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Brendan Kennealy

Remembering Thome's Milestone

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When I was 8 years old, the Twins beat the Braves in the 1991 World Series, and my mom went absolutely nuts. I don't mean nuts in the literal sense she didn't wind up heavily sedated or institutionalized; I only mean baseball crazy. This kind of crazy doesn't require medical attention or therapy, at least in most cases, but it can still be worrisome. It's the kind that makes you pace and sweat and swear at playoff-overachievers like Mark Lemke on the TV in front of your children. The kind that makes you so nervous that you can't sit still on the couch like a normal person, and so you mop the kitchen floor three times in one night because you just have to be doing something. This is my mom's sickness.

It's possible that the 1991 playoffs weren't the first thing to make her go bonkers; it's just the first time I remember witnessing it. Maybe she lost her marbles in '87 when the Twins beat the Cards, or maybe it happened in '65 when Koufax beat Kaat in Game 7. She could have flipped out during any baseball season, really, on any summer day at the old Met or even the Dome for all I know, but I do know I saw her scream and jump and cry in her kitchen in October of 1991 as Jack Morris and Danny Gladden hugged it out at home plate in the Dome. It's all as clear in my mind as my first day of school, my first little-league hit or the first time I high-fived my wife. I remember it because I was screaming and jumping and crying right there with her. We had our own at-home celebration somewhere between the fridge and the stove, waving our tear-soaked Homer Hankies, and I lost my mind over baseball for the very first time. Her sickness became mine.

It's been twenty years since we tore up paper towels and junk mail and threw it around the kitchen like homemade confetti. Since then the Twins have been, at times, plenty exciting to say the least. They've flirted with a playoff run here and there, they've thrilled me and killed me, made me wonder why and what if, but nothing has been quite as exciting as 1991. Not their gritty resurgence in '02, not the unbelievable magic of '06, and not even the boozy sunshine that soaked Target Field's inaugural season in 2010 compares. I'm still trying to get back to that original high. It's like I'm dopesick.

And since I'm chasing the dragon, it should come as no surprise that I made sure to get my hands on the 1991 World Champs commemorative bobblehead, given away last season by the Twins during their 20th anniversary weekend. And then, one August night, as the Twins played Delmon Young and the Tigers at Comerica Park, I finally had some time to take the bobblehead down to my folks' house so I could show it to my mom. As expected, she took one look at it and started boasting about how Ron Gant was clearly out. She smiled, too, and I think she may have sniffled a little when I told her she could have it. You see, even though she always loved Blyleven and Puck the most, she still has a special place carved out for Hrbek. Shoot, she even gets emotional over Al Newman. Like I said, it's a sickness.

Cuddyer, Nathan and Matty G. have all left, but Mom is still here.
But in this shared sickness, some pretty special bonding takes place. Nobody really gets my love for baseball like Mom. Not the countless other Twins lovers across the wide interwebs, and not even my wife, I think, although she is incredibly tolerant, patient and quite fond herself of goofy personalities like Pat Neshek, Mike Redmond and Mr. Jim Leyland. Maybe it's because I'm socially awkward and terribly self-conscious about the intensity of my emotions, or maybe it's because I found my baseball soulmate back in '91 and instinctively knew I'd never find another person who'd cheer as hard for Matty Guerrier and Nicky Punto as they did for stars like Puckett and Nathan. Maybe harder, even. Whatever the reason, there's no person with whom I'd rather watch a ball game.

OK, my wife's a pretty big fan, too.
Here she is in Mom's kitchen.
This is all to say that on that night in Detroit when Jim Thome, Masher of Taters, The Big Donkey and Future Hall of Famer, sent career homers 599 and 600 into the left-field seats over Delmon Young's head (in consecutive at bats, no less!) I was glad I was at my folks' house, clapping my hands and hollering with Mom in her kitchen, feeling for just a minute the rush of excitement, disbelief and weightlessness that flooded me in 1991. Of course, I do realize that a couple of milestone taters don't compare to winning the World Series. However, mired as we were in the dog days of a lousy season a season where the Twins lost Harmon Killebrew, the original Paul Bunyon in Pinstripes, a season where they spent $23 million on two weak legs and had a good shot at losing 90 games for the first time in the Gardenhire era Thome's achievement stands out as maybe the only reason Twins fans had to just be happy, to celebrate and go crazy. So we went crazy, even if it was just for a little while.

Originally published here.


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