Sometime in the past year, the spirit of the Timberwolves escaped Target Center, became confused, tried to find its way back, and then instead decided to take up permanent residence at the nearby and similarly named Target Field. With that space getting crowded, the spirit of the Twins leaked out and set up shop at Target Center.
That's the only way we can explain what has happened. The Timberwolves used to be a mess thanks to their own personnel moves, bad luck and fan apathy. The Twins used to be the model franchise, with star power, intriguing characters and a festive in-game atmosphere. And now the two have switched places on the local sports landscape.
The latest evidence came this weekend, when All-Star Kevin Love won the three-point contest and helped his West squad to a victory, while the Twins suffered yet another on-field (and off-field) hit when reliever Joel Zumaya -- an injury risk but nonetheless one the Twins were somehow counting on to stabilize a woebegone bullpen -- was lost for the season before we could even get to March.
The challenge Monday was to figure out exactly when these two franchises passed each other in the dark of night. After all, there were so many key moments in the recent past -- the Twins getting off to a 17-37 start in 2011 and dealing with all sorts of injuries while the Wolves landed Ricky Rubio, drafted Derrick Williams, watched Love become even better and started winning dramatic games, just to name a handful.
But if we are looking for a time that really ties things together, Sept. 14, 2011, is our verdict for when things really shifted. On that date, Joe Mauer played his final game of 2011. He missed the rest of a dreadful season because of mild pneumonia, further damaging an image he is still trying to rehab. Minnesota lost that game, their fifth consecutive in the midst of an 11-game losing streak and a 99-loss season. Just a day earlier, the Wolves had added what proved to be a critical puzzle piece when it was confirmed they had hired Rick Adelman as coach.
Sure, the Twins have had little bouncebacks since then: Terry Ryan re-taking the helm as GM, TwinsFest and the start of spring training were all optimistic times. But if you read the online comments on the Zumaya story at Startribune.com, angst is still the operative feeling among plenty of fans.
Meanwhile, the Wolves head into the second half of their season at .500 and with a ceiling that seems quite a bit higher than that. They are the most entertaining sports product in this market, and they are the closest thing we have to a model franchise right now. We never would have guessed that a year ago; then again, we didn't know that less than six months ago, the spirits at Target Field and Target Center would trade places.