Joe Nathan Closes Out 76ers


Let’s be honest here. I was planning on writing about Joe Nathan’s visit to the Target Center earlier, but I’ve been preoccupied with the Wolves four-game winning streak. Word.

The other reason why I didn’t shoot this out as fast as Brett Favre throws the ball when he sees triple coverage? It took way too long to figure out how Nathan wasn’t selected to the All-Star game last year. Don’t worry, we’ll delve more deeply into that one once our time-stamped diary kicks in. However, if you don’t know why you’re reading this in the first place, here’s your proverbial newspaper-style lead:

On Friday, January 5, Twins closer Joe Nathan brought his buddy and fellow major leaguer Jim Brower to the Target Center to go through the Lexus Courtside Club experience as the Wolves battled the Philadelphia 76ers. Your writer, and Twins PR ace Dustin Morse, were along for the exciting contest which concluded in a Kevin Garnett OT game winner. Tight.

Are we clear now? Well, I suppose I should remind you of just what the Lexus Club entails.

"Prepare for the NBA thrill ride of a lifetime: take your seat in the Lexus Courtside Club. Each night, come face-to-face with the NBA's greatest. Top if off with first-class amenities that only an elite few will ever experience."

That means stuff like valet parking, free food and drinks before the game and at halftime, and sick courtside seats and more. Now that the facts are on the table, here’s what happened.

6:20 p.m.
Joe, Jim and Dustin arrive in a Red Range Rover (I let Joe borrow my wheels) and valet their car at NBA City. Mark Hetland, who runs the show on 6th Ave., is the man. Solid mixture of speed and demeanor.

6:23 p.m.
We go through the introductions, and Jim hurts my hand with his handshake. Dang major league pitchers. I quickly forgive him upon finding out that he’s from Minnetonka, just a stone’s throw away from where I live. Respect. Joe claims New York, and Dustin is from 'round here.

6:25 p.m.
We bring our tickets into the Lexus Locker Room, in exchange for a lanyard, locker in which to put our coats, and are led to a table in the VIP-type section of the restaurant. We’re still going through the requisite small talk.

6:30 p.m.
Joe orders MGD heavies, while Jim opts for Miller Lite. Joe tells me he likes the clear bottle, which is fair. I ponder asking Jim if going Lite makes him a wuss, but realize that it’d be a really stupid question, and no one would laugh. Also, I don’t want him to hurt me. I learn that Joe and Jim have been good friends since serving in the San Francisco Giants bullpen together in 2003.

Meanwhile, I roll with my traditional restaurant Cherry Coke (I’m on the clock, OK, not trying to spoil the party). Listen, they almost always put more grenadine in at the restaurant, so it’s a better decision than going Cherry on a machine. I’m just saying…

6:45 p.m.
Just grabbed my notebook to jot a few things down after finishing some tremendous chicken tenders, cornbread, and salad (they have a lot of great food at the buffet, but I’m a really lame eater). Joe, Jim and Dustin take better advantage of the spread.

6:47 p.m.
The most interesting part of our dinner conversation was Joe’s description of the All-Star team that the U.S. sent to Japan subsequent to the MLB season. Joe Mauer joined Nathan for the trip (and was excellent, he said) as the U.S. played five games and an exhibition against Japanese players. For the first time ever, the U.S. swept all of their games in the ___ All-Star Series. I know that’s blank. Joe couldn’t remember, and after 10 minute of Google-searching I gave up. Joe did say it’s named after a Japanese grocery store. Can someone help us with this?

6:49 p.m.
Before we head into the arena for the game, let me explain my earlier comment about Joe not making the All-Star team. I figured it out first by going to www.twinsbaseball.com to check out Nathan's stats, and had just assumed he made the squad as I clearly remember him dominating every hitter he faced. So I skimmed the website for like 10 minutes looking for his mention as an All-Star. Wait a second! He went in 2004 and 2005, but got SCREWED this past season? What? I mean have you seen his stats?

How about 7 wins, 0 losses; an ERA of 1.58; 36 saves; 95 Ks, and only 16 BBs? Get off me, MLB All-Star voters. Who was the manager that served up Joe like Brad Pitt dumped Jennifer Aniston (Hi honey, it's Brad. You're dumped)?

