Melanie McDaniels: Why I love October


Can you feel it? It's October and here are a few reasons why I love the 10th month of the year.

First, there's the weather. There's just something about the crispness in the air that makes autumn better than the other seasons.

Secondly, it's Halloween. Who doesn't want to get dressed up like a giant penguin, gorilla or even a sumo wrestler and have a good time? Plus, you get oodles of candy that can last you the entire year -- or a week, depending on how much you indulge. As Buddy the Elf would say, "We elves stick to the four main food groups -- candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup."

Plus cocktails and costumes always equal a good time.

But, my real desire and passion for the month of October comes in the form of a little white ball with red stitching.

It's playoff time in Major League Baseball, and it's one of the few times during the year you can't pry me away from ESPN or Fox Sports. The others are March Madness and the NHL playoffs in June.

But baseball, the truest of America's sports, has my heart.

And to make this October even better, I get to root for my "hometown" team -- the Minnesota Twins.

Don't get me wrong, I bleed Boston red and blue, but it's considered a crime where I'm from not to love the Twins.

What other team in baseball can take a group of talented unknowns and make a complete 180-degree turn after the All-Star break?

Minnesota has won two World Series in my lifetime. In 1987, against the St. Louis Cardinals, they brought the first professional sports championship to the state, thanks to the exceptional play of first baseman Kent Hrbek and the pitching of Frank Viola and Jeff Reardon.

It was during the sixth inning of the deciding game, with the Twins up 5-4, that Hrbek hit a monster grand slam off the Cards' Ken Dayley. Reardon sealed the deal by mowing down the order in the ninth.

In 1987, not many people knew the unknowns on the Twins roster. The 1991 championship was a different story.

The veteran Hrbek was still at first, and the American League Rookie of the Year Chuck Knoblauch was a staple for the team at second. Relative unknowns such as Kevin Tapani, Shane Mack and Chili Davis were making big plays.

The Twins were in a heated battle with the Atlanta Braves and in Game 6 of the 1991 Series -- when I was 9 and glued to my TV set on a school night. I watched one of the most miraculous comebacks in sports history.

In the Metrodome -- also known as the "Homer dome" -- Kirby Puckett crushed a Charlie Liebrandt meatball for a walk-off homerun in the bottom of the 11th inning to tie the series at three games apiece.

The ball dropped into the third row of seats in center field and now a golden chair sits where his homer landed.

Game 7 of the 1991 series was intense. Jack Morris was on the mound for the Twins, and John Smoltz got the call for Atlanta.

Both pitchers held their opponents scoreless, but in the eighth inning, Atlanta loaded the bases. Luckily for the Twins, and for Morris, the infield turned a 3-2-3 double play to keep the shutout alive.

As I sat hands over my eyes, afraid to look, and my "Homer Hankey" laying next to me on the living-room floor, Atlanta had its own miraculous inning to help get Smoltz out of a jam.

The 10th inning began with the score still 0-0. Morris was on the mound and throwing strikes. With the Braves taking the field in the bottom of the 10th, Tom Kelly, the Twins manager, sent Gene Larkin in to pinch-hit. With Twins' leadoff hitter Dan Gladden on third, Larkin's single scored the Twins centerfielder and gave Minnesota the 1-0 victory.

As a young girl on a farm, 250 miles from the Metrodome, it didn't matter that my tears of joy were not seen by anyone other than my dog. I still felt the same joy of everyone who was sitting in the "Homer Dome" that night. I went to bed with my "Homer Hankey" on the pillow next to me.

Although I was only 9, the joy of that Game 7, from an epic, nail-biting series, has stuck with me through the years. It was with the same emotion that I celebrated in 2004 when Boston won the World Series with a sweep of the Cardinals.

OK, enough with the history lesson.

Now, the Twins are at it again, clinching the American League Central against Detroit. For the first time in American League history, a catcher, the Twins' catcher, has won the league batting title.

Twenty-three-year-old Joe Mauer chased the title, and on the final day of the regular season, eclipsing Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter by a single point.

The Twins, who rallied from being 12 1/2 games behind in May, are in the postseason matched up against the Oakland A's.

With names like Torii Hunter, Mauer, Brad Radke, Johan Santana and Justin Morneau, the Twins have gained some recognition but are still for the most part a group of unknowns.

And that's exactly why I root for them.

October is a season of unknowns -- you don't know if it's going to snow or rain, if it's going to be 80 degrees or 30 degrees, and you don't know who is going to sneak into the playoffs.

And that is why I love this month.

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