Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Writer, journalist, blogger, author, social media: It's been a great decade

When I worked as a daily news reporter a few years ago, the time in between Christmas and New Year's was always tricky for getting work done. We still had an empty paper to fill six days a week, but it was often a slow time for news. Plus, any ideas that might come up didn't always result in a story because it was a question of being able to reach sources - everyone burns vacation time at the end of the year, you know.

So, we often put together year-end pieces, recapping things that happened on our beats throughout the past 12 months. I always enjoyed these stories when they pop up on the TV news. You forget about some of the things that were such big stories, and it's fun to reminisce.

As we approach the end of another year, I've seen plenty of stuff already circling the social media world about "best ____ of the decade." Whether it's the best local sports moment, best song or the best athlete, just to name a couple. Naturally, as I often do as a writer, this is made me reflect on all that I've done and accomplished over the past decade.

Just getting started 
First of all, the decade basically encompasses my entire career so far. At the end of 2009, I wrapped up an internship at a magazine group. It was a great experience, but the economic times didn't allow me to become a full-time hire, so I decided to test the waters elsewhere. That started with a part-time job as a sports copy aide with the Star Tribune. I still remember walking the halls of the now-torn-down building on a tour during my first night.

My first byline came in October 2010, covering the high school girls' state tennis tournament. It's kind of fitting since that, as I always tell people, was the one sport I played in high school. What was cool about that story as I talked to the singles champion was the little tidbit she gave me. After victories, she loves to eat frosting from a can. Hey, whatever works.

I plugged away and finally found my first full-time reporting job with the Post-Bulletin, working out of the Austin, Minn. office for the Austin Post-Bulletin. First jobs can be filled with nerves, and this was no exception. It was a news reporting job, but I had a desire for sports. I was going to chalk this up to earning some great experience and learning a bunch of new stuff.

First stop: Austin, Minn. 
When you're a young journalist trying to break into the business, you hear about going to a small-town newspaper (or TV station, for the broadcast folks) to get your feet wet and learn as much as you can. That's certainly what I tried to do. In our two-reporter newsroom, I had the education and city beats, plus listening to the scanner for breaking news opportunities and covering any other community events or feature stories.

In a unique scenario, our office was very small with all the editors, designers, etc. over in Rochester. I was extremely lucky to have a very experienced reporter by my side in Kay Fate. After all the struggles and rejections of trying to land a full-time job for two-plus years after graduation, it all made sense to me when I landed in Austin; Kay and I were meant to find each other as colleagues and friends. I'm so grateful to her for being patient with me, helping me along the way and making me laugh every day.

I covered city council and school board meetings and work sessions. Kay told me I'd be the most informed person in the city, and she was right. I got to see how the local entities worked, then find a way to break down the important information for the readers in my stories. The city council was particularly interesting because of the divided opinions. Getting a 4-3 vote on an issue after lengthy debates on the seven-member council was not uncommon.

Along with the annual budget discussions came other issues like opening a dog park in the city and then declaring dogs "dangerous dogs" after incidents at the park. I also covered the HRA, even catching it in an open-meeting law violation dealing with the future of the organization's executive director.

Elections were another fun thing to cover, with a very diverse pool of mayoral candidates. But I really enjoyed the education beat. Along with the school board elections, the district looked into building a new intermediate school because of the growth in the area led to overcrowding in the schools. As the board looked to pass a referendum to build the school, I reported on a bunch of features relating to the specifics of the overcrowding, like kids holding class in a section of a media center. The referendum passed and I followed up with more coverage as construction for the school got underway.

Among other stories, the Minnesota Wild Road Tour stopped in Austin, I covered events and activities at the local library and had the chance to cover breaking news. My very first fire call I went on will not be topped. I was alone in the office after an evening meeting, and I heard a call on the scanner for a garage fire. I grabbed the newsroom camera and headed to the destination. When I got there, I snapped a bunch of photos of the garage fully engulfed in flames.

I didn't realize at the time how abnormal this was. Most of the fire calls we hear aren't serious, are false alarms or don't amount to much visual damage, maybe a little smoke here or there. I'm still the proudest of this photo that landed on the front page the next day.

