallowing in self-pity.

At this point I honestly can't say which.

Whichever it is, I'm not going to waste your time dithering around with a flighty, nonsensical opening.

Instead, we're getting right to the bloodletting...

Right after the quote...

“Why is there life on this planet?”
- George Chappel (? - ), late night radio host, recreational gaming expert and longtime baseball fan

It's time... once again... for...

Aw, the hell with it.

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Twins: The Twins finished the season with a record of 94-68, won the American League Central, and are one loss away from elimination in their best-of-five ALDS series with the Yankees.

Why do I do this?

Every March I get psyched up for baseball season. I know it's going to be a roller coaster of emotions. I know that there will be thrills and disappointments. I also know that I root for a team that's good enough to make the playoffs more years than not, so it's easy to get excited.

And then come the Yankees.

For the fourth time in the past seven years, the Twins have drawn the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs, and if things go tomorrow like I expect, Minnesota will be sent packing by the Bombers for the fourth time in seven years.

Each time I've convinced myself that *this* is the year. That the Yankees aren't the same juggernaut. That the Twins have finally found some advantage, some small twist that will allow them to finally cast the stone that defeats Goliath.

Each time, Goliath has bitch-slapped me back to reality.

Games 1 & 2 of this year's ALDS have played out in the worst way possible... very repetitively. We've seen this movie so many times before it almost sickens me to rehash the plot.

The Twins jump out to an early lead in Game 1, only to watch the Yankees meticulously and surgically pick away at the lead until they're finally able to jump ahead. Only it's not so far ahead that the Twins lose all hope. No, that doesn't happen until #42 enters the game needing four outs for a New York win, and proceeds to break four bats with his legendary cutter on the way to earning yet another post-season save.

In Game 2 the Twins get the early lead again. This time, however, the Empire strikes right back and grabs the lead in the early/middle innings and never lets it go.

Inning by inning, out by out, pitch by pitch I feel my baseball-loving soul being slowly crushed.

And yet I enter this voluntarily. I don't have to love baseball. I wasn't raised in a family that went to the yard like most families go to church. No one's put a gun to my head and said that I have to buy tickets, that I have to go watch games against dreck teams like the Royals, that I have to set myself up for crushing disappointment come October.

Nope. I, and I alone am responsible for the choice that leads me here more years than not.

So, why? Why do I do that? What possible psychological affliction could I have that causes me to make that choice?

I'll tell you what it is... hope.

That's what baseball's all about folks. Hope.

I believe in my heart that one of these years the Twins will beat the Yankees (despite all evidence to the contrary). Or they'll draw some other team in the first round and beat them. It's going to happen. Maybe next year. Maybe five years from now. Maybe when I'm old and gray. But it will happen.

And when it does, the joy and elation I'll feel will make all of this depression and disappointment worthwhile. All the gut-wrenching, cursing, spitting, hat-throwing, questioning-my-own-existence finishes will be laid to rest under the bright, life-giving sunshine of a World Championship.

It's going to happen.

I've seen two in my lifetime - though I was too young and un-baseball-savvy to appreciate them like I should have - so I know it can happen.

The Twins have too much talent, too much promise, too much of everything that's good about baseball for it not to happen.

And so I have hope. Each March, that hope is reborn in Fort Meyers (or while I vacation in Phoenix). It's honed and forged throughout the Spring and Summer months, and then it's tested in September and October.

I may question it. I may wonder at the psychological health of it. But I'll never surrender it. Not today, not Saturday for Game 3, or whenever it is that the Twins bow out in 2010. Never.

It's why I love the game. It's why I keep coming back.

It's hope.

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 4-1 (0-1) and tied for sixth place in the Big Ten.

Okay, with only one conference game having been played, “sixth place” is kind of meaningless. But I have to dress it up a little bit somehow, right?

Last week was a disappointing loss to Michigan State, though not an unexpected one. Over the first four games of the season, it'd become clear to me that the Badgers had been slightly over-rated coming into this season.

The Spartans are a good, but not great team. At best, the same thing can be said of the Badgers. They simply make too many mistakes in ball security and execution to be any better than that. So when you take a team with Wisconsin's issues on the road against a team the quality of Michigan State, a loss isn't that surprising.