Oh, WAIT! It was Ozzie Guillen!What a coincidence that the White Sox manager tossed a Twin under the bus, and named his own Bobby Jenks and Mark Buehrle - neither of whom could hold Nathan's jock strap - to the team. Also, no reason to put League MVP to be Justin Morneau on your roster, but make sure you reward A.J. Pierzynski, Jim Thome and Paul Konerko for mediocre seasons (OK, a little better than mediocre, but whatever). Sorry for that semi-rant, but at least we got to the bottom of this. I don't think I'll mention this to Joe, Ozzie, but know that I know. Here’s a link to Joe’s bio if you need to check his stats again.

http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/team/player.jsp?player_id=150274

6:53 p.m.
Another conversational highlight occurs as Nathan describes the new house he and his wife are building in Tennessee, mostly because he admits that it’ll have nine bathrooms. Jim and I exchange “that’s ridiculous” looks, and Joe knowingly concedes the point. However, as he explains: “Our realtor said that if you want to sell your house in Tennessee, you have to have a bathroom in every room. One or two would have been fine with me.” Fair enough.

6:55 p.m.
As we polish off an excellent meal, Dustin is explaining to the guys that Morneau (whom we’re trying to get to a game later this month) has just built a house in his native Vancouver and hooked up the Blue-Ray TV system. Apparently, this is the best possible picture quality you can get…problem is, Morneau can’t get it to work. What good is an MVP award if you can’t watch “Real World Denver” in the comfort of your own home? Do I need to go on about how awesome this show is? You just can’t teach that kind of drama. I digress.

6:57 p.m.
Joe calls Dustin one of the best PR guys in the league. Sorry, other MLB PR people. It’s official.

7:03 p.m.
We tip our waitress* and thank the extremely friendly staff before heading into the arena (which is like a five second walk – very convenient). We stop and say hi to the two best ushers in NBA history, Kevin and Jim, with whom I exchange respective blow-up fist pounds. They point us to the other side of the court, so I lead the fellas across the wood.
*To be fair, they tipped her. I didn’t have my wallet. Sorry.

7:10 p.m.
The game tips off with Joe sitting to my left, Jim on the far left and Dustin to my right. We're just three rows off the court on the visiting team’s side of the floor. Real, real sick seats. Joe and I talk about NBA courtside seats far exceeding any other type of seats in sports. Behind home plate in a baseball stadium? No way. Front row on the 50 for football? Not even close. Center ice at a hockey game? Cool, but the NHL’s best seats are still like all of the pretty attractive girls in Melrose Place, where as our seats are like Amanda. Heather Locklear, folks. OK?

7:12 p.m.
Ricky Davis just knocked down a three thanks to a good decision by Mike James coming around a high screen in the Wolves pick-and-roll offense. Oops, forgot I wasn’t writing a game story for a second.

7:13 p.m.
Joe calls KG for a travel a full second before the ref blows his whistle. Come on, Joe. However, we’ve jumped out to a 7-0 lead. Jim asks me what I think about the game, and I say: “I’m not too excited yet. I know it seems like Philly is going to suck tonight, but they’re playing a lot better with Andre Miller running the point. Everyone’s running and working hard because they know they have a chance of getting the ball. We’re going to win, but they might make it interesting.” We shall see.

7:19 p.m.
Dustin, Joe and I are discussing the rookie minimum salary in Major League Baseball. Joe confirms that it’s $385,000. When he entered the league in 1999, it was $180,000. Why did this come up? Hey, I can’t tell you everything, but it was pertinent.

7:21 p.m.
Philly’s Rodney Carney just worked the rim like Boise State works trick plays. This prompted a discussion in which I asked the guys if they too could dunk. Remember, Joe is 6-4.

Joe: “If I get the ball in a wide-open situation, like in practice with no one around me, I can put it down. Yeah. Then I got it.
Jim: “Maybe with a volleyball.”
Dustin: “No.”

7:29 p.m.
The Sixers are sticking around despite looking like the inferior team. While watching, we’ve started to discuss the Twins magical 2006 run to the playoffs, and what to expect for the coming year. Joe confirms that he’s never seen anything like the team chemistry and vibe Minnesota had. The name Sidney Ponson comes up (free agent pitcher acquisition for the Twins).

“If he can get into decent shape, he’s a top-of-the-rotation starter,” said Nathan. “He knows that. He wants the ball and eats innings, he just hasn’t played to his capability. But we made a good move getting him and he can definitely help us out.”

7:31 p.m.
Mike James makes a slick pass to Trenton Hassell for an easy flush. Joe admit he would probably have missed that one. But I'm not sure if Hassell could strike out David Ortiz in the 9th inning. Let’s go with the under on that one.

7:34 p.m.
I was meaning to write this down earlier, but in an amazing development, Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks has brought Ashton Kutcher off the bench! Wow. And the fool can shoot? You’d think making TV shows (like Punked) movies (The Butterfly Effect) and chilling with Demi Moore (I hope you watched Disclosure) would keep him busy, but he also happens to be a great shooter. Nice stroke.

