The Great Baseball Road Trip meets the energy of a great city

I go to great lengths to try to wear myself out, to feel like I’ve given everything to a day.

Case in point: Today, Week 2 of two weeks off from work – the luxury of luxuries because you actually start to feel it in week 2 – I decided to take the advice of a couple people on Twitter and head to Wayzata. The quest: Finding a coffee shop in the Twin Cities metro area with a great view, preferably of water. Two people said the Caribou Coffee in Wayzata had a great view of Wayzata Bay.

I live in Minneapolis, only about half a mile from St. Paul, so that’s a long way to go for a view. But you know what makes it even longer? When I decide at the last minute that it would be much better to ride my bike there than to drive.

About 20 miles, two hours, countless detours and one ridiculous bout of hunger that coincided with a fever dream that Wild GM Paul Fenton had been fired – only to find out I wasn’t hallucinating after stopping at a gas station and consuming two granola bars in about 13 seconds – I made it to my destination.

This post is going to be pretty long because as soon as I’m done, the reality that I have to do the route all over again will set in.

The view here is nice, the day is perfect and the setting is conducive to writing. “You have a good office,” a woman remarks to me as I sit on a bench with my laptop open. She is not wrong.

I’m here to sew together some thoughts on the latest installment of the Great Baseball Road Trip – the annual journey combining baseball and friends. This year’s trip took us to Chicago, for all four games of the Twins/White Sox series.

We didn’t once get in a car, so maybe road trip in this case is a misnomer. But I will say this: I tried so very hard to wear myself out in Chicago, and the city just wasn’t having it. It just kept giving back the energy and telling me to go, go, go.

**

There are four cities in the United States and seven in the world that give me this sort of energy: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Toronto and Paris.

I’m sure others (London? Tokyo?) will make the cut when I visit them for the first time. I’ve been to pretty much every major U.S. city, and all of them have their moments. But Chicago is in the Big Four.

Those are the places that make you want to just walk. You could drive, sure, but it’s a pain. And more importantly, every store front is an invitation. Every passing conversation could reveal a great truth or a moment of levity. There is a chance to engage with history, but more than that an opportunity to feel exactly what it is like to be in that place in the moment.

And in Chicago, like most great cities, there is water.

I hadn’t been to any of those seven cities since 2015, and I hadn’t spent more than a day in any of them since 2013 in San Francisco. It was on that trip that my wife and I found out she was pregnant with our first child, and you can draw a pretty straight line from there to the present in terms of travel.

We have two kids now, and a third on the way. In a few years, once the youngest is old enough to understand what travel is, we will visit all the great places as a family. My oldest, only 5, already is imbued with my wanderlust. She sees Paris and San Francisco on TV and begs to go there. I tell her to wait just a little bit, and luckily even though patience is not a virtue of 5-year-olds almost everything in the world is a novel experience to her. A trip to a new playground will suffice for the moment.

**

This was the 20th baseball road trip. I’ve been on all 20, and the three others on this year’s trip have all been on parts of at least 13. We are the Original Four, having made the first trip to Boston, New York, Baltimore and Washington D.C. on Memorial Day weekend in 2000, sleeping four to a room or on floors because we all had more time than money.

We were all in our early-to-mid-20s on the first trip, meaning we’re all in our early-to-mid-40s now. I was 23, an age I often tell people is perfect but also the age at which I once declared to nobody in particular something to the effect of, “Wow, I pretty much have this all figured out. What more is there to learn in life?”

Sigh. They say youth is wasted on the young, and they are not wrong.

New York, as I mentioned, was part of that trip. I remember key moments from that part of the trip, including a man falling into the netting at Yankee Stadium. But I couldn’t possibly tell you how I interacted with the city. I want to know exactly how I felt, but it’s hard to transfer a feeling into a memory.

I know I felt more or less the same about great cities then as I do now, but I’m also positive I didn’t appreciate the energy the same way.

When you change so much, sometimes the past feels like a lie. More likely, though, the future is just a version of the truth you don’t know yet.

**

The baseball trip these days is packed into four days. Three of us arrived in Chicago on Thursday morning (the fourth was delayed until early afternoon). We are spread out now in Minneapolis, Alaska, Virginia and North Carolina. The Alaskan lugged his Sega Genesis – bought during our one day in Chicago on the 2015 trip – all the way back so we could play in our hotel rooms. We might be in our 40s now, but we try to act 15 when we can.

The punishing pace of driving from city to city was replaced by three nights in the same place – with a grand view of the river from the 31st floor. Any time saved was reinvested in walking the city, breathing the neighborhoods, eating everything in sight and, of course, baseball.

We had not seen a Twins game on the road trip since 2008, and the Twins’ record in our presence at away games on the trip stood at a dismal 2-8 entering this year even though they had winning seasons every previous year we saw them. Had the weekend gone differently, you certainly could have blamed us for the collapse of the 2019 season.