At the end of the 2012 calendar year, the Austin Post-Bulletin shut its doors. It was a sad time, but I found some part-time work down the interstate as a sports stringer for the Albert Lea Tribune. Getting some prep sports action again was a lot of fun. With a talented high school wrestling team, I learned about a new sport, too.

From SE to NW Minnesota
From there, I moved to Fergus Falls (a sister paper with Albert Lea) to take another news reporting job. I once again had the city beat and added crime/public safety to my resume. Covering the cops/courts was another great learning experience on how to objectively and safely report on crime. It's not as easy as one might think.

Fergus Falls had a similar feel to me as Austin - a small town just big enough to feel like a small suburb. In a county filled with lakes, Fergus Falls was also home to the Regional Treatment Center. Like the Austin school district growth, the RTC took up a lot of my coverage space in Fergus Falls. The old building on the list of historic places in the state of Minnesota was still standing and was once used as a mental hospital. There was an ongoing debate among the community as to whether it should be torn down or repurposed.

A couple of developers presented their plans to the city council but nothing panned out. There were even some closed-door meetings among council members regarding the RTC, which again seemed to speak toward violations of the state's open meeting law. In the everyday grind of covering stories to fill the paper six days a week, I was glad for the opportunity to take some time reporting on such a major story like this one.

The city's library needed more space, so I also followed that process of getting things approved to start construction on a new facility addition.

Back home for a fresh start
When I came back to the metro area a few years ago, I tell people I just kind of fell into freelancing. I wanted to meet with a lot of different people in the journalism and communications business to see what my next step might look like. But I still had the itch to get back into sports.

It all started with covering one football game. That started my relationship with the Star Tribune once again. I got connected on the preps beat and helped out the full-time writers with the extra coverage they needed during section and state tournament time for sports like football, volleyball, tennis, swimming, hockey, adapted floor hockey and soccer, and basketball. Thanks to David La Vaque for making this happen and for Paul Klauda for keeping me in the fold.

Over the past few years, I've had the chance to tell some great feature stories about prep athletes, starting with a weekly feature piece in the Star Tribune. I've also continued to cover playoff action on the preps beat, plus I spent some time covering Gophers men's hockey games and Gophers women's basketball. This coverage spilled over into working for SportsEngine to cover regular-season games during the winter season for preps.

Also in 2015, I connected with Gregg Litman, a former journalist who works for StoryTeller Media + Communications, during my quest to talk with folks in the communications industry. That meeting led to some freelance work, writing blog posts for Hazeltine National Golf Club.

Target Field has been a blessing in more ways than one 
After a winter season getting my feet wet with some freelancing, I found myself applying for a social media job with Major League Baseball, working with the Minnesota Twins, that I heard about after one of my networking meetings at the Twins offices. By the end of May, when my parents and I had taken a quick trip to Indianapolis to watch Carb Day ahead of the Indy 500, I found out I got the job: In-game social media coordinator with MLB/@twins.

Working in sports on a daily basis, finding my niche in social media and calling a major-league ballpark my office has been an amazing experience. After five seasons with the Twins, I've said that the team has seemed to go the opposite direction of expectations, which has been good (see 101 wins and the MLB home-run record in 2019) and bad (see 103 losses in 2016).

Along the way, I've developed many more working relationships and friendships with the writers and media members I've met in the press box, especially at Target Field. I don't take these ball games for granted, and I don't take these relationships for granted. I'm also thankful because more opportunities have come my way because of some of these great people.

That freelance hustle, though 
While my baseball work is basically in-season, I still hustled on the freelance side of things in the baseball offseason, building up more freelance clips, hours and outlets. I covered a couple seasons of Gophers men's basketball (shout-out to Derek Wetmore at 1500 ESPN, now SKOR North). I dabbled a bit with USA Hockey stories thanks to a friend-of-a-friend connection.

I also became a children's author through the friends I met at Target Field. We were sitting at dinner before the game one night in 2017 when Dan Myers (current digital content coordinator for the Minnesota Wild) was talking to Pat Donnelly about his next book; Donnelly is an editor at Red Line Editorial who assigns the books. The next series coming up was Women in Sports. I believe it was Dan who essentially suggested to Pat, "why not Heather?" as someone to join the author ranks.

