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Rand: Sano will add to the fun and probably to the struggle

buxtonsanoIf it wasn’t official already, the news that broke Wednesday of the Twins calling up slugger Miguel Sano makes it so: this is the summer the organization went at least most of the way in on a youth movement.

This also is the summer that the Twins and their fans will re-learn a difficult truth: it often takes a while for prospects to pan out, even if they are as highly regarded as many of the ones the Twins to whom the Twins are giving chances.

The season began with high hopes that three young hitters who showed promise in 2014 – Danny Santana, Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia – could make progress and become mainstays in the lineup. All three have struggled enough that they have spent time back in the minors. A fourth prospect, Aaron Hicks, still can’t claim a job.

Pitcher Trevor May made his debut in 2014 and has held down a spot in the 2015 rotation by pitching adequately while given a chance. But he could be the odd man out when Ervin Santana returns this weekend. Alex Meyer came up recently and has a 16.87 ERA in two games.

Byron Buxton, the biggest news and prospect of them all, was hitting .189 in 37 at-bats after his much anticipated call-up. He’s now on the disabled list. Sano will get the next shot, and he’ll probably have some flashes of massive power in between long stretches of flailing.

All of this is OK. All of this is supposed to happen. Hardly anyone has sustained success immediately.

If you think of the actual homegrown mainstays in the Twins’ lineup and on their pitching staff, there is a nearly universal theme of early struggle.

Brian Dozier was a rough-around-the-edges shortstop for the 2012 Twins, finding himself back in Class AAA Rochester that season before reinventing himself as a second baseman.

Trevor Plouffe was a subpar defensive third baseman and a one-trick pony at the plate who needed years of refinement to become an above-average fielder and hitter.

Torii Hunter (yes, he counts) used to routinely miss sliders by three feet. Kyle Gibson was a mess in 2013, was better last year and is reliable now. Glen Perkins almost pitched his way out of the organization before finding his niche as a reliever.

Joe Mauer? He looked like he belonged from the jump. But there aren’t many Mauers, regardless of what you think of him now.

The Sano call-up is fun. The Buxton call-up was fun. When both are presumably healthy and playing together at Target Field later this summer, their flashes of brilliance will be a blast.

Just remember that it’s a process. And the real fun will be when/if this wave of young talent starts to figure everything out and these guys are here to stay.

RandBall: Good fortune doesn't diminish U.S. World Cup win

usaAlmost every single sporting event amounts to a series of close calls, near-misses, 50-50 judgments by officials and fortune doled out one way or another — and taken advantage of or not.

This is particularly true of sports in which there is little scoring: hockey, baseball, football (which tries to pretend it is a higher-scoring sport by giving out six points for one score) and yes, of course, soccer (which takes the brunt of low-scoring jokes and should quite possibly start awarding seven points for a goal so it could have bigger scores like 14-7 instead of 2-1).

If you have a sport in which scoring is precious, you are likely going to have a handful of key moments in every game that could go either way — and are probably going to play a large role in determining the outcome. Sometimes it’s a ball or puck off the goalpost … or a ball that lands a couple inches foul … or a pass just a few inches too far for its intended target. But often times it’s a judgment call by an official: pass interference or no? Ball or strike on that 3-2 pitch? Interference penalty and a power play or just a clean check? Some of this messiness has been mitigated by instant replay, but we still rely very heavily on the human element.

In soccer, this manifests itself with perhaps the most important judgment call of all: whether or not to award a penalty kick. There are guidelines to determine when a foul qualifies as a PK, but in the heat of the moment it often must be a wrenching decision to make. Players are selling it. Angles are tough. It’s hard but vital to get it right because a goal in soccer is so very precious.

That brings us to last night’s U.S. vs. Germany Women’s World Cup semifinal. Germany was awarded a penalty kick in the second half of a scoreless game after American defender Julie Johnston was called for a foul in the┬ápenalty area. The call was mostly correct, though Johnston very easily could have been given a red card instead of simply a yellow, which would have left the Americans a player short the rest of the way. But it wasn’t called that way … and Germany missed the PK … and the match stayed completely even.

Not long after, Alex Morgan made a dash up the middle of the field for the U.S. and was taken down near the penalty area. She dove, fell in a heap, and a PK was rewarded to the Americans. My initial reaction was that there was no way it was the proper call, and I was stunned as they lined up for the penalty instead of a try from 19 or 20 yards out. Replays confirmed that the awarding of the penalty was, at best, iffy — and if we’re being honest, incorrect.

But that was the call. Carli Lloyd calmly took the kick and buried it for a 1-0 U.S. lead. I tweeted that the penalty was not well-earned but the kick was certainly well-taken, and it was met with a dose of angst and skepticism from some U.S. fans.

Perhaps saying it wasn’t earned was a bit too far, but the reaction underscores how a lot of us watch sports these days, I think: with every good break justified and every bad break an outrage. The mere suggestion that the U.S. didn’t fully earn it’s PK, in the eyes of some, would diminish the goal and taint the victory — so let’s never speak of it that way.

But really, that’s not true. As noted before, these are the very plays that determine almost every game. Some are more front-and-center than others, but regardless: it doesn’t diminish or cheapen an accomplishment to admit your team received some good fortune along the way because that’s fundamental to pretty much every win in a game like this.

At the same time, I also reflected on the tweet after the fact and recognized that as a journalist I’m strangely situated to watch games through an objective lens, even when I have a rooting interest and no working interest. As such, I would imagine I am quick to judge what is a break or what isn’t a break even if it casts the team I’m rooting for in the “lucky” category. (Famous personal example: My blog post from five years ago in which I honestly determined that Drew Pearson did not really push off after watching the play repeatedly). This probably makes me really fun to be around (though anyone who has watched me watch a Vikings game knows that the veil of objectivity can be lifted quickly and with vulgarity).

Maybe it’s no fun to think of sports as a series of random events determined partially by the skill and moxie of the competitors but so often by luck and judgment (or maybe that randomness is the very appeal of sports). Regardless, if you would have complained bitterly about the penalty that ultimately led to the winning goal for the U.S. had it happened the other way around, it is fair (perhaps even essential) to acknowledge the tremendous break as a gift.

It is nothing that needs an apology attached to it. You get or overcome breaks. You win or lose as a result. That’s sports.

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