But there are still seven games remaining, and plenty of time for Bucky to get things rolling and position themselves for a upper-tier bowl game.

That journey starts on Saturday as Wisconsin celebrates homecoming against the team voted “most likely to be selected as a homecoming opponent in the Big Ten” - the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Seriously, if you added up how many times the Gophers have been somebody's homecoming opponent over the last decade, you'd be truly stunned by the number. It's that large.

And why not? Homecoming is about alumni. Alumni like wins. The Gophers provide other schools with said wins. Schools like happy alumni because they write big checks. It all adds up.

Not only is it homecoming, it's the continuation of the longest running series in college football history. The Badgers and Gophers play annually for the trophy known as “Paul Bunyan's Axe”. Both schools have cases specially made for that trophy, but Minnesota's has been collecting dust for a while. As in 7 straight years and 13 of the last 15.

I don't expect that to change on Saturday. As I talked about on Wednesday, I think the betting line of Wisconsin -22 is rather ridiculous, but I fully expect Wisconsin to make it eight in a row.

How will they do it? Simple. They're going to run the ball, then they're going to run the ball, and when Minnesota's defense is tired, and breathing heavy, they're going to run the ball some more.

When I heard coming into the season that the starters on the Gopher defense had a combined 17 games started - 11 of which belonged to one player - I knew they'd struggle. I had no idea they'd struggle to the tune of losses to South Dakota and Northern Illinois.

If Minnesota couldn't stop those offenses, I really don't know how they'll stop the one-two punch of Badger running backs John Clay and James White. The 250-pound Clay will punish them, and the speedy White will fly by them.

On second thought, maybe that 22-point spread isn't so ridiculous.

Kickoff is at 11am central time on ESPN. Check your local listings.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 0-1-0, which is good for zero points. They're tied for first in the Northwest Division.

How can they be 0-1-0 and tied for first? Easy. Nobody else in the division has played a game yet.

The Wild kicked off the 2010-11 campaign yesterday in Helsinki, Finland, with a 4-3 loss at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.

In fact, by the time many of you read this, the Wild will be involved or have finished their second game of the season, also in Helsinki, also against Carolina.

For the first time in team history, the Wild are participating in the NHL's now annual trips to open the season in Europe. Due to Minnesota's and Carolina's Finnish contingents, it's only natural that those to clubs open in Helsinki.

Each year, hockey grows internationally, and since it often struggles against the other major sports here in the States, it's more important than ever to grow the game outside of America. These season-opening trips help do just that.

More important than the health of the NHL to Wild fans however, is the health of their favorite team. As much as I like to be optimistic about my favorite hockey team, it's been a tough slog so far.

Tossing in the preseason, the Wild have won exactly one game in 2010. Not the way they wanted to start. Last season the Wild dug themselves a big hole early in the year and weren't able to dig their way out of it. So far, all signs indicate a repeat of that this season.

The Wild improved their roster up the middle, but still lack the defensive grit Minnesota fans grew used to seeing during the franchise's early years. Too many turnovers deep in their own end, too many defensive lapses in front of their own net, and too much time spent on the penalty kill - which isn't going to be amongst the league leaders in efficiency... again - all add up to a rough go of it.

It's early in the year, so I don't want to be all doom and gloom, but when I spoke with a member of the organization yesterday and his response to my, “Thank God it's hockey season” was, “Be careful what you wish for”, well... I wasn't exactly encouraged.

As I said, the Wild play Carolina again today in Helsinki, and then get a stretch of days off to get back into town and get re-acclimated to local time (jet lag's a bitch, eh?). Their next game isn't until next Thursday when they play their home opener at the Xcel Energy Center against the Edmonton Oilers - good seats still available!

That's going to wrap things up for today. Believe it or not, I feel a lot better than I did when I started writing this column. Hopefully you enjoyed it.

I'll be back on Monday as my countdown to Nebraska/Texas officially begins. I can't wait to get to Lincoln and take it all in.

Hopefully it'll produce a kick-ass Running Game Commentary so you can all enjoy the trip as well!

Until then, thanks for reading!

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