Instead, we were there for all three Nelson Cruz home runs on Thursday – all going more than 430 feet, the first a blast that was as impressive as anything I’ve seen in person. Sometimes you think it’s going to be a home run. This one was just a question of how far.

We saw Michael Pineda continue his progression into the team’s second-most reliable starter. We saw a very forgettable Saturday game, but on Sunday there was a rout – and the first time in a month that the Twins increased their lead over Cleveland on a day when they weren’t playing each other.

We met some Chicago fans who are very impressed by the Twins and very worried about the Bears’ kicking situation. And then just as quickly as we arrived, we were headed out.

**

It’s strange to have 20 years worth of memories about anything as an adult. It’s hard to say what exactly constitutes a midpoint when you don’t know the endpoint, but I do know that 20 feels like a big number in that context. Maybe it’s why we nervously joked about this being the mid-life crisis version of the road trip, even if all of us are doing relatively well.

But if there’s a tendency to think of the next 20 years as some sort of coming down, it doesn’t feel that way. I feel like I’ve learned as much and grown as much in the last year as an any year of my life – but this time, at least, I’m not naïve enough to think I know everything like I did when I was 23.

I see the world differently. I experience it differently. Hopefully I appreciate it all more. I know I appreciated Chicago, the 40 miles on foot in four days, and the feeling you get when you pour all your energy out and it refuses to make you tired.

I spend a lot of my life chasing that feeling, and one surefire way outside of spending time in one of those seven cities is to find some water and write.

With 20 miles in and 20 to go, I’m counting on that energy to take me home.

The confidence of Eddie Rosario and the efficiency of Taylor Rogers


Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where there won’t be much (if any) content over the next couple weeks as I take some vacation time. Let’s get to it:

*I like to think that I’m a reasonably confident person, but I would love to live just one day of my life with the confidence that Eddie Rosario carries with him.

I bet he thinks he could jet ski to Isle Royale or have a successful podcast without trying whatsoever, and who am I to doubt him?

Because what we know for sure that he can do is this: Make a hideous error on a routine fly ball Wednesday, sending a troubled game into “worst of the season” territory while the Twins lost a third straight game for the first time all year … loaf on a ground ball in the next half inning … find himself on the bench to start a critical four-game series against Oakland … and then come in as a pinch hitter, hack away at the first ball he sees, blast it to right field for a go-ahead three-run homer and then circle the bases with swagger.

As La Velle E. Neal III points out, this is a guy who homered in his first MLB at-bat and his first postseason at-bat. This is a guy who lives for these moments. If the Twins are fortunate and good enough to make the playoffs a few times here in the next handful of years, Rosario is your best bet to provide a Kirby Puckett-esque postseason moment. He’s a heart and soul guy with more confidence than most of us can imagine.

*Taylor Rogers pitched two innings (again) in Thursday’s 6-3 win — the eighth time this year (and third time since July 6) he’s been asked to get at least six outs and the 13th time he’s gotten at least four.

This is troubling in one regard, since manager Rocco Baldelli seems to be doing the same in-game calculations as the rest of us and trying to figure out how much he can possibly ask of Rogers — the only bullpen arm who has the combination of trust and track record — in a single outing of a close game.

The Twins have 12 days to get Baldelli, Rogers and co. more bullpen help. I believe they will, but we’ll see what form it takes.

In the mean time, the only thing that makes the Twins’ desperate need to use Rogers for those long stints palatable is the efficiency of Rogers himself. He averages about 15 pitches per inning and got through his two innings last night throwing just 26 total pitches.

By way of comparison, Rogers entered Thursday having thrown just 13 more pitches than Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman but having done so in six more total innings thrown. Chapman has not had a single appearance beyond one inning this season.

Four different times this season, Rogers has pitched two innings one night and then been used the next day — largely because he needed an average of 13 pitches per inning in those longer stints.

A less efficient reliever who needed 35 or 40 pitches to get through two innings would likely be unavailable the next day. Baldelli has a rare treasure in Rogers. Imagine one or two more great arms next to him.

*Miguel Sano had four really good at-bats Thursday: a single, two walks (one in front of Rosario’s blast) and a hard fly ball to right field in his final at bat after just missing a long home run to left when it hooked foul.

Since that dismal 0-for-7 game against Tampa Bay on June 27 that had people ready to give up on him again, Sano is hitting .348 with an OPS above 1.100. He’s walked eight times and struck out 16 times in 55 plate appearances — far more acceptable numbers — to go with four home runs.

And for the season, his .870 OPS is higher than that of Jorge Polanco (.866), Max Kepler (.855) and Rosario (.845).

*It seems impossible that Luis Arraez turned 22 in April. This guy has the polish and hands of a player in his prime. If he can keep turning on inside pitches like he did Thursday — blistering a double off the wall and just missing a homer — the Twins might have a star in the making.

KAT: Culture under Thibodeau wouldn’t have been good for Wolves rookies

Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns arrived back in the Twin Cities recently from Europe in time for his yearly basketball camp at Providence Academy in Plymouth.