My first two books in 2017 were Women in Sports Media and Women in the Olympics. As of early 2020, I'll have seven published titles. They go out to school libraries; I know for certain they're at Crooked Lake Elementary School. ;-)

In 2016, I had the chance to cover the WNBA Finals in Minneapolis for USA Today. I've also covered NCAA regional volleyball at the University of Minnesota a few times. Thanks to Pat Borzi and Rachel Blount, plus the Star Tribune sports department, for thinking of me.

I also got to know Michael Russo, formerly the Wild beat writer for the Star Tribune and currently The Athletic. When the new site got going in 2017, he approached me to write some stories for The Athletic as a freelancer. I've written college hockey season previews, wrote some features on Krissy Wendall and Rob McClanahan, and covered the Minnesota Whitecaps in their first season in the National Women's Hockey League. The freedom to tell stories without the hindrance of tight deadlines and word counts is a blessing.

How else did networking lead to other work for me? I've stayed in touch with an editor I worked with briefly at the Red Wing paper. As he moved on to other places, he called upon me for freelance work. I wrote prep features, previews and some other feature stories on tennis players and a hockey player named JT Compher for the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press (suburban editions). Everything was done over phone interviews and internet research.

One interview for a basic boys' swimming preview led to one of the most in-depth stories I've had the chance to tell: "Glenbrook North swimmer learns to walk again after beach accident." Thanks to Ryan Nilsson for encouraging me to dig deeper and for providing consistent freelance assignments. When Ryan moved on to a paper in Indiana, the Times of Northwest Indiana, he tasked me with writing weekly notebooks on local athletes as they continued to excel in collegiate athletics.

Let's do that hockey 
On the hockey side, I started writing for Minnesota Hockey Magazine a little bit in 2015, even writing a profile story on goaltender Maddie Rooney when she played with the Andover boys' team before she became famous for her shootout save to win the gold medal in the 2018 Olympics. I also covered some state tournaments. My editor, Brian Halverson, has always been a great guy to work with in coordinating feature coverage.

Starting with the 2018-19 season, I became the main Minnesota Wild beat writer for Minnesota Hockey Magazine. I don't cover every game or write "gamers," necessarily. But it's been a great opportunity for me to explore having a beat with a professional sports team as a sports writer. I've enjoyed taking it all in and writing some fun feature stories on the team and its players.

My other hockey writing started with a now-defunct site called WildXtra.com. It was a chance to get writing about sports again and even write some columns about the Wild. When that site folded, I joined the ZoneCoverage.com (then Cold Omaha) team as a Wild writer in early 2017.

It was another press-box connection that helped me get to know one of the site's founders, Tom Schreier. I produced weekly Wild content with stats, columns and game stories. Throughout the 2017-18 Wild season, I produced game preview and recap stories for nearly every Wild game. I've also filled in some with Gophers basketball coverage, written stories about the Indy 500 and covered the state hockey tournaments for Zone Coverage.

In 2018, I started contributing to the Breakdown Sports preview magazines put out by Tim Kolehmainen and his team. I've written about baseball, softball, volleyball and hockey, focusing on big-picture feature stories previewing some of the top programs in the state in their respective sports.

Wrapping up the decade 
This past year was filled with one of the best baseball seasons in Twins history. The Bomba Squad won the AL Central Division and set the MLB home-run record. I covered the same smattering of tournaments on the prep side, covered my first full season on the Wild beat and watched the Whitecaps make history by winning the Isobel Cup.

Thanks to my parents, friends and colleagues who've been with me along the way throughout my work journey the past decade. It's been fun to explore so many different types of work as I try to establish my career. I didn't mean to leave anybody out by name, but if I did, you know who you are and I hope you know what you mean to me.

Cheers to 2020 and the next decade of work, friends!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Best of my freelance life in 2019

I thought I'd put together a list of a few of my memorable stories from the past year. It was another eventual trip around the sun covering the Minnesota Wild, prep tournaments and the Minnesota Whitecaps. Throw in a couple of extra assignments, plus another book or two, and it was another fun year of freelance sports writing to go along with a successful Minnesota Twins season.