7:36 p.m.
Dustin: “Seriously, he looks like Ashton Kutcher.”
Me: “No, I know, it is Ashton.”
Jim: “You’ll never see them together, because it’s the same guy.”

If you’re a little slow on the uptake, we’re talking about Kyle Korver, who's killing us with his quick-release J. But seriously, he looks exactly like AK.

7:37 p.m.
Speaking of celebrity look alikes, the Wolves male MC, Mike, looks exactly like Wally Szczerbiak. I feel like I've mentioned this before.

7:41 p.m.
Let's talk about "The Big Sweat." Dennys Reyes, the Twins affable relief pitcher who was awesome last year (0.89 ERA, according to Dustin), sweats standing still (or so Joe and Jim say). But you can tell they legitimately love Reyes, calling him a "great guy," and "completely laid back." Jim played with him in Cincinnati a few years back, and said Reyes carries a sweat towel around with him. Real talk.

7:45 p.m.
I start to ask Joe a few questions about Mauer and Morneau, and he confirms my suspicion that they are attached at the hip. “Morneau’s trying to ride Mauer’s MN ties all the way,” jokes Nathan. “No, man, they’re just good friends. It was awesome to hear about Justin winning the MVP and for Joe to win the batting title.”

From New York, Nathan understands how the media works, and acknowledged that it was a bit surprising Derek Jeter didn’t win, but that Morneau definitely deserved it.

7:50 p.m.
As the Big Ticket struggles a bit from the field (but is still controlling the game per usual) Joe tells me about Johan Santana, and what a tremendous talent he is. “Johan knows how to pitch,” he says. “His stuff is so good that he can be off a little bit with his control and still dominate hitters. He’ll miss two or three times with his change up, and the next one is good for a K. He’s great.”

7:52 p.m.
Dustin reminds us that Joe heater and nasty pitch he drops out of midair work OK as well. Dustin even gets Joe to say that he’d love to finish his career here in Minnesota, music to Twins fans’ collective ear. Told you Dustin’s one of the best PR guys in the league.

7:55 p.m.
As Andre Iguodala takes his turn trying to bring the rim down, I get a better idea of how close Joe and Jim are; they explain how they borrow each other’s cars, snowplow each other’s driveways, or stay in each other’s homes. Obviously, only one of them did a respective favor at a time…you know what I mean. My point is, they’re good buds. Bare with me.

8:00 p.m.
With halftime approaching, I bring up a much more important subject than baseball. Here are the group's favorite TV shows:

Joe: A) 24 B) Grey’s Anatomy
Jim: A) 24 B) Numbers C) Prison Break
Dustin: A) 24 b) Lost

I can’t resist asking Joe if it was McDreamy that really hooked him on Grey’s: “Yes, I love McDreamy.” Thanks for playing along, Joe. You could have sold me out there.

8:03 p.m.
On to which batters our resident pitchers either hate facing, or guys who have had unprecedented success against them. For Jim, it's Luis Gonzales, the Arizona slugger who's apparently gone 10-for-12 against Brower. Jim does say he'd get Luis out if they'd ever let him face the Diamondback again, and that Shawn Green is like 0-15 against him.

I really had to press Nathan for a name or two. He literally is not scared of facing anybody. I'm thinking maybe it's Ortiz (nope) or Jeter (walks against him), but I'm now convinced that he'd throw high and hard on Mike Tyson. Finally, he admits that Ben Broussard has had some success against him, and that Jermaine Dye is a really tough out. Yet and still: "I don't think about not wanting to face anyone. It doesn't matter," says Nathan.

8:14 p.m.
We also get into which pitchers Jim hates facing in the National League (as a batter, obviously). Jim quickly identifies Turk Wendell, who broke his hand with a cut fastball. Ouch.

8:20 p.m.
At halftime, we head up to Club Cambria to check out the scene, have a drink, eat some dessert, and say what's up to a few Wolves employees. Ryan Tanke, Britt Carlson, and Scott McKone are all present to greet us. They, and their staffs, really do a great job with hospitality, no matter where you are in the arena. Joe, Jim and Dustin are clearly quite impressed with this, and though I'm used to it, it never gets old.

As for the Club itself, it really does feel like being in some nice lounge that happens to feature a live NBA game. It's a great atmosphere.

8:30 p.m.
We begin a solid to quite solid discussion about the Little League World Series. Jim took his East Tonka (REPRESENT!) team to the LLWS in 1985. You remember that team, right? Jim recalls beating Saudi Arabia and finishing sixth, and how weird it was seeing the Japanese team wearing matching sweats and going on military runs. That's a little more serious than how a bunch of 12-year olds from the MN suburbs warmed up. Jim did seem really upset ESPN2 waited until 1986 to start showing games, and Nathan started to ride him for it.