He was slated to talk to the local media at the camp on Friday, but it was announced on Wednesday by his camp manager that “unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances we had to remove media access to the camp and KAT will no longer be available during the event.”

Cory Hepola from the Wolves’ radio home of WCCO Radio, though, caught up with Towns at Day 1 of the camp on Thursday and gave us a glimpse into KAT’s thought process on a number of subjects.

You can listen to the full interview here.

Some of the more interesting takeaways …

*On the Wolves’ free agent pursuit of Towns’ friend D’Angelo Russell, which came up short when Russell signed a four-year, $117 million deal with Golden State, Towns said “of course” he’s disappointed the Wolves didn’t land him but added: “I’m happy for him because he’s happy. … For him to come out with a great contract to change his family’s life and his forever and his kid’s life it’s a huge thing for me. … When I have my kids, I want him to be their uncle.”

He added: “I think what Wolves fans are seeing though now is that people they felt were untouchable to come to Minnesota are now touchable” and credited President Gersson Rosas and head coach Ryan Saunders for that.

*On the Wolves’ success in Las Vegas, where Towns spent time working out while the Summer League team went 6-1: “I think they gave up too many secrets in one go-around. … It’s going to be fun to be a Timberwolves fan and it’s going to be fun for me to have a coach that’s going to allow me to use all my talent.”

That was a reference of course to Saunders, who Towns called “the best communicator in the NBA.” And it wasn’t the only time he compared the new regime favorably to the old regime under Tom Thibodeau.

*Towns talked about rookie draft picks Jarrett Culver and Jaylen Nowell, who were introduced to the media Thursday.

Said Towns: “The culture we’re building here is very special. I’m very glad we’re introducing Culver and Nowell to a culture that we possess now. I don’t think the situation before would have been very beneficial to them.”

Translation, to nobody’s surprise: Towns is happy right now, and he makes no secret of things he wasn’t happy about before.

Ope! Sometimes you get in a Twitter battle with the Cleveland Indians

Twitter is either the greatest and most important communication advancement of this era or the worst thing in the world that should be shut down immediately and thrown into the sea, depending on which seven or eight tweets you are seeing in your feed at any given time.

But just like the telegraph, radio, television and even the large thing we simply call “the internet,” Twitter and other forms of social media are of course just tools that amplify messages. They illustrate the best and worst of human nature. Twitter just happens to do it for a much larger audience and in much faster way than previous mechanisms.

Drinking from the Twitter fire hose instead of consuming our messages in sips has its up and downs, but I wouldn’t trade the good and weird parts of Twitter for anything.

This includes, most definitely, Wednesday night. The Cleveland Indians, the prohibitive preseason Central Division favorites who fell far behind the fast-starting Twins before slowly and steadily moving back to nipping-at-the-heels territory, defeated the Tigers on Wednesday. This was Cleveland’s fourth win in a row, and coupled with the afternoon meltdown at Target Field helped shrink the Twins’ lead in the division to just four games — the smallest it has been at any point since May 14, the good old days two months ago when Twins fans were ecstatic that the lead was so large.

The official Cleveland team Twitter account posted an excellent Tweet that, to someone over here, seemed like a subtle dig at Minnesota. It read: “OPE. Can we just squeeze by ya and grab our fourth straight?”

So as someone who likes to have a little fun on Twitter dot com, I called them out on it. And thus a … conversation was born.

Now … maybe in Minnesota we’ve simply been conditioned to believe that we have a singular monopoly on the non-word “ope,” which many of us clumsily and reflexively say when we walk in front of someone or drop lutefisk on the ground.

That was the sentiment whoever runs the Cleveland account seemed to be volleying back — that “ope” is an Ohio thing, too, and that Cleveland is in the Midwest.

What constitutes the Midwest is something you could spend the rest of the week debating. But here’s what I know: Matt Wells, one of the original readers/commenters on this here blog, is one of the only people I know from Cleveland and his therefore my go-to Cleveland expert.

Matt, do people from Cleveland say “ope.”

Your witness, counselor.

But the larger point is this: These silly little dust-ups (the Cleveland account and I quickly made peace, from whatever place of faux-tension once existed) are part of Twitter’s appeal — or at least they were, to a greater extent, before every tweet was a serious commentary on our political dumpster fire or a scorching take about how good or bad our sports teams and players are.

Maybe the response from Cleveland, too, was indicative of a genuine rivalry brewing this summer. A legit division race wouldn’t do much for the nerves of any Minnesota fans, but as someone who roots for the story above all else it would be a lot more interesting than the alternatives of a blowout in either direction.

Ope! You don’t think so? Maybe we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

After all the reshuffling, did the Wild gain in talent or flexibility?


Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where it’s time to spend some time on the ice. Let’s get to it:

*When Wild general manager Paul Fenton embarked on a roster shakeup in the middle of last season, the intent seemed clear on two fronts: 1) See if an injection of new blood would create a better dynamic down the stretch that might propel the team into the playoffs and spark a run; 2) Add a combination of youth and payroll flexibility to pave the way for a bigger shift in direction during the offseason.