Here are some of my favorites, presented in chronological order. The stories are linked in the headlines, and I wrote a brief summary about each below.

Husky Highs: Andover managed expectations ahead of Hockey Day Minnesota debut - Minnesota Hockey Magazine, February 2019 

Last year's Hockey Day Minnesota may have been one of the coldest days around, but it's still always a fun experience for the prep hockey teams that get to be a part of it. This time, it was two of the top boys' teams with Andover against Minnetonka. I talked with Andover defenseman Wyatt Kaiser and his grandpa, Blaine Comstock, who played for Bemidji State.

Breck's Ally Qualley comes up big again in Section 5 championship - Star Tribune, Feb. 15, 2019 

Breck has a solid girls' hockey program, which is evident by its back-to-back Class 1A championships. But there's something about the pressure and the spotlight that attracts forward Ally Qualley and brings her game to another level. The year before, she won the section title with a goal in overtime against Orono. This year, the end result wasn't in doubt. Qualley scored a pure hat trick in the first period on the way to a Breck 7-0 shutout.

In another twist, the co-head coaches of Breck, Steve Persian and Keith Radloff, coached Orono in 2018. It was much better to have Qualley on their side this time.

Hero's Welcome: OT winner caps off Donato's dynamite home debut - Minnesota Hockey Magazine, Feb. 24, 2019

Last season for the Minnesota Wild was marked by trades from then-GM Paul Fenton as he dealt parts of the "young core" away (Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund) for players like Victor Rask, Kevin Fiala and Ryan Donato. It was a Boston-for-Boston trade when Coyle, a Boston native, was dealt back home in exchange for the youngster Donato. How was Donato going to do with the Wild? Well, he came in with a bang.

Donato's first home game with the Wild came in late February against the St. Louis Blues, the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. Donato got the nod during overtime in a 1-1 game and scored the game-winner. It earned him the Hero of the Game honors bestowed on him by his new teammates.

Totino-Grace alum Matt Olson recalls high school memories - Star Tribune/Hockey Hub, March 2, 2019 

Boys' high school hockey section finals are what makes Minnesota the "state of hockey," in my book. The venues are packed, competition is fierce and a trip to the coveted state tournament is on the line. I've covered a few at the Roseville arena the past few years, including the Class 1A, Section 4 championship. Last year, it was between Mahtomedi and Totino-Grace, with Mahtomedi once again returning to state.

As I was set up with my laptop, I noticed a young man near me taking in the game. He looked familiar, though we had never met: It was Matt Olson, a former Totino-Grace hockey star who played with the team in 2014. He was there to support his high-school team, watching from his wheelchair; he suffered a severe injury to his neck and spinal cord after he fell headfirst into the boards during a junior-league game three years earlier in Chicago.

I enjoyed meeting Matt and talking with him about hockey, his memories playing for Totino-Grace and what he's been up to in the time since his injury.

'We made it': The Whitecaps' rise to the model of success for the NWHL - The Athletic, March 5, 2019 

Winny Brodt Brown and Brooke White-Lancette are still playing professional hockey. Not only that, but I'm amazed to hear their stories about how much adversity they had to overcome as female hockey players growing up, when girls really didn't play hockey. For Brooke, it's obvious how much the sport means to her. Finally getting to play in a professional hockey league was a big deal, as it should be.

Winny and Brooke are the two original Whitecaps from 2004, when Winny's dad Jack and Dwayne Schmidgall started the team as a way for their post-college daughters to continue to play hockey. It really came full circle to see all the success and fan support the Whitecaps had in 2018-19 during their first NWHL season.

'On a cloud': Isobel Cup win is a dream years in the making for Whitecaps - The Athletic, March 18, 2019 

It was pretty fun to follow the first season of professional women's hockey in Minnesota. Sure, the Whitecaps had been around for years, but 2018-19 was the first season they joined the National Women's Hockey League, becoming the fifth team and the first outside of the east coast. This story was actually a bit challenging for me to piece together, simply because of how storybook it was. I wanted to make sure I did the moment justice.

