Twins callup Willians Astudillo is the pace of play hero baseball needs

I’m sure my colleagues La Velle E. Neal III and Patrick Reusse will write about Friday callup Willians Astudillo in more detail and with great intrigue this weekend as the Twins face the Cubs at Wrigley Field, but I wanted to go a little micro on Astudillo’s greatest trait: his ability to put the ball in play.

At a time when MLB is struggling with pace of play and length of game issues — related topics, but not one and the same — Astudillo is the hero baseball needs.

The average MLB game this season has lasted 3 hours, 4 minutes — about 20 minutes (at least) too long for my tastes and the tastes of plenty of both hardcore and casual baseball fans.

That’s actually an improvement from last year’s 3:08, but assuming games don’t become ultra-fast in the second half of the season this will be the seventh consecutive year that games lasted an average of at least 3 hours.

Contrast that with other sports: The average soccer game is over in a few minutes less than 2 hours. The average NBA game is 2:15. NHL is about 2:20. NFL is closer to 3 hours, but it’s only once a week and the action within the game doesn’t seem to drag on.

Within baseball’s length of game problem is a pace of play problem. The biggest culprit is probably the amount of time between pitches — which could be eradicated easily and hopefully will be soon with a pitch clock — but another factor is long at-bats. The number of pitches per plate appearance has crept upward in recent years, as has the number of plate appearances that end either in a walk or strikeout.

This season, 31 percent of plate appearances in MLB — nearly one-third — have ended in a walk or strikeout. A decade ago, it was 26 percent. In 1985, it was 22.6 percent.

But Astudillo is almost single-handedly trying to change that. In 2,786 career plate appearances in the minor leagues and winter ball, the 26-year-old — who was born 13 days before the Twins won their last World Series in 1991 — has walked just 97 times and more incredibly struck out just 87 times. Those are not misprints.

Exactly 6.6 percent of his career plate appearances have ended in a walk or strikeout — or about one-fifth as many as the MLB average this season. He’s also hit .305 in his career, spending time with the Phillies, Braves and D-Backs organizations before latching on with the Twins this offseason.

Short of a pitch clock, MLB just needs about 200 Willians Astudillos and everything will be fine.

Ex-Viking Percy Harvin opens up about anxiety battle

Welcome to the Friday edition of the The Cooler. It’s going to be 100 degrees (or close to it) today. Stay inside, plunge your hand into the ice, and spend a few minutes here:

*If the Percy Harvin you think you knew from his Vikings days was the brash, electric, unreliable, game-changing force who more or less defined the rise and fall of that era, perhaps you should get to know another side of Harvin.

The former Vikings playmaker opens up for a long interview with MMQB, much of it an examination of the anxiety he has dealt with for years and the fallout from it. Per the piece:

Harvin starts with the painful stuff: the migraines he has endured since he was seven. “Take a hammer and beat it on the side of your head nonstop,” he says of the pain. “If you’re trying to relax, if someone’s trying to talk to you, that hammer is still going off. You’re trying to eat, still going off.” That pounding is linked, he says, to an anxiety disorder that has gripped him since he was a kid, which he didn’t even know he had until he broke in with the Vikings and started making regular visits to the Mayo Clinic. Kept confidential by the NFL’s medical protocols, and by his own protocols of manhood, the ailment caused Harvin to play most of his 79 NFL games on little or no sleep.

Harvin’s migraines were covered during his playing days, but the context added here is important — and another reminder that we never know the full extent of an individual’s struggle but virtually everyone is struggling with something.

We want athletes to flip a switch on playing days and shut out anything happening in their non-sports worlds — even as most of us realize that the stresses and struggles can have an impact on how we function in our jobs and lives.

“I create my own anxiety. That’s been my struggle,” Harvin said after  a rough morning. “Once I sit back and relax, that’s where the growth is. Normally I would have been mad all day. Now I know how to reset.”

You can read the rest of the story here.

*Or, if you want to start your morning with a whole world of pain, you can check out MMQB’s oral history of the 1998 Vikings. My guess is that you don’t want to read this, but I will leave it here anyway.

*LeBron James is leaving the Cavaliers again. On one hand, you can’t blame him. On the other hand, it seems strange that the best player in NBA history will be changing teams for a third time.