Number 1 obviously didn’t happen. Number 2 is coming into focus but still in question.

Barring anything dramatic (like, say, a Jason Zucker trade that still hasn’t happened amid chatter that has died down), the Wild’s offseason activity might be drawing to a close. Sure, Minnesota has a couple more notable restricted free agents to sign (Joel Eriksson Ek and Kevin Fiala), but after signing Ryan Donato on Tuesday the others can’t be far behind.

As such, we are in position to take a look at where the Wild stands with payroll, talent and flexibility in order to judge (at least to this point) the net result of the reshuffling that began in earnest six months ago.

Note: Salaries are yearly cap hits and length of remaining contract includes 2019-20. Estimates for Eriksson Ek and Fiala via Evolving Hockey).

KEY SUBTRACTIONS

Mikael Granlund ($5.75 million, 1 year left); Nino Niederreiter ($5.25 million, 3 years left); Charlie Coyle ($3.2 million, 1 year left).

KEY ADDITIONS

Ryan Donato ($1.9 million, 2 years left); Kevin Fiala (Estimated $3.1 million, 2 years left); Victor Rask ($4 million, 3 years left); Mats Zuccarello, $6 million, 5 years left); Ryan Hartman ($1.9 million, 2 years left).

OTHER NOTABLE DECISIONS

Eric Staal (2-year extension, $3.25M per year); Joel Eriksson Ek (estimated 2-year deal as RFA at $1.35M per year).

So: Had the Wild kept the status quo — no trades, no outside free agent signings, keeping Eriksson Ek, they would have been on the hook for about $15.5 million in salary in 2019-20 with Granlund, Nino, Coyle and Ek. That would have diminished to $6.6 million in 2020-21 had they let Coyle and Granlund walk in free agency.

As it stands (estimated), the Wild will be on the hook for $18.25 million next season between Donato, Fiala, Rask, Zuccarello, Hartman and Ek, and the same number in 2020-21.

(I’m not sure if the Staal re-signing fits into either equation, but it felt strange to leave it off the decision list).

If we keep Hartman (a low-leverage signing) and Eriksson Ek out of it, it looks like this:

$14.2 million status quo in 2019-20 with Granlund, Coyle and Nino, which is down to just one player (Nino) and $5.25M beyond next year.

$15 million (estimated) in 2019-20 and 2020-21 for Donato, Fiala, Rask and Zuccarello, with longer-term commitments to both Rask and Zuccarello.

I think it’s fair to say the Wild would need to get a jump from two out of the three of Donato, Fiala and Rask next season to feel better about their short-term lineup vs. what they would have had by doing nothing.

And the bigger-picture question: Would you rather have Donato, Fiala, Rask and Zuccarello in 2020-21 for $15 million or would you rather have Niederreiter and $10 million more in cap space — which is what the Wild would have had just by playing out this coming season and letting Granlund and Coyle walk?

Framing it that way reinforces the bets Fenton is making on his ability to evaluate talent and try to remake this roster on the fly. Because in terms of cap flexibility, the Wild sure seems to have less of it than when the reshuffling started.

*Want to go in a completely different direction from the last 500 words? Here’s a picture of Jack White and other members of The Raconteurs taking in Tuesday’s Twins game a night after playing The Armory.

*I’ll take a hard pass on the Face App that makes us all look old, particularly if it’s the Russians trying to gather data on us. But then I’ll contradict myself temporarily to show you old Aaron Rodgers.

*Bill Simmons is trying to build the case for Chris Paul to the Wolves by floating the idea that all it would take is Gorgui Dieng and Jeff Teague.

Vegas insider: NFC North champ will be determined by Kirk Cousins

Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Cooler, where I’m doing my part to combat the hottest summer in the history of Earth. Let’s get to it:

*It is not exactly a hot take or a revolutionary one to believe the Vikings’ fortunes hinge squarely on the play of quarterback Kirk Cousins, but I still found it interesting to hear the subject batted around on the gambling site VSiN (Vegas Stats and Information Network).

Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, now with VSiN, was talking with Jeff Sherman — VP of Risk Management for Westgate Superbook — about the intriguing upcoming NFC North Race. The Bears have been installed as slight betting favorites (7 to 4) to repeat as champs, while the Vikings and Packers are at 2 to 1. Detroit is a distant 10 to 1.

Sherman made an initial argument that Green Bay could be a good value bet, but Lombardi countered with a pitch for the Vikings.

Said Lombardi (no relation to Vince): “I think (Gary) Kubiak does wonders. I know Kevin Stefanski will call plays, but I think that offense is ideal for Kirk Cousins. … I think they’re better on the offensive line by far this year.”

Sherman added later: “With Minnesota it’s all going to come down, in my opinion, on Kirk Cousins. I mean they underachieved a bit last year. We’re going to have to see if he’s able to satisfy that contract he got.”

