Imagine a chilly October night in the Twin Cities four years from now where the cool air or light rain can’t keep sports fans away from downtown Minneapolis to celebrate the “Year of Minnesota.”
The streets will be painted in navy blue and scarlet red by Twins fans, blue and green by Timberwolves supporters. Target Plaza will host viewing parties for anyone without a ticket to the neighboring stadiums hoping to experience this once-in-a-generation type of night.
Roaring out of Target Field will be the sounds of Game 1 of the World Series. Next door at Target Center, the Wolves will raise the franchise's first NBA championship banner and show off their new title rings. The blissful night will end with wins in each stadium.
Strangers will hug and high-five, maybe even shed tears of joy after waiting three decades to see the Wolves hoist a championship banner.
OK, back to reality where maybe this daydream sounds more like a fantasy, especially considering the current health of the these Minnesota pro sports franchises. But Tuesday's special sports night in Cleveland should have offered Minnesotans hope or a reason to dream big.
The Ohio Midwestern city was the center of the sports universe for one night, signaling the end to a long run of losing culture. In neighboring stadiums, the Cavaliers hung their first NBA championship banner before a season-opening victory and the Indians hosted and won Game 1 of the World Series.
Imagining this night four years ago would have been fantastical.
The Indians had just wrapped up another season with 90-plus losses for the third time in four seasons with 68-94 record in 2012. The Cavaliers were coming off a dismal 21-win season and would finish the 2012-2013 season 24-58 while LeBron James was happy winning championships in Miami. The losing culture had set in again and there wasn’t much hope it would change any time soon.
The Twins lost a team-record 103 games this season. They’ve lost 90-plus games in five of the last six years. The Timberwolves won just 29 games last season after winning 16 the year before. They haven’t made the playoffs the past 12 seasons and haven't had a winning record since 2004-2005.
Minnesotans are stuck in a losing baseball and basketball culture and it might be hard to believe change is coming. But Cleveland proved change can be achieved quickly, and a closer look at these transformations show signs that the Twins and Timberwolves could give Minneapolis a night to remember soon.
The Cavaliers’ championship was built around James, but the transformation began through a similar process the Wolves are rebuilding. The Cavaliers drafted three No. 1 picks from 2011-2014, built a new training facility within the past 10 years, hired multiple new coaches, and made several big trades. One of these trades included sending two No. 1 picks to the Wolves for Kevin Love.
The Wolves' transformation began when Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett arrived in Minnesota in the deal for Love. The team has since added its own No. 1 pick in Karl-Anthony Towns and hired a highly touted coach in Tom Thibodeau after the death of Flip Saunders. The Wolves also opened their own state-of-the-art practice facility last year and Target Center is under renovation. The goal is to make Minnesota a desirable destination for NBA stars. The Wolves cloud still benefit from a major free agent acquisition like James, but the ship is on a similar course that took the Cavaliers to the top.
The Twins will take a piece of the brain trust that re-built the Indians franchise into a World Series contender. Assistant general manager Derek Falvey will be the Twins new executive vice president, chief baseball officer and is expected to help take another team from the bottom of the league to the top. Paul Molitor struggled in his second year as manager, but is expected to get another opportunity to show he can help turn the team around and develop its young talent.
Like the Indians, the Twins will have to build around young talent and Falvey reportedly has an eye for identifying the right supporting talent.
These similarities/connections should spark just enough hope to get Minnesota baseball and basketball fans through the next several years. But if that’s not enough, talk to a Cleveland sports fan and ask them what Tuesday night was like. The joy in their response should be enough to give any sports fan a little faith.
"It's the most insane thing in sports history," Cleveland fan Gary Koehler told ESPN while watching the World Series with thousands of fans outside the stadiums on giant video boards erected by the Indians. "Every Cleveland sports fan who has been through years of tragedy, they're just in heaven tonight."