History tells us Timberwolves’ rookies shouldn’t expect to play much

The Timberwolves had two separate media availability sessions this week, underscoring the rapid pace of the NBA offseason.

On Tuesday, they introduced first-round pick Josh Okogie and second-rounder Keita Bates-Diop, with head coach/President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden also there to field questions.

Two days later, Thibodeau and Layden again took questions – this time to address free agency, which begins this weekend.

The two things are intertwined, of course, as they present two of the ways (in addition to trades and internal development, among others) the Wolves can improve on last year’s 47-35 record.

As such, this seems like a good time to address this question: How much should Okogie and Bates-Diop expect to play as rookies, and how much will their presence impact how the Wolves go about looking for more wing players in free agency?

In terms of how much they should expect to play, I decided to try to use history as a guide. Thibodeau has been head coach (five years with the Bulls) and head coach/POBO (two years with the Wolves) for seven different seasons, with drafts preceding those seasons. Here is the body of work, looking only at first-round picks:

*2010-11: Bulls drafted Kevin Seraphin No. 17 overall but immediately dealt him to Washington and did not receive a rookie in return who played that season.

*2011-12: Bulls drafted Norris Cole (28) and Jimmy Butler (30) in the first round. Cole was traded on draft night. Butler was the only rookie on the roster and he played in 42 games, averaging 8.5 minutes.

*2012-13: Bulls drafted Marquis Teague (29), brother of Jeff in the first round. He played in 48 games, averaging 8.2 minutes.

*2013-14: Bulls drafted Tony Snell (20). He appeared in 77 games, averaging 16 minutes.

*2014-15: Bulls drafted Jusuf Nurkic (16) and Gary Harris (19). Both were traded to Denver on draft night for Doug McDermott and Anthony Randolph. McDermott, the No. 11 pick, appeared in 36 games and averaged 8.9 minutes in Chicago.

*2016-17: Wolves drafted Kris Dunn (5). He played in 78 games, averaging 17.1 minutes.

*2017-18: Wolves drafted Lauri Markkanen (7), who was traded to the Bulls along with Dunn and Zach LaVine for Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton (16 overall). Patton played just one game, 4 minutes after recovering from injury and playing in the G League.

Using history without any other context as a guide tells us Okogie and Bates-Diop shouldn’t expect to play much. Dunn, at 17.1 minutes per game, played the most of any Thibodeau-coached draft pick in those seven years. But he was still just No. 13 among NBA rookies that year in minutes played.

Thibodeau also has a history of doling out playing time sparingly to reserves – and plenty of rookies at least start their careers coming off the bench.

That said, Thibodeau was also coaching playoff teams with a lot of veterans in his Chicago years and again last year with the Wolves. In those scenarios, he was often coaching players picked outside the lottery and trying to work them into stacked rosters. Rookies on bad teams with plenty of playing time available have a much easier time getting minutes.

Okogie, who is similar in some ways to Butler, would probably like to play more than Butler did when he was a rookie under Thibodeau.

“I think it’s important,” Okogie said Tuesday when asked about contributing as a rookie. “Is it the most important (thing)? Probably not. But if I was given a chance to produce and help this team win, nothing would give me more joy than that. So hopefully it happens.”

Some that will depend on the second factor: Who else the Wolves land in free agency. Okogie and Bates-Diop can both play on the wing, where both have defensive potential and the ability to make three-pointers.

All of those things are needs for the Wolves – who don’t have much depth beyond Butler and Andrew Wiggins with Jamal Crawford opting out of his deal – but that doesn’t mean they consider that need fully met after the draft.

“I think versatility is the buzzword now,” Thibodeau said Thursday. “Guys that can play multiple positions and fit into a team. Still the needs of defense and the three-point shot are critical.”

What sort of pecking order gets established will be dictated in part by the market and in part by how much trust both draftees can earn starting with early workouts this week and beyond.

“You love the eagerness, and they’ve been great in the two days they’ve been here,” Thibodeau said.

We’ll see if one or both of them can actually crack the code and earn significant minutes as a rookie.

The time Prince rented — and redecorated in purple — an NBA player’s house

OK, this is amazing and I don’t want to ruin it but I will summarize with some bullet points before leaving you to watch this 3 minute, 30 second video:

*Former NBA player Carlos Boozer, after signing a huge free agent contract with Utah in the mid-2000s, bought a mansion in Bel Air.