Again, none of this was revolutionary. It was just good July banter that nicely frames what should be an interesting 2019 season and race. Here’s the full exchange:

*Warriors GM Bob Myers told the media Monday that Golden State didn’t sign D’Angelo Russell with the intent of trading him a year from now.

I know it’s been written and speculated. That’s fine,” Myers said, per ESPN. “That’s what everybody’s job is to do. We didn’t sign him with the intention of just trading him. We haven’t even seen him play in our uniform yet, and a lot of people have us already trading him. That’s not how we’re viewing it. Let’s just see what we have. Let’s see what he is. Let’s see how he fits.”

He definitely sounds like a GM who wants to keep Russell long-term and definitely not like a GM who wants to make sure there’s a strong market next summer and he isn’t getting 80 cents on the dollar because every team assumes Golden State is desperate to trade Russell to unclog its cap. Definitely not.

*Giannis Antetokounmpo is really, really good at baseball. I’m not sure if he’s equally really, really bad at baseball. But maybe?

*Idle thought: Does the NHL need some version of the NBA Summer League to keep interest going in the offseason? Teams do prospect camps already, complete with scrimmages. Why not get organized?

(Or conversely: Is it nice that the league has the decency to give its players, coaches, executive and media something resembling down time in July).

Ryan Saunders: Summer League laid groundwork for what Wolves want to be

Las Vegas re-branded itself sometime in my early adult life as a 21-plus paradise of debauchery and excess — punctuated by one of the all-time great PR campaign slogans, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

I’ve been to Sin City many times and love it very much, but in my estimation 48 hours is about the perfect amount of time to be there.

Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders, by contrast, had been in Vegas for the better part of two weeks when I talked to him Monday night. The occasion for the extended stay was a positive — it meant the Summer League Wolves, who started play July 5, had kept playing all the way to the championship game, where they fell Monday to Memphis — but the coach sounded like he had a bit of a basketball hangover.

“I was there the entire time (for Summer League) and three days of free agency in Los Angeles before that,” said Saunders, who spent the time evaluating players and meeting with new assistant coaches while one of those assistants, Pablo Prigioni, ran the Summer League team. “I’m ready to go home. So ready.”

What he brings back to Target Center remains to be seen, but this much is certain: A lot of things the Summer Wolves did in going 6-1 can be construed as the seeds of what Saunders and the rest of the Timberwolves’ brain trust would like to see extended to the full NBA squad this fall and winter.

In other words, contrary to that catchy slogan, Saunders doesn’t want what happened in Vegas to stay in Vegas.

Specifically, the things Saunders talked about Monday fit into these five categories.

*Philosophy: Since Gersson Rosas took over as President two months ago, and even back a little further to when Saunders was named interim head coach in January, the Wolves have talked about playing with pace, having interchangeable parts that create a “position-less” feel on the court and other such modern NBA things. The seven games in Las Vegas were the first demonstration of the alignment of those goals in action.

“You do take positives out of it. You can find things both as a coach and as a player about yourself. I think as coaches we find things about players as well,” said Saunders, who had a similar experience when leading the Summer Wolves to a runner-up finish when he was an assistant coach in 2016. “You want to win and compete because we’re competitors and we’re in pro sports, but it’s one of those things where you learn what your philosophy can be what works. Summer league is a real opportunity.”

*Offensive efficiency: On offense, there are multiple facets to that philosophical change. But the most striking one in Las Vegas was shot selection. Through four games, the Wolves were attempting more than 80 percent of their field goals either from three-point range or at the rim. Last year, that figure was 60 percent. Continue that pace, and it’s one more high-value shot out of every five than they had last season.

“Our staff has grown and grown and now we’re at a full staff,” Saunders said. “We have had a number of meetings in terms of how we want to play offensively and defensively – about our identity and our shot values. Taking the correct point value shots, based on points per possession. We spent a lot of time with that and worked a lot with our offensive concepts. … Our shot charts were where we want to be. More free throws, layups, three point shots. I feel that was a positive.”

I asked Saunders whether that’s something he thinks the Wolves can bring back from Vegas — particularly to some of the high-usage players on the current roster like Andrew Wiggins who have not been models of efficient shot-taking in the past.

“It’ll be a work in progress, but I feel like the way we’ve been working to educating our guys is something we can carry over,” he said. “We’re seeing how these guys learned, and so like I said Summer League philosophically you want to use those the experiences.”

*Defensive identity: Monday was not the Summer Wolves’ best game on that end of the court, as they allowed 95 points in the shortened 40 minutes of action. But overall in the seven games there were some intriguing signs on that end of the court as well.

“Defensively we were able to try a bunch of things with switching situations — more than we’ve done in the past,” Saunders said.

Indeed, the young and athletic roster the Wolves figure to field in the regular season should be suited to switches.

*Individual improvement: It’s easy to fall in love with individual summer performances against somewhat loose defenses and less structure, so this is the spot that probably needs the most caution.

With 2019 draft picks Jarrett Culver (precaution) and Jaylen Nowell (minor injury) not appearing at all in Sin City, the only safe bets from the Summer League roster to have a regular role with the Wolves in 2019 are Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop, draft picks in 2018.