Lee Stecklein scored the overtime winner for the Whitecaps to give them the NWHL championship - the Isobel Cup - in their first NWHL season. It was quite the scene to take in during the celebration and trophy presentation out on the ice. And the sold-out crowds at TRIA rink loved it, too.

SCSU falls to UMD in double OT, finishes as NCHC Frozen Faceoff runner-up - St. Cloud Times, March 24, 2019

Take opportunities when they come to you. I wore my freelance hat to cover the NCHC Frozen Faceoff final between defending national champion University of Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State. With a double-overtime ending at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, this one was fun to watch and cover between two very talented teams.

Energized Mounds View freshman wins 2A singles title with sisterly inspiration - Star Tribune, June 8, 2019

Covering state tennis is one of the tournaments I enjoy quite a bit, especially in spring because it's really the only preps coverage I can do in between the MLB season. This time around, freshman Bjorn Swenson won the Class 2A singles title. He won in straight sets, but the other part of the story was that there was a missing face from his cheering section. His sister Marit died in August 2017 from an aggressive pediatric brain tumor. She and Bjorn grew up playing tennis together.

I talked with their mother, Jennifer, as well, who was very willing to talk about her daughter and the tennis connection she shared with Bjorn.

Rocky Mountain Rival: Walz, Stalock reflect on Avs rivalry from diverse perspectives - Minnesota Hockey Magazine, Nov. 21, 2019 

The Minnesota Wild got off to a rough start for the 2019-20 season. They lost their first four games, including the home opener. Top players couldn't get on the scoresheet. So, I decided to get creative with some of my feature-story ideas on the beat.

With the Wild set to face the Colorado Avalanche, it got me thinking about the long history between these two teams. Colorado is the only team that's been in Minnesota's division since the Wild joined the NHL as an expansion team in 2000. And with a few playoff series along the way, there's always been a rivalry there.

Specifically, I was thinking of the 2003 playoff run, when the Wild won their first playoff series in Colorado in Game 7 with that pretty goal from Andrew Brunette. I talked to current Wild goaltender and St. Paul native Alex Stalock about it. I also interviewed former Wild player and current FSNorth Wild analyst Wes Walz, asking him about the Colorado rivalry and NHL rivalries in general. It was a very interesting conversation.

Court Storm: Gophers Upset No. 3 Ohio State - Zone Coverage, Dec. 15, 2019

I've been off the Gophers men's basketball beat for a couple of seasons now. But when my friend Sam Ekstrom asked if I would fill-in for him while he covered a road Vikings game, I agreed. I, like I'm sure many people out there, prepared for a blowout game. The Gophers were hosting Ohio State, ranked No. 3 in the country. And the Gophers were coming off a pretty bad loss in Iowa.

Instead, the evening ended with a court storming. The Gophers took control of the game with a lead in the first half. They kept their foot on the gas in the second half and never let Ohio State get close, even though I kept waiting for a second-half surge from a team that had a No. 3 next to its name. The Gophers got a stunning performance from Marcus Carr, who put up a career-high 35 points. His moves to the basket and the shots he took were simply dazzling.


Thanks, as always, to anyone who's read my content or interacted with me on social media (@hlrule on Twitter and Instagram). See you in 2020!

Friday, September 27, 2019

2019 Minnesota Twins: It's already been a fun ride

Target Field, 2010.
I don't remember where I was when the 2010 Minnesota Twins clinched their division title. The year before offered up a thrilling Game-163 victory at the Metrodome, and I definitely have vivid memories of watching that game with my friend Cassie at Joe Senser's. Maybe after a decade full of division titles, it was more meaningful for me to remember where I was when the Twins were, once again, swept out of the ALDS in 2010.

After the dust settled on the game-3 loss to the New York Yankees, I remember being in the basement listening to the local sports radio hosts as they broke things down. Based on what they said, and my own feelings after the game, I remember feeling really down about their chances to get past the feared Yankees in a playoff round. The Twins had a bunch of chances throughout the decade, and they had one ALCS appearance to show for it, back in 2002. Either way, 2010 just seemed like the end of an era, whether we knew it at the time or not.