*He was never there, so his agent convinced him to rent it. When an offer of $95,000 a MONTH came in, Boozer couldn’t resist. What he didn’t know until he got there: The renter was Prince.

*Prince made some, uh, changes to the place. But it all worked out in the end!

OK, go and watch ESPN video. It’s Boozer retelling the story of what happened, mixed in with some excellent illustrations.

It’s simple: Twins are losing battle because they are losing WAR

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler. Let’s dive right in and get going:

*In this era of advanced baseball statistics and measures, there is no perfect stat. But there are a few that attempt to factor in everything a player does to come up with a single number representing value.

One of those statistics is WAR — wins above replacement, which is just as it sounds. It’s the number of wins a player has been deemed to have contributed above that of a replacement-caliber player (like a fringe major-league player just called up from Class AAA). It’s not a perfect measure, but it has enough value that we can use it to succinctly explain a Twins season that is increasingly going off the rails.

Last season, when the Twins won 85 games and made a surprising push to the AL Wild Card game, their top six position players in terms of WAR (according to Baseball Reference, which factors in both offensive and defensive contributions) were:

Byron Buxton (5.2)
Brian Dozier (4.5)
Joe Mauer (3.4)
Jason Castro (2.5)
Miguel Sano (2.5)
Jorge Polanco (2.0)

And their top pitcher by a very wide margin was Ervin Santana (4.6).

Of those seven, four are in the minors on various assignments: Sano to recapture his swing after a disastrous start to this season; Buxton to rehab an injury but also to fix his swing after a disastrous start to the season; Polanco as he gears up to rejoin the team after an 80-game drug suspension to start the year; and Santana while trying still to recover from a finger ailment that required offseason surgery.

Castro, proving his value perhaps more in his absence than with the little things he did when healthy, struggled at the plate when healthy this year and is lost for the season to a knee injury. Mauer missed significant time with a recurrence of concussion-like symptoms and hasn’t been the same since he came back. Dozier’s average is down to .221 as he has struggled to maintain his form in a contract season.

Those seven players, who had a combined WAR of 24.7 last season, have contributed a combined WAR of 1 through almost an entire half season. Take away Dozier (1.3), and they’re in negative numbers.

Eddie Rosario (3.7), Eduardo Escobar (1.8) and Jose Berrios (2.5) have been great, but they are nowhere near making up for the rest of what has happened.

*That said, at least perception-wise not all hope is lost. ESPN’s Keith Law made a list of the top 25 MLB players under 25 (insider required), and both Buxton (No. 10) and Berrios (No. 11) made the list. Buxton in particular will have value when he returns because of his speed and defense even if his offense never truly evolves into something great.

*Twins GM Thad Levine, meanwhile, seems to be inclined to give the Twins — 34-42, 8.5 games behind Cleveland — more time to click before transitioning into full-on sell mode. Their recent run, including ugly losses to the White Sox that spoke to both their frustrations and problems, could accelerate the process but for now this is what he told MLB.com: “We think we have a lot of guys on our team that would be attractive trade acquisitions, which, by definition, if you have a lot of those, your team should probably be pretty good. We’re inclined to give it every opportunity to perform before we really do something.”

At Brit’s Pub during the World Cup, who needs the U.S. when you have Mexico?

Wearing a yellow shirt and blue pants is a strange combination any day, but it became even more unfortunate when I showed up at Brit’s Pub as a neutral observer Wednesday to check out the soccer scene on a big day of World Cup action.

The most intriguing match was Mexico vs. Sweden, the last of three in a very interesting group. And there I was, dressed in Sweden’s colors – like I was ready for a shift at Ikea, as one friend teased on Twitter.

As it turns out, that wasn’t the only miscalculation of the day.

Arriving shortly after the 9 a.m. start, for the first 30 minutes I sat in the bar area downstairs at Brit’s with a smattering – 10 on each side, maybe? – of Mexico and Sweden fans.

A few Germany fans could be spied in an adjacent room watching their team take on South Korea in the other deciding match in Group F. The thought: Not a bad crowd for a Wednesday morning.