Sure, it’s fun to marvel at Canyon Barry’s underhand granny-style free throws (he’s the son of Hall of Famer Rick, who mastered the art, and Canyon is pretty close to perfect himself) or wonder if ex-Gopher Jordan Murphy can parlay those seven games into a pro career. But for a lot of these guys, Summer League is somewhere between a pipe dream and an extended tryout.

However, I am not going to be the one to dump cold water on your love of one specific player: 19-year-old undrafted free agent Naz Reid. The 6-10 LSU product had just eight points (and 10 rebounds) on 3 of 13 shooting in the championship game loss, but overall he did a lot of impressive things in Las Vegas. Saunders, it should be noted, is not going to douse that fire much, either.

“Specifically we learned how talented (Reid) is. He has a great feel for the game. The fact that he’s a big guy but handles like a guard, that fits into modern NBA. He’s 19 and his upside is tremendous,” Saunders said. “We learned what he can do and what he needs to work on, things he needs to focus on.”

Reid is on a two-way contract, meaning he can spend a maximum of 45 days with the Wolves and will otherwise get seasoning with their G League team in Iowa. But he seems like a very worthy developmental project.

*Togetherness: Social media was peppered with images of all sorts of Wolves players in Vegas — not just the Summer League guys. That was a departure from years past, and it allowed guys like Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins to get in extensive practices with Culver and others, even though they weren’t playing in games.

“There were guys in and out in past years as well, but it did feel like there was more of a presence this summer,” Saunders said. “We worked out every day these guys were out here. Being able to get Karl, Andrew, Jarrett working out together, we got them feeling comfortable with decisions and shots.”

There’s a lot to like about the title game-bound Summer League Timberwolves

The Timberwolves’ Summer League entrant is 6-0 and will face Memphis on Monday night in Las Vegas for the championship.

Results-wise, this is about as important as dominating college football spring practices or winning the fourth preseason game in the NFL. The results don’t carry over to the real thing, and the majority of players on the Wolves’ summer league roster won’t see the light of day on an NBA court next season.

That said, as long as we keep things in perspective, there has been a lot to like about what the Wolves have done in Summer League. It’s not a perfect snapshot of how they want to play going forward, but it is at least a glimpse of some of the things they will prioritize under new President Gersson Rosas and head coach Ryan Saunders. Here are some of those things:

*Offensive efficiency. Per Alan Horton from Wolves radio, Minnesota has all but eliminated long two-point attempts from its arsenal. He tweeted that through four games, the Wolves had attempted just 17 midrange shots in summer league play after averaging 17 attempts per game last season. And a full 81 percent of their field goal attempts through four games were either at the rim or from three-point range.

Last year the Rockets led the NBA with 78 percent of their attempts from one of those two spots, followed by the Bucks at 76 percent. Both were among the NBA’s best teams. The Wolves were at a dismal 60 percent, so even the small sample size of four Summer League games is a welcome change.

*Naz Reid. It’s silly to fall in love with a player after a handful of loose games against similar competition, but it looks like the Wolves at least have something with two-way contract player Naz Reid, the 19-year-old undrafted free agent from LSU.

He’s averaging a team-high 12.5 points in six Summer League games while playing just 18.3 minutes per game. He’s good from three-point range. He’s good at the rim. He makes smart passes and smart rotations.

For a highlight that encapsulates Reid’s more subtle skills, the Wolves’ overall ball movement and the efficiency of a wide-open three, here you go (via Kyle Ratke, who you has been putting in a heavy Vegas shift and taking one for the team. Reid is No. 11. He starts with the ball, hands it off, sets a screen, dives to the hoop and then passes to the corner, where one more swing creates a great look. That sort of action will play anywhere):

Again, Reid is on a two-way contract — meaning he is slated to spend most of next season in the G League. But these are the types of players the Wolves should be getting long looks at and developing. Ex-Gopher Jordan Murphy (pictured above) is another. He’s averaging a tidy 8 points and 4.3 rebounds for the Summer Wolves.

As Dane Moore notes, the Wolves have 11 players under some sort of contract next season who are under the age of 26.

*The Wolves have done this without some of their best young players in the mix. Because of the unfortunate timing that didn’t allow first-round pick Jarrett Culver to officially join the team until after Summer League started — and the Wolves’ decision not to force him into action at the risk of injury — they’ve gone 6-0 without a minute from Culver.

Second-round pick Jaylen Nowell hasn’t played, either, because of a quad injury. Meanwhile, 2018 first-round pick Josh Okogie missed Sunday’s win over Brooklyn with a minor injury and it would be surprising if he suited up in the championship game.

Long story short: If this year is about developing players and establishing a style of play, the jump-start from Summer League is a nice introduction.

Sometimes a grown man trips and falls down while running

There are few things more humbling than falling down.

Figuratively? Sure. A failure of any kind, a falling down of sorts, is tough. As much as people love stories of redemption, they are more sympathetic to the rising action than the falling action.

