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Updated: April 8th, 2011 8:56pm
Pelissero: About time someone gave fans here something to cheer about

Pelissero: About time someone gave fans here something to cheer about

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Joe Nathan kept his emotions in check until he reached Target Field's bullpen door.

"Then, the place kind of started shaking," the Minnesota Twins' closer said after saving Friday's 2-1 triumph over the Oakland Athletics.

"Our fans were definitely electric at that point. It was definitely the loudest I've heard a crowd in this city."

It was Nathan's first appearance in this city's year-old baseball palace, one of many milestones he visualized while recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery that wiped out his 2010 season.

But maybe Nathan wasn't imagining the volume. Maybe this moment -- the bionic-armed hero jogging to the mound with a one-run lead thanks to his teammates' thrilling eighth-inning rally -- elicited something deeper from 40,714 partisan on hand for the Twins' home opener.

Sports fans in these parts have endured an unparalleled parade of ineptitude and ill fortune ever since the Twins last walked off this field, two defeats into a three-game American League Division Series sweep against the Yankees six months ago.

The Vikings proceeded to give them a sexting scandal, a doomed reunion with Randy Moss and six wins in what was supposed to be a Super Bowl season.

The Wild raised false hopes by hanging in the playoff picture before collapsing under the weight of injuries and undeniable mediocrity.

The Timberwolves emotionally castrated anyone who bought into David Kahn's rebuilding plan.

The Gophers were resounding failures in the only three sports that matter.

The Metrodome roof collapsed.

Brad Childress got fired. So did Tim Brewster.

Todd Richards and Kurt Rambis probably aren't far behind.

The folks in Ron Gardenhire jerseys tailgating on the plaza probably wouldn't argue a new Twins season is downright therapeutic.

Neither would the two 40-something men who hugged each other in front of the press box, both on the verge of tears, after Hideki Matsui popped a Nathan slider to Matt Tolbert to preserve the comeback victory.

"It was just good to come back home and give the fans something to cheer about, even though it was kind of late," said Denard Span, who drove in the tying run before Joe Mauer's go-ahead single.

"But (it was in) Twins fashion. It never gets old around here, to have a win like that."

For more than a year, Nathan carried around two handfuls of dirt he'd scooped from the Metrodome mound. On Friday, during batting practice, he pulled back the tarp and spread that dirt in front of the rubber.

There's a metaphor in there somewhere about the way these fans' angst has been bottled up for once, waiting for release on a day like this, with a win like this. Not to mention how the Twins felt after nearly two months away from home, including a 2-4 East Coast swing to start the season.

"It was pretty big," said Jason Kubel, who had a pinch-hit single in the rally. "I think it'll hopefully wake us up a little bit."

Nathan's fastball hit 92 mph on the radar gun a couple of times. His command continued to improve, save for a curveball that nearly went to the backstop.

The crowd spent Matsui's entire at-bat on its feet, and most stayed long enough on this overcast, 63-degree afternoon to give Nathan and company another ovation as they left the field.

Was there desperation in the collective energy that forced Nathan to calm himself during his warm-up throws?

"I think they're always excited," Nathan said. "They're pumped for warmer weather. We get to play here and we're blessed with the break of winter to spring to summer. And I think the fans get excited as much as they do us being out there.

"If we can put some wins out there for them, too, that makes it all the better."

It'd be tough to do worse than what this state has been stuck with for sports since the last time Nathan's cohorts left this field.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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