Then a fan draped in a Mexican flag came downstairs. The thought: Hmmm, let’s go check on the scene up on the rooftop lawn.

The scene: About 300 fans (by my estimation and that of Brit’s general manager Shane Higgins), with a ratio of roughly 20 Mexico fans for everyone one fan of Sweden.

A huge crowd for a Wednesday morning. But for Mexico’s first two matches – both wins, both on the weekend – the bar had been near its capacity of 2,000, Higgins said.

Brit’s has missed the United States this World Cup just as U.S. fans have, but supporters of England, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil have helped fill the void.

One of Mexico’s biggest local supporters, Victor Martinez of Minneapolis, explained the scene to the unfortunately dressed reporter thusly during halftime: “The opener (a win over Germany) was fantastic, and it has built from there. We’ve been waiting for this for four years, and it’s fun to see people you haven’t seen for a while. The World Cup is our Super Bowl.”

Martinez, 48, posed for a picture – but first he put on his mask and shook his noise-making matraca.

“I wasn’t going to call in sick today,” he said. “I just had to be honest. I’m gonna go to the game.”

This being Minnesota, though, and Martinez having referenced the Super Bowl, I started to worry in the second half that a jinx was working against him and his fellow enthusiasts.

Sweden scored early in the second half, sending the handful of their supporters up on the lawn into loud but contained celebration. A penalty kick goal made it 2-0, and an own goal later made it 3-0 Sweden.

Mexico’s fans were quiet but not somber. In that Germany-South Korea match, with the defending World Cup champion Germans as the heavy favorites, the score stayed 0-0 as the match inched toward full time. A Germany draw or defeat would still send Mexico through to the round of 16 as the second-place finisher in the group, with Sweden finishing first and Germany being eliminated.

It wasn’t the most likely path for Mexico to advance when the day began – all El Tri needed was a draw against Sweden to get through – but with each passing moment the probability grew.

When Germany conceded a late goal – and then another – to South Korea in a stunning 2-0 defeat, Mexico’s supporters danced and celebrated all the same.

It was the rare occasion when everyone (well, except for the handful of Germany fans) was happy. Mexico and Sweden advanced, and Brit’s got at least one more match – 9 a.m. Monday in the round of 16 – involving Mexico and its large local group of supporters.

It was so much fun I’ll probably go back for more. But this time I’ll know where to look and what not to wear.

Does Danielle Hunter extension tell us anything about Vikings’ priorities?

Welcome to a late edition of The Cooler. I was over at Brit’s Pub gathering material for a scene story/blog from Mexico/Sweden. It won’t happen again. Let’s get going.

*The big news of the day so far is the Vikings signing defensive end Danielle Hunter to a big contract extension. Hunter was good — maybe a little … what’s the word … quiet last season? — but he’s accomplished plenty and is a key piece to a top-notch defense. It reportedly includes at least $40 million in guaranteed money over five years and can reach a full value of $78 million.

There were pros and cons to all the Big Four extension candidates this offseason, but Hunter generally seemed like a good bet. Eric Kendricks was the first to get his deal, and now Hunter has his. The two remaining candidates are Stefon Diggs and Anthony Barr. Both of those cases are interesting, and it leads to this question: Does the order in which the Vikings are doing these deals, among other things, tell us anything about their priorities?

The conservative, benefit-of-the-doubt answer is no — that if indeed the Vikings plan to sign all four of these players, they had to start somewhere and managed to hammer out deals with Kendricks and Hunter first.

The more interesting answer is at least “maybe.” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has chided Barr in the past, saying the talented former first round pick in 2014 has a tendency to “coast” during games. Barr recently told SI.com in reference to a contract extension, “It’s not my decision; it’s on them, and I would like to get it.”

And in March at the owners meetings, Zimmer famously referred to Diggs as a “celebrity” after his Minneapolis Miracle and added, “We’re not a bunch of celebrity guys.” I don’t profess to know exactly who Zimmer’s “guys” are, but I would wager that Kendricks and Hunter are closer to that definition than Barr and Diggs.

That said, it would be very strange to sign Kirk Cousins to a massive offseason contract and then not sign one of the receivers that gives the Vikings arguably the best duo in the NFL. Barr, too, is still an important part of the Vikings’ defense and there doesn’t appear to be much depth behind him.