But I’m talking about literally falling down. I’m specifically talking about a grown man, 42 years old, going rear over teakettle while doing something he’s done a thousand times: running down a sidewalk.

I expect this sort of thing from time to time from my young children. They don’t have as much practice as I do, and they aren’t as wise to subtle elevation shifts for cracks in sidewalks. Sometimes their limbs grow overnight (really, it’s true) and it takes some time for their stride or center of gravity to catch up. They skin their knees, get a Band-aid, and a few minutes later the tears are gone and they’re back at it – likely to fall again sooner rather than later, for a while.

But how do I explain it when it happens to me? When I’m running down a normal sidewalk on a cloudless morning, and next thing I know I’m tumbling, scraping the sidewalk (hand and leg, but no Band-Aids for this tough guy) and rolling into the grass for a softer landing.

How after a stunned second or two I’m trying to spring back to action, checking for damage, and fielding a question from a concerned motorist who clearly saw the whole thing. “Are you OK?” she shouts from a rolled down window. “I’m fine!” I shout back, and begin jogging again immediately as if to prove it.

Am I OK? My goodness, how bad did it look? Well, I did just fall down in the middle of a sidewalk. I’m in no position to judge the judgment or concern. Mostly I’m just stunned.

I’m less than halfway into the run at this point, about two miles from my destination, so I have some time to try to figure this out. What happened?

“Maybe it was a consequence of my decision” is the first possible conclusion reached by my busy brain. Less than 30 seconds before my epic tumble, I had paused at a red stoplight at the intersection of Cleveland and St. Clair in St. Paul, contemplating whether to keep going straight on Cleveland or turn onto St. Clair. Big decision, I know.

My original plan had been to run down Cleveland all the way, just an out-and-back, but isn’t that kind of boring? I could make a rectangle, take St. Clair to Fairview, then head back south …

I like having a plan, and I generally like sticking to the plan. I tend to have irrational fears of the things that might happen if I deviate from the script, fantasizing about the awful things that could befall me by making a simple change.

(I’m equally attuned to the idea that it’s entirely possible that by changing a plan I might avoid disaster as well, but it’s easier to envision the terrible thing that could happen instead of the mundane order that is never interrupted).

The light changed, and I kept running straight on Cleveland, as planned. Left, right, left, right, decent pace, sunny day … bam. Scrapes, concern, resumption, and the thought: If I had only turned right, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Or maybe trying to control what’s coming is an impossible errand and a giant waste of energy when all we can only hope to do is react in the moment?

Or maybe there was a chance it would have happened anyway, regardless of my direction?

That’s the next route for my busy brain, and it’s the least comfortable one.

About five years ago, when I was given a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, I naturally read, read and then read some more about what might happen to my body.

It was a frightening thing to hear when you are 37 that your body is broken in some way. Anything that happens to you after that suddenly becomes a question: Is this a symptom? What’s going on? The worrying, checking and wondering are rocket fuel for anxiety. Maybe these symptoms are just anxiety? But then it’s still kind of MS. Around and around.

When you are freshly diagnosed with something and tell people about it, you naturally get well-wishes, encouragement and questions about how you are feeling. You might attend support groups, as I did, and see people in far worse shape than you — more rocket fuel, this time for guilt and fear.

Slowly, though, you might start to get a handle on things and what works for you. For me, what works is pushing MS as far into the background as possible. This is not to be confused with denial or wishing it away because believe me, I know it’s there and real.

This is to say that I’ve come to espouse a theory that dwelling on a disease can become a disease itself, and that counterintuitive to conventional wisdom I believe that talking through every bit of it might not be healthy — that it gives the thing power, instead of taking it away.

When I can push it to the background, I feel as normal and healthy as I can feel. Combined with the things I can proactively do like eat a reasonably healthy diet (aside from occasional taco binges) that reduces inflammation, like give myself injections three times a week to keep symptoms from progressing, like get adequate sleep and rest (with varying levels of success) and regular exercise, this is how I manage.

I’m not sure if one thing is more responsible than others … or if nothing is really responsible and I just like the idea of doing everything I can … but generally I feel good. I feel better now than I did four or five years ago when the diagnosis was fresh. That makes it more possible, I suppose, to contain it to the background.

But exercise: If I go running on a hot and humid day, it’s likely my legs because of MS will feel sort of “heavy.” The best way to explain it is to imagine you are running with very small but noticeable ankle weights – not enough to stop you or even slow you down much, but still a deviation from optimal or normal.

Friday wasn’t the hottest or most humid day in which I’ve run in the last five years, but it was in the upper 70s and climbing, with plenty of stickiness. Maybe those heavy legs weren’t lifting high enough off the ground, and as a result I tripped and down I went?

It’s possible, I decide, though I also know this: Not in the last five years, or even in the last 15 years for that matter, have I ever just biffed it while running – heavy legs or not.

By this point, I’ve reached the turnaround point and I’m running back toward the scene of the crime.

