The sporting public consists of fans and observers. A fan is defined as an enthusiastic devotee of sports. An observer is a person who follows events closely and comments publicly on them.
There are many subsections, of course, but these are the two groups: fans and observers.
Fans either go to TwinsFest or regret having missed it. Observers can’t understand why someone willingly would go to TwinsFest.
Fans believe the Twins made solid, aggressive moves in the offseason and the dark days could be at an end. Observers are convinced if the Pohlads weren’t so cheap, they would have signed Max Scherzer rather than Ervin Santana.
It was instructive to watch Torii Hunter mingle with fans and the reception he received over the weekend at TwinsFest.
Observers flinch at the idea of giving $10.5 million to an outfielder who will turn 40 in July, and embrace the exotic defensive zone ratings that say Hunter was a poor right fielder in 2014. Fans remember Hunter roaming center in the Metrodome, recall the corner outfield play of recent summers, and say, “Forty or not, Torii’s going to be a big improvement on what we’ve had lately.’’
Mostly, fans see Hunter and they smile widely and shout, “Welcome back, Torii,’’ and they receive a wider smile and a loud “I’m happy to be back’’ in return.
This isn’t politics, this is sports, and the fans reached out to Hunter so energetically because never in his previous time with the Twins — from his first at-bat in the Metrodome on April 29, 1998, to his last on Sept. 23, 2007 — did he make them feel unimportant.
Fans are disillusioned when Adrian Peterson turns out to be much more flawed than they imagined, or Kirby Puckett’s name is dragged through the mud, or Joe Mauer goes into steep decline from greatness, but here’s the bottom line:
If fans believe you are enthused about playing for their team and about their support, they are going to be devoted to you. Hunter found that with every step he took in public over the weekend at Target Field.
A few miles away on Saturday, a local athlete of past glory — Randy Breuer — was being honored. His number (45) was retired at halftime of the Gophers- Illinois game.
Breuer never had the gregarious personality of Hunter. He was more the wry presence in a locker room that never missed a thing from his 7-3 vantage point — basically, a basketball version of Corey Koskie.
That quirky personality came into play not long after Breuer’s 11-season NBA career came to end. A local fan named Keith Youngquist passed along the tale:
The Mormon church on Vicksburg Lane in Plymouth had an annual basketball game called the Grapes vs. Raisins. The Grapes were high school-aged, and the Raisins were in their 20s and beyond.
The Raisins had a tradition of victory based on recruiting non-church members. Tired of this, the Grapes insisted that there could be no recruiting for the 1997 grudge match.
A week before the game, Youngquist finished a workout at a local health club and found himself standing next to Breuer at the row of sinks. Youngquist struck up a conversation, told Breuer about the Grapes vs. Raisins, and threw out the off-the-wall idea of Breuer getting involved in a prank aimed at the younger hoopsters from the Mormon church.
“The plan was to get the kids all worked up, thinking we not only had recruited but had gone way overboard,’’ Youngquist wrote in an e-mail. “And then at the last second, Randy would put on a ref’s shirt, grab a whistle, and ref the game.’’
Breuer couldn’t commit, but he did take a piece of paper with Youngquist’s phone number and the address of the church. Youngquist was close to leaving for the game when Breuer called and said he would be there.
The 7-3 former Gopher and Timberwolf was warming up at the far basket when the younger players started arriving. They didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
They did both — laughing when Breuer switched to being a ref, then crying when the Grapes took a huge lead, and Randy started playing to get the Raisins back in the game.
“It was a great evening for all of us involved in the game,’’ Youngquist wrote. “Randy’s a gracious man and deserving of every honor.’’
So, that’s it. Show the fans enthusiasm, throw in a little humor, and they will be devotees for life.