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Love Mulligan


Why the state of Minnesota should ask for a do-over in picking its Sports Hero.

@BreakTheHuddle (e-mail: BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com)

What do you want from your Sports Hero?

This is a question Minnesotans need to ask themselves. A few years ago we crowned Joe Mauer as our state’s golden boy. He was the local kid, from right here in St. Paul, the top draft choice of the Minnesota Twins, and a batting champion. He had the smooth swing, the good looks, and the humble personality we all fell in love with. He was destined to be a legend, one of the state’s most iconic citizens.

But as the injuries and postseason disappointments piled up, followed by the most embarrassing year of professional sports in Minnesota history, someone else came into our lives and started to grow on us. Despite the fact his team was bad, through his hard work, he’s leading a massive turnaround. He plays with fire, an emotional leader who’s become the best at his position in his league.

If you want a Sports Hero who embodies all the things to admire in an athlete – talent, hard work, charisma, and the chance to bring home a championship – I’m here to tell you that we, as Minnesotans, have been looking at the wrong guy.

Here are the reasons why the state of Minnesota ought to ask for a mulligan and declare that Kevin Love – and not Joe Mauer – is our state Sports Hero.

Love is more visible, and more charismatic, than Mauer.

Basketball is the sport in which the players are most visible within the boundaries of play. Hoop stars are out there in shorts and a tank top – every facial expression, good or bad, is on display, 48 minutes per game. Baseball players, by comparison, have shockingly little in-game attention placed on them. We can’t see their body language, and often can’t even see their faces. As a catcher, crouched behind the plate in protective gear, Mauer is even more veiled. When he comes to the plate, the at-bats last a minute or two at most.

Off the field, too, Mauer lags behind Kevin Love, who is a charismatic guy. It doesn’t take much to be more charismatic than Joe Mauer – even though he’s been the face of two national advertising campaigns (MLB: The Show and Head & Shoulders), he isn’t exactly a word-smith. His interviews are mainly clichés and platitudes.  He comes across as a simple, hardworking, relatively private guy – all of which is fine.

Love, by comparison, makes himself readily available to all types of interviews. He’s a regular on radio and TV shows across the country. On a more local level, Love has been known to tweet out a location to his Twitter followers (in case you’re wondering, Mauer isn’t on Twitter) and meet them there. He hands out memorabilia, signs autographs and hangs out with fans for an hour or so at a time. It may seem like a cheap way to buy affection, but for Love, connecting with the fans seems to be genuinely important. Such escapades go far above and beyond the “normal” superstar protocol of being available or accessible to fans.

Kevin Love has more of an individual impact than Joe Mauer does.

This has more to do with the intrinsic nature of the two sports, as opposed to anything meritorious on the part of Kevin Love. But the argument still swings against Mauer – even if he works his tail off this offseason and improves greatly, there’s little chance the Twins can contend this season. Love, on the other hand, spent this past offseason dropping a shocking amount of weight, adding more muscle, and working on his defense. The result? Coupled with Rubio’s arrival and a new coach, the Timberwolves are surprising playoff contenders in basketball’s toughest conference. Two or three small changes yielded massive results – and if Love continues to improve we could be talking about a perennial MVP candidate.

Love is also routinely handed the ball in big situations at the end of games. His coach can make the decision to put the game in his hands. Basketball affords this luxury – you can choose who takes the last shot for your team, thereby increasing the odds of your star player making heroic plays. Mauer, on the other hand, is at the mercy of the lineup. He might be the best hitter on the team, and the Twins could be down a run in the bottom of the ninth, but if the lineup card calls for the murderer’s row of Casilla-Nishioka-Revere, his hands are tied.

Kevin Love has a better shot at winning a title. 

This may seem reactionary, but please, allow me to explain. I know that the Twins are down following a year in which they were besieged with injuries and terrible luck. I also know the Timberwolves are trending upward after half a decade on the NBA’s trash heap. The Twins are old news and the Wolves are the shiny, new toy – I get all that. But the number one reason Kevin Love ought to be our new state sports hero – he could bring this title-starved state a championship, and Mauer never will.

Love faces long odds. It’s tough to accumulate the talent necessary to win an NBA Finals – and even tougher to keep it together in a sport that has a salary cap. But it isn’t far-fetched to imagine a team led by Love, Rubio and a third dynamic player (with the correct role players) at least being a contender in the West, where only Oklahoma City boasts a more promising set of young players. Love’s pure force of will could make the difference between the Wolves being a playoff team or a Finals team; his drive could be what pushes them over the top.

On the other hand, no matter Mauer’s proficiency, leadership or willpower, there will always be the baseball conglomerates waiting in October. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels have a license to print money, are intelligently run, and are perennial contenders. At least the NBA’s salary structure gives some advantage to the smaller market teams. In baseball, five or six teams can outspend the rest of the league combined.

So what do you want, people? I understand that we have a national reputation for being so damn polite – which is part of the reason so many of us fell in love with Joe Mauer – but in the world of professional sports, polite can’t be your best attribute. I’m not saying that all athletes have to be jerks. What I am saying is that Kevin Love’s charisma, his individual impact, and his chance to bring an NBA title to Minnesota – those are what separate him from Joe Mauer. That is what we should all want from our Sports Hero; a man who can deliver us the title we’re so thirsty for.

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