That certainly turned out to be the case. It took nine years, until this past Wednesday night, for the Twins to clinch another division title. Sure, the 2017 team made the postseason, but it's still hard to qualify that as the same thing, especially when they're the wild-card team that lost and didn't advance to a playoff series.

After 2010, the Target-Field era has been filled with struggling teams (remember those 103 losses in 2016?) and teams that seemed to go the opposite direction of pre-season expectations.

But 2019 has brought all the Twins optimism back. What a freakin' summer. As of Friday night's rain-shortened victory in Kansas City, the Twins have 100 wins in a season for the second time in franchise history.

New manager, new players for a fresh start in 2019
The Twins came into the spring with a new manager in Rocco Baldelli. After saying a fond farewell to Joe Mauer at the end of 2018, the front office went out and signed guys like Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron. Fast forward to the night the Twins clinched their division in late September, and those four players alone combined for 102 home runs.

This season has almost too many moments to recount or choose as favorites. That's the kind of year it's been for a group dubbed, in late May by Eddie Rosario, the Bomba Squad.

First, the Twins broke the Major League Baseball record for home runs by a team in a single season with No. 268 on Aug. 31, part of a six-homer game for the Twins, bookended by "back-up" catcher Mitch Garver. Talk about juiced baseballs all you want, but home runs will never stop being entertaining. To see the Twins put up these kinds of numbers this year in the home-run column is astonishing.

Beyond that, the team/franchise/MLB records fell all over the place. It was 226 homers to break the franchise record (Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins), then 268 to break the record set by the New York Yankees just last season. The day after the Twins clinched the division, Schoop hit No. 300 for the squad.

The home runs became such a regular occurrence that I started adding more stat columns to my personal Twins spreadsheet. I turned it into a color-coded column to mark the homers each game; it was rare that they didn't homer at all (only 30 homeless games with two left), especially in the first two months of the season. They've never gone more than two games without a homer. Funny enough though, the Twins had a slow start with the long ball. They hit just one in the first five games, but that could be attributed to some cold weather, too.

Everybody hits on the Bomba Squad 
A few things stick out when it comes to the Bombas. Max Kepler hit three in the same game off Shane Bieber in Cleveland. Cruz added a pair of 3-homer games of his own. More recently, Cruz put an exclamation mark on the regular-season, home finale at Target Field by hitting his 400th career home run and 40th of the season. Not bad for a guy who turned 39 this season and shows no signs of slowing down, despite two stints on the injured list this year.

Seeing Cruz crush that home run against the Royals, then get the curtain call from the fans, was one of those great, milestone moments. It was a fitting way to end the home schedule, just like the 2018 finale when Joe Mauer came out in catcher's gear for the 9th inning.

Sanó has the power 
Miguel Sanó started out the season missing 41 games with a nagging injury, but he's certainly left his mark once again. In June, he went through a very rough stretch at the plate, piling up the strikeouts. Some adjustments were made, and the Bombas starting flying. He's had a few of the memorable ones.

On July 23, during a home game against the Yankees, the Twins ended up losing 14-12 in 10 innings (nearly missing a walk-off win after a diving catch from Aaron Hicks). This was a back-and-forth game that still goes down as probably the most exciting of the year for me - even though the Twins lost. That was really the only thing that was a bummer.

The Twins hosted the NL East Champion Atlanta Braves in early August. Though the Twins lost that series, the lone victory for the Twins was a thrilling walk-off victory, their third of the season and first via the home run. Sanó stepped to the plate in the 9th inning in a tie game with two outs and a runner on.

He's had a few home runs this season with a loud crack-of-the-bat. This was no exception as he blasted it deep to center field. The best part of the play was watching as the ball sailed high above Atlanta center fielder Ronald Acuña Jr.'s head, and then seeing the outfielder simply put his head down and start trotting in when it was obvious to him that the game was over.

Sanó's other big Bomba this season is what some started calling a "division dagger." Every series since the All-Star Break between the Twins and the Indians was labeled by many as "the biggest series of the year." The Twins lost 3-of-4 at Target Field in early August as Cleveland continued to dwindle the Twins' division lead. The Twins got back in control and could really put a stamp on the division during their final series in Cleveland in mid-September.

