By higher order, Minnesota does number on contraction

MINNEAPOLIS — MINNEAPOLIS - It's a Minnesota postseason, folks. How can we be certain? Because hours after the plane for this great state's surviving major- league baseball team touched down on the runway, it snowed.

That's right. The Twins have now officially defied the Oakland Athletics and Bud Selig's contraction orders. They are wondrously alive in October, where yesterday, powdery little kernels spit from the unendingly gray swath of Midwest sky.


Thanks to the much-maligned, Teflon-coated Metrodome, weather won't cancel the Twins.

And because of the Honorable Harry Seymour Crump, Hennepin County District judge, neither could a commissioner.


Sure, Twins fans have plenty of people to thank for getting them to the American League Championship Series.

Brad Radke, the starting pitcher whom the Twins somehow retained, won games 1 and 5 against Oakland.

Ron Gardenhire, the manager, took a page from double World Series-winning Twins skipper Tom Kelly, then made all the right moves with this young, talented team.

General manager Terry Ryan defied his small-market coffers and came up with a championship-caliber team through eagle-eye scouting, deft drafting and minor-league development.

And "no-name" players such as first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz and catcher A.J. Pierzynski, with their spell-check names and upbeat personalities, are too compelling to remain anonymous any longer.

All of these Twins are worthy candidates for kudos and recognition of a job well done. However, on this day, the Twins' recent offseason history prompts a special nod to the one man who may be the most responsible for this Minnesota October.

He is a man who wears no cleats, who swings no lumber and spits no frothy tobacco juice. He is a man with far greater power, or at least a different kind of power from any five-tool player the Twins could develop.

Yesterday, Judge Crump might have been the loneliest Twins fan in the state, but that's OK. Crump accepts his isolated but well-appreciated fate. He was merely doing his job last November when he took a case upon which the future of the Twins depended.


What did Crump do? He merely ruled that the Twins had to honor their contract to play the 2002 season in the Metrodome, thus foiling - by a mighty judicial order upheld on baseball-affirming appeal - Selig's contraction plans for this lovable, World Series-winning, 41-year-old franchise.

"Yes, I had my 15 minutes of fame, but I can't talk about the details of the case because it's still pending in my court, along with another case," Crump said yesterday from his chambers.

"But I can tell you that I treated this decision like any other case. I reviewed all my submissions, listened to all sides and, since I'm a religious man, I prayed for the wisdom and the courage to make the right decision."

To which most of Minnesota - and anyone who loves an underdog - said, "Amen."

Tonight, the Twins are set to open the American League Championship Series against the Anaheim Angels and in joyous defiance of a dooming order from baseball's so-called commissioner.

Just ask center fielder Torii Hunter, an infectiously upbeat athlete whose passion for the Twins makes him unable to curb his vitriol toward those perpetrators of threatened contraction.


"Well, you can write a book about it, I can tell you that. But it was tough. During the offseason, they were talking about contraction," Hunter said.

"But we kept our heads up. We went out there, and we showed people we could play. A lot of people wanted us eliminated - literally - and before the [AL Division Series] they told us we couldn't get past the A's in three games. We proved a lot of people wrong. That's what we are. We're on a mission to prove a lot of people wrong."

Hunter and his teammates were not banished to a dispersal draft. For that, Hunter can smile and crow loudly about the welcome turn of events. But as Hunter and many Twins fans rejoice in a giddy mood of sweet revenge, Judge Crump must do what no other Minnesotan must do: gloat in quiet, secret pride. Sworn to silence over the case, Crump can't let it loose around any water coolers during this ALCS.

"That about hits it right on the head," the judge said.

"I looked at a few innings [during the Twins-A's series] and listened to [Minnesota's Game 5 win] on the radio, but it's not something we talk about in the judge's chamber. I did hear people talking about that ninth inning when I was walking [downtown]. People were saying they almost had heart attacks."

At least this time, the heart attacks are due to the stuff that happens on the field. It is October in Minnesota and the Twins are honorably, judiciously alive.