The Vikings might not have much wiggle room if they do indeed sign all four guys, but they still can do it. Their track record is to draft, develop and extend. Doing that with all four players still makes the most sense and is still the likeliest outcome. But the names of the two remaining guys did pique my interest.

*ESPN took a look at the free agency priorities for all 30 NBA teams. The first bullet point for the Wolves reads: “Change the bench narrative: Selling a real role in free agency with limited resources.” This is your gentle reminder that Minnesota has been last in the NBA the last two seasons under Tom Thibodeau in terms of bench minutes played per game.

*SI.com has a long feature catching up with Sammy Sosa … in Dubai. Sure, why not. Give it a read.

Where the Great Baseball Road Trip meets ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

I didn’t think I would like listening to audio books.

Maybe there was some intellectual snobbery involved – believing that listening to a book instead of silently reading it is somehow inferior or doesn’t really count – but for whatever reason I had almost exclusively resisted it for all of adulthood.

My wife has been hooked for a couple of years and has been trying to convince me to join the revolution. With two kids 4 and under in the house, with sleep patterns and other time demands that make sitting down with a book far more of a challenge than it used to be, she found it to be a more efficient and convenient way to devour books. Listen while you do the dishes. Listen in the car. Listen on a lunch break. Listen during those in-between spaces when you would otherwise just be mindlessly thumbing through that day’s social media happenings.

Finally, a couple months back – after noticing that she sure gets through a lot more books than I do – I decided to give audio books a try.

We use an app called Overdrive, which is a fantastic free service. Basically, it connects to the local library system and works pretty much like all libraries function. There are limited copies of each audio book, and if they one you want isn’t available you place a hold on it. Once you get it and download it (onto an iPhone in my case), you have three weeks to finish it before it vanishes. You can check it back out again, but you might have to wait in line again. Three weeks is plenty of time to finish even a longer book, but the time limit also holds you accountable and makes you more apt to think about the book and finish it (at least in my experience to date).

I went through a couple of Michael Lewis books fairly quickly. The first was called “Next: The Future Just Happened,” which came out in 2001 and offered an interesting-in-retrospect look at the dawn of the Internet era. The second was “The Undoing Project,” which is harder to describe but was mainly about psychology and the relationship between two famous psychologists. It was fantastic, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

But the book I was most interested in was “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” written by J.D. Vance and published in 2016. Plenty of other people were also interested in Vance’s recounting of life in Kentucky and southern Ohio – plus the family and class struggles he witnessed on the way to a successful career – but a couple weeks back my turn came.

The timing, as it turned out, was interesting. Perfect might not be the right word. Maybe serendipitous.

I was still in the middle of listening to it when our plane took off Thursday for Cincinnati and the beginning of the 19th Great Baseball Road Trip. By sheer coincidence, our trip this year was taking us to the very areas Vance wrote about. His hometown of Middletown, Ohio, is about 35 miles north of Cincinnati and 25 miles south of Dayton. The town of his family’s origin, Jackson, Ky., is about 85 miles southeast of Lexington. All three of those larger cities were major stops on this year’s trip (along with Louisville, which is further west).

Even as I’ve come to think more in recent years about my own privilege and how it fits into the context of our country, the proximity of the book’s contents to actually seeing the things he was describing in real life served to reinforce (and perhaps in some cases make me prejudge?) the communities I was in during the trip.

Kentucky had an 18.5 percent poverty rate statewide as of 2017, among the highest in the United States. We didn’t see the worst of things since most of our time was spent in or near major cities, but we saw enough of it – particularly in Louisville, where the drive from the freeway exit to Churchill Downs to see some races on Thursday, the first day of our trip, was a startling mix of decay and opulence.

The last mile of the route went through a neighborhood so distressed that I was sure we had entered the wrong address into the phone. Until we could see the racetrack 100 feet away – the same track celebrated during the Kentucky Derby with fancy dresses and the privilege of the ultra-rich – there were boarded up homes and other signs of an economy gone bad.

The poverty rate is improving in and around Louisville from the years shortly after the recession – from 18 percent in 2012 to 14.3 percent in 2016 – but there is plenty of the city that is still struggling.