Division dagger
They were scheduled for a weekend series, but after starting a couple innings of the Friday night game, with Jake Odorizzi on the mound, the tarp came on the field as the forecasted heavy rain and thunderstorms invaded the area. The game was postponed, setting up a doubleheader the next day. On paper, this seemed less than ideal for the Twins, who would now have to go with two bullpen games instead of just one.

But there's just something about this team, right? Jorge Polanco's early two-run homer against Indians ace Mike Clevinger held up for a 2-0 win in game one. Clevinger hadn't lost a game in months. The Twins decided to go for it in game two, going with a solid lineup that included both Kepler and Sanó, each back for both games that day after missing some time with injuries.

The Twins first tied the game 5-5 in the 8th inning off an RBI double from Polanco. After an intentional walk to Cruz, then a non-intentional walk to Rosario to fill the bases, Sanó stepped up and destroyed another baseball, hitting his first career grand slam off Nick Goody to put the Twins in front for good, for a 9-5 victory. All those home runs, and it was only the second grand slam of the season for the Twins.

What a time for it. The Twins completed the doubleheader sweep to take the series and effectively end the division race with 13 games to play against the division bottom feeders to end the season.

A division clinch at home didn't end up happening, and like has been the case a few times, the Twins took care of business and then waited for the outcome of the Chicago White Sox game to determine their fate. They popped the bubbly late in Detroit after the Indians lost on Thursday.

Divisional foes play each other 19 times a season, and Comerica Park in Detroit has a special place as part of 2019 Minnesota Twins history. Garver hit the MLB-record-breaking home run there on Aug. 31. The Twins won the first two games against the Tigers (a team guaranteed to finish as the worst in baseball this year with old-friend Ron Gardenhire leading the way) in late September to clinch their first division title since 2010.

And then, the next day when everyone expected the "hangover lineup" to take a loss, Schoop hit the team's 300th home run of the season, making them the first team in MLB history to reach that milestone in a single season. For good measure, fan-favorite Willians Astudillo finished that game with a career-high 4 hits and homer No. 301 for the team (his fourth of the season).

I could go on and on about the memorable moments from this season, in no particular order...
  • The rise of rookie Luis Arraez
  • Joe Mauer's No. 7 retirement ceremony 
  • Rosario's throw to the plate to win the game at Fenway 
  • Twins sweeping a 4-game series in Texas for the first time
  • All the records this team shattered, which seems to happen on a daily basis
  • The 18- and 17-inning games at Target Field, with Kepler driving in the tying and game-winning runs in the 17-inning win over the Red Sox at Target Field in June 
  • Pretty much anything Astudillo does on the field, or his reactions in the dugout 
  • The dominance of Taylor Rogers as a closer, and the way guys like Trevor May and Tyler Duffey have rebounded to shut teams down 
  • Six winning months
  • 54 (and counting) road victories, the best in baseball and a team record 
  • 5 players with 30+ home runs, a new MLB record 
  • A pair of 8-homer games
  • Sweeping the Orioles 6-0 this season with 23 homers in the process 
  • Twins turned two triple plays at home this season with Martín Pérez on the mound
  • The Arraez at-bat in the 9th on July 16, when he entered for the injured Schoop with an 0-2 and worked a walk
  • Avoiding a 3-game losing streak until mid-July
  • Consecutive team shutouts in Toronto in early May 
  • 56 #Bombas in the month of May 
  • All the Garver home runs, including his 2-run shot in the 8th inning to break a scoreless tie v. the Royals on June 14 
  • 100 wins

All along, I've said how much I've enjoyed the ride this season. And with 162 games, you have to look at it that way. It's a grind, but this year has been so much fun. Do Twins fans want more? Of course, they do. Do they get nauseous when they hear the Twins will match up against the Yankees in the ALDS once again? Sure. 

Despite whatever might happen in the postseason, I will look back at this season and remember what a great run they had getting back to first place in the division, winning 100 games for the first time since 1965 and hitting all the home runs. 

I just hope they're not done yet. Bring on October baseball.

Editor's note: Did I miss your favorite moment from the 2019 season? Want to share your top moment? Let me know in the comments, or Tweet me @hlrule. Thanks for reading!