Break out those Homer Hankies

In early June, the prospect of the Minnesota Twins winning the American League Central Division seemed as unlikely as the defending world champion Chicago White Sox missing the playoffs. And for good reason: the Twins were in third place with a 25-33 record. Nearly everyone expected them to begin rebuilding for next season. That is, everyone but the Twins.

Instead, they turned a hopeless season into a testament to resilience; and now, one more banner will adorn the Metrodome.

Across the state, people gathered around TV sets, at bars or at our homely field of dreams to watch this improbable run. Sometimes it was with friends, sometimes strangers, and probably more than a few times, the latter became the former. Few things bring a town together more than a winning baseball team. And if you want proof, just ask anyone old enough to remember 1987 and 1991.

Regardless of whether this October is as fruitful as those were, we already have had enough stories to last us until that new ballpark opens in 2010, or at least until next spring.

Hometown hero Joe Mauer finally made good on all that potential by winning the batting title and ace Johan Santana looks like a lock for the Cy Young award. More importantly, this group of “piranhas” played as a team.

The character of this ball club has shown itself in ways that no statistic can measure. Rookies Jason Tyner, Boof Bonser and Jason Bartlett have stepped in for injured veterans and delivered when a strikeout or hit was needed. Pitcher Brad Radke, who was with the team through those lean years in the 1990s, will retire after this season. He’s pitching through torn cartilage and a fractured bone in his shoulder – though you wouldn’t know it from looking at the box scores.

It might be the perfect end to this miracle season: long after Sunday’s game against Chicago ended, the stands remained full. Players and fans alike watched in anticipation for Kansas City’s win to crown the Twins as division champions. The honor is theirs, but a summer worth of memories is ours.

You have to think that somewhere, No. 34 is smiling.