Maybe I was just distracted?

I carry my phone with me pretty much wherever I run because I don’t have a Fitbit, my phone counts my daily steps/mileage and if they aren’t counted did they really happen? (Awful logic, but 2019 logic).

I seldom listen to music while I run even though all my music is on my phone. The internalized rationale for that is that I don’t want a noise distraction. I want to be able to feel the run, to notice my surroundings, or at worst get lost in my thoughts.

But carrying a phone is, by definition, inviting a distraction. I look down at it constantly to check the time, to see notifications, to react when there’s an incoming call or text. I took pictures of my tumble wounds and texted them to my wife WHILE I WAS RUNNING.

I don’t need this distraction, really. (Proof that I can be easily distracted: Periodically while writing this, the lyrics from that Chumbawamba song “Tubthumping” pop into my head because, you know, I get knocked down but I get up again. And by the way, did you know it’s wamba and not wumba? I did not, but good thing I Googled it right in the middle of far more serious thoughts).

It’s entirely possible, I decide, that I had looked down at my phone. And maybe there was a crack or raised part of the sidewalk? As I run back past the approximate area where I fell, I slow down and look VERY carefully at every imperfection. A-ha! It could have been there, where the lip is raised a good inch. I probably wasn’t watching where I was going, caught that spot and down I went.

We are all distracted idiots, trying to do too many things, outrun the uncomfortable in-between spaces, fit it all in, and forget. We have no idea what the ridiculous pace of our lives is doing to us. We are just running and adapting.

I get back to the gym, take a shower, remember how much hot water stings on an open wound but know the pain was both temporary and necessary for the cuts to heal.

I still don’t know for sure why I fell. Maybe it one of my big brain guesses. Maybe it was a little bit of everything. Or maybe it was none of those things that made me fall.

Maybe the universe just wanted to knock me down – didn’t want to hurt me too bad, at least not enough so that my 5-year-old couldn’t tell me later (as she did) “I still have way more scrapes than you – to remind me how important it is to think, how good it is to feel, and how nice it is to get back up again.

With Westbrook in Houston, the silly Wolves speculation is over


Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where I certainly hope the people who complained about our less-than-sweltering summer are happy now. Let’s get to it:

*After the Clippers traded away several years of their draft future for a guarantee of two years of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard — a gamble worth taking even if it appears a steep price, since it seems that smart teams are valuing the draft less and less — news emerged that Russell Westbrook, too, could be on the move as the Thunder pivoted to the future.

In the ensuing scramble, a handful of teams were deemed reasonable fits — and at the bottom of a six- or seven-team list, you would often find the Timberwolves.

ESPN fell into the page view trap, including a head-scratching swap of Westbrook and Andre Roberson to the Wolves for Andrew Wiggins, Josh Okogie and Jeff Teague among its “six big Westbrook trades” they’d like to see.

The Ringer went a step further, devoting more than 1,000 words of garbled nonsense to the idea that Westbrook to the Wolves was just crazy enough to work.

And Wolves fans allowed themselves to imagine, “What if …”

But if you were trying to build a reasonable case for it, you were only listening to about half of what Gersson Rosas has been preaching since he took over as Wolves President a couple months ago.

Yes, he wants to add star power to the roster (Westbrook: check) and isn’t afraid to swing big (Westbrook: check), but he has also been adamant about looking for players who are on the same “timeline” as 23-year-old star Karl-Anthony Towns (Westbrook: nope) and who fit into a certain analytics model (Westbrook: nuh-uh).

Westbrook will be 31 in November. He’s owed $171 million over the next four years, which is a far cry from the $117 million, four-year deal Wolves target D’Angelo Russell (also 23, like his buddy Towns) got when he chose Golden State, at least temporarily.

Westbrook didn’t fit here. If the Rockets had to give up two picks and two swaps along with Chris Paul to get him, what on earth could the Wolves have offered? He would have been very expensive. And in a player-driven league, would Westbrook really have helped facilitate a trade to Minnesota as opposed to win-now Houston?

Thursday’s trade to the Rockets was stunning and yet predictable. And if the downside for the Wolves is that another good team in the West probably got better, the upside is that we no longer have to bat down fanciful notions of Westbrook somehow coming here.

And don’t even start about Paul.

*Grayson Allen, who earned his reputation for cheap shots at Duke and suffered through a forgettable rookie season in Utah, was ejected from a Summer League game Thursday with his new team, Memphis.

Never forget: The Wolves picked Josh Okogie No. 20 overall in 2018, and Allen went one pick later. You can lament bad decisions all you want, but this was a very good one.

*The Celtics’ Tacko Fall is listed at 7-7. Carsen Edwards is listed at 6-1. The difference seems even more startling in this photo.

*Only 8 of the 25 players in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game are still on the same team now that they were on then (and three of them are on the Warriors).

*The Twins announced Friday that their TV ratings are up 41 percent this year over last year and that their 6.12 average household rating on FSN is the third-best in MLB this season.