In Lexington, which upon briefly researching I was stunned to find is both highly progressive and very well-educated – again, my assumptions on display – we chatted with a woman who gave us copious amounts of alcohol at the end of a distillery tour.

After recounting a story of a group of white nationalist protesters who had decided to skip Lexington after gaining wind of a large and boisterous counterprotest group, she concluded with this: “We’re liberals here. AND we own guns.”

In Burlington, Ky. (population 15,000), about 30 minutes from Cincinnati, we stayed our entire trip in an historic home now rented out via Airbnb – apparently a popular thing in the small city these days. Our particular home had gorgeous antique furniture as well as mini horses, donkeys and potbelly pigs on the property. It was in Burlington that I found the cultural pride that Vance often referenced throughout his book.

The poverty rate there has gone up from 2.6 percent in 2000 to 7.9 percent in 2017, but that’s still far better than the national average. At breakfast at the same charming café both Friday and Saturday, things felt folksy but not out of place. World Cup soccer played on the televisions and craft beers dominated the drink menu (though one of them was named Country Boy Shotgun Wedding).

I asked our server if most of the people in the Burlington lived and worked there or if most of them were commuters who worked in Cincinnati, and she said it was the former.

“There are a lot of hillbillies around here,” she said without an ounce of disdain or irony, just matter-of-factly.

“Say hi to Eeyore,” another woman said as we left, referencing the apparently very popular donkey at our Airbnb.

I left the trip thinking Cincinnati and Lexington in particular were wonderful places – at the very least “underrated,” as though I had mentally prepared myself not to like them. I also wondered if Vance’s book had prepared me for a false reality, or if as a tourist seeing just a snapshot of the better parts of all these places I was getting less than a full picture.

Probably a little of both?

The thing is, I’m sure many of the things Vance – who went on to Yale law — wrote about Kentucky and southern Ohio could very well describe parts of Minnesota. Some of his upbringing – not all, not even most, but some – reminded me of my childhood in North Dakota (though he is 8 years younger and that’s a significant economic and generational marker).

I got back on the plane to Minnesota on Sunday night having seen four baseball games on four beautiful days and having eaten and drank my fill. My head was full, too.

I plugged the headphones back in and finished most of the rest of the book on the plane ride home, thinking mostly about what we see and don’t see – and thinking maybe I should take a better look at what is going on around me a little closer to home.

Vikings’ Barr on contract extension: ‘It’s not my decision; it’s on them’

Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Cooler. Answer a brief survey at the end of today’s edition for 25 percent off Wednesday’s edition. Let’s get started:

*Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr has had an interesting offseason, if we are using interesting the same way many Minnesotans do (usually followed by a long and exaggerated “hmmmmm” and a bone-deep sigh). He watched his fellow linebacker Eric Kendricks become the first of the Big Four extension candidates to cash in with the Vikings, then skipped some non-mandatory (but strongly suggested) workouts, then returned to the Vikings and talked a couple of times about how things are going.

Now it’s late June, and Barr did a recent SI.com interview in which he shed a little more light on how he feels about an extension with the Vikings. Here’s Barr:

I don’t really get into the numbers (with contract negotiations). It’s more about feeling valued and respected than the actual dollar amount. They kind of go hand in hand, I suppose, but I love being in Minnesota and I love my teammates. I want to be there long term. I’ve felt I’ve worked really hard, improved from my first day there to where I am now. I think I’m a totally different football player. It’s not really up to me. I feel like all the work I’ve done so far, you’ve got to go off that. You can’t really go off what-ifs or this or that. Let the chips fall where they may. It’s not my decision; it’s on them, and I would like to get it.”

There’s nothing really shocking in there, but the “It’s not my decision; it’s on them” part is interesting at least. This is just Barr’s side of it, but clearly he is setting himself up as very willing to sign and positioning the Vikings as the ones — at least right now — who aren’t committing.

It will be interesting to monitor as the summer lurches forward, with Stefon Diggs and Danielle Hunter also targets for extensions and the Vikings trying to maneuver within the salary cap.

*The Timberwolves’ Instagram account posted a picture Monday of general manager Scott Layden at the New York City Pride celebration this weekend in support of both the NBA and WNBA. And … then the Wolves’ account spent most of the rest of the day battling homophobic commenters and bigots, calling some of them out in the process. The full trail of comments is a mix of good and bad — about what you would unfortunately expect, even in 2018.

*Kennys Vargas is having a rough year. After spending parts of the last four seasons with the Twins while trying to establish himself as a big league player Vargas, 27, has been at Class AAA Rochester this whole year and is hitting just .214 with a .633 OPS. To make matters worse, Vargas had a rough end to Rochester’s 3-2 loss to Syracuse on Monday. With the score tied 2-2, Vargas fielded a sharp ground ball at first base, stepped on the bag and attempted to throw home … but he tripped on the base and fell as the winning run crossed the plate.

Your guide to the best road trip ever: Twins at White Sox, Cubs and Brewers

Savvy Twins fans already know about the opportunity in front of them. They proved with ample responses to a Twitter inquiry I made about the upcoming nine-game road trip for Minnesota.

But to reiterate, this is what is in front of the Twins starting Tuesday night: three consecutive three-game road series against the White Sox (Tuesday-Thursday), Cubs (Friday-Sunday) and Brewers (Monday-July 4).

If ever there was an opportunity for a magical baseball trip, this is it. Two cities, three teams, nine games, with a weekend and a holiday thrown in.

The word “unique” tends to be both overused and misused, but this span is truly unique. The Twins have only played the Cubs at Wrigley Field four times – the last in 2009, the last before that in 2001. They didn’t play the White Sox or Brewers (more common opponents, particularly the White Sox) adjacent to any of those four series.

So this is a trip that has never happened. Twins fans, as the kids like to say, are extremely here for this and plan to take advantage as best they can. (Photos are from my trip to Miller Park and Wrigley in 2012, but the Twins were only the opponent in Milwaukee).

Aaron Richards from Kasson said he’s heading to Wrigley for the Friday and Saturday games with his wife, who is a huge Cubs fan but has never been to Wrigley.

“I get to see the Twins and drink Old Style. Definition of a win-win,” he said.

Same goes for John and Kathy Anderson of Minnetonka, who are going to Wrigley (his first trip there) on Saturday and then heading to Milwaukee on Monday.

Mark and Julia Moeller of Minnetonka are taking their daughter, Anna, to Chicago for the first time for games against both the White Sox and Cubs.

As another astute reader pointed out, the Sunday game at Wrigley features a unique giveaway: a Willson Contreras laundry hamper. (Hopefully not game-used).

Naturally, it seems as though the Cubs and Brewers series are the ones most fans are zeroing in on. The White Sox games are less rare and are in the middle of this week, after all.

That said, if you have cost in mind the White Sox/Twins games have that going for them. I see tickets on Stubhub for the White Sox series starting at $6 for all three games. It will run you $50+ to get into a Cubs/Twins game. Then again, cost isn’t always the same as value.

As someone who has been on multiple trips to all three ballparks, here are a few suggestions:

*Definitely tailgate outside Miller Park in Milwaukee. It’s legitimately a great tailgating scene. Chad Harris from Coon Rapids, who said he’s going to the Twins/Brewers games next week, agrees. He said: “Those games are always fun. Feels like a rivalry. Tailgating scene at Miller Park is outstanding.”

*Definitely don’t: Lecture the locals about how much better of a ballpark Target Field is vs. Miller Park. Trust me, they already know.

*You might also want to check out Milwaukee’s excellent Summerfest, a long festival with tons of good music that is happening during the Twins series.

*In Chicago, go plenty early to Wrigley and check out the neighborhood bars. It’s better than trying to go after the game when everyone has the same idea. If you’re going to a White Sox game, don’t prejudge the ballpark based on what you’ve heard. It’s actually not bad!

*If you have kids, check out Maggie Daley Park (right next to the excellent Millennium Park near the lakeshore). You will be hard pressed to find a better outdoor playground.

*But do not — repeat, do not — eat approximately 13 pounds of meat for lunch at Fogo de Chao in downtown Chicago before watching a baseball game in the intense heat. I did this in 2012, and I still have regrets. Projected high temperatures are in the low 90s this weekend in Chicago. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

All that said, it’s going to be hard to mess this trip up no matter how the Twins play and no matter how much of it you are planning to attend.

If you do all nine games, by the way, you achieve legend status. Those are just the rules.