Big mistake, Joe. You just set the table Steve Nash style for us to ride you for the rest of the night. "Hey Joe, how was the LLWS? Oh, you didn't go..."; or "Hey Jim, it must have been easy to get Minnetonka girls after that, huh..." etc, etc. This makes Joe particularly mad because he had Matt Morris on his team. How that team didn't win everything baffles us. You only need two pitchers in LL, really.

8:39 p.m.
Still having a great time in Club Cambria, I almost have to drag the guys out of there so that Joe could meet the Wolves videographer, Alex Browning, in order to tape a quick message.

8:45 p.m.
"Hello, I'm Joe Nathan of the Minnesota Twins. I'm True Blue...are you?" One take and out. He's a veteran.

8:50 p.m.
While making our way back to our seats I told Dustin and Joe about how my friends have tried to pool money to get me to run on the field at a Twins game and slide into home plate. We've had it up to a good $300 before, and I seriously considered it...it's so not worth it. Apparently you get a fine of around $1,000, a trespassing charge on your record, jail time, and community service. It's worse if you're drunk.

8:57 p.m.
"Ashton's killing us!" exclaims Dustin. It's true, too. Philly is hanging around too closely here. But there's no way we're losing this game. Speaking of Kutcher/Korver, Joe and Jim loved the Butterfly Effect.

9:02 p.m.
Joe and Jim continue to argue about whose LL team was better. I'm loving this.These guys are so competitive.

9:04 p.m.
Joe and Jim confer to give me baseball's ugliest player (after much pressing). I could tell you, but Craig Smith would have to kill you. He's not small.

9:05 p.m.
Much to our surprise, Crunch comes up to us, grabs Nathan, hands him two tee shirts, and brings him out onto the court. Meanwhile, our PA announcer welcomes Joe to the game, rendering a standing ovation from the crowd. The game is tied at 82 at this point, and this legitimately gets the crowd going. Nathan tosses the shirts into the crowd, with Terry Ryan watching intently at home (please, please don't strain your arm, Joe).

9:09 p.m.
OK, the Wolves went on a 6-0 run after Nathan touched the floor. This guy is straight cash, homie.

9:12 p.m.
Jim, Joe and I have been arguing for a while about how many points Kevin Garnett will score. He had only three at halftime, but I guaranteed over 20. Jim claims that he called Vegas and set the line at 17.5, taking the over, while Joe said he set the line at only 14.5. Jim and I are not pleased with Joe's line, and continue to give him a hard time about it. For the record, I will definitely win.

9:16 p.m.
It looks like this game is heading for OT...but the Wolves HAVE to pull this out, don't they? I also learn that Chicago is the favorite destination city for MLB roadtrips.

9:17 p.m.
It's Chipotle Burrito Drop time, where chutes come down from the rafters carrying free burrito coupons. As we're lamenting the fact that they don't float down to courtside, I get a text message from my buddy Johnny Erickson that I share with the guys: "Caught two burrito chutes. Best night ever," brags Johnny. "That's gotta be a season high," says Dustin.

9:25 p.m.
Garnett just missed a turnaround jumper as time expired, and sure enough, we're heading to OT. Plus, that would have given KG 21 points and won me the bet. However, if he doesn't score in OT, Justin Timberlake will start to have trouble attracting females.

9:26 p.m.
Nathan keeps me from getting upset by calling his boy Buzz Lightyear. "Seriously," says Joe. "Look at him, Mike!" Jim counters that he was nicknamed Bulldog by Chris Berman, which I admit gives him some street cred.

9:30 p.m.
I get another idea of how competitive these guys are when I ask them to give me a Major Leaguer who plays with the kind of fire so eminent in KG. They both can't imagine anyone loving the game more or playing harder than they do. I love it.

9:32 p.m.
Time for a few more questions before we bury Philly, so I ask Joe and Jim what bothers them about the media. Three things really get them going. A)Story searching, or creating something out of nothing just to get a headline; B)When you aren't there to see what happens every day, then come in at the end of the week summarizing what happened; C)Not knowing the game.

9:35 p.m.
"You guys should have brought me out in the last minute," Joe says. You know, he could have closed this game out for us. We should have opted for Jim out of the pen in the fourth quarter, and saved Joe for the final timeout. Crunch, keep this in mind if you're reading.

9:37 p.m.
KG, can I get a GAME-WINNING SHOT??? YESSSSS! The Big Ticket just did Philly dirty, pulling up for a tough turn-around J to win the game in OT. That's awesome. We're all happy, doing the high-five thing; people are already starting to run up to Joe.

9:40 p.m.
We wait a little bit for the crowd to disperse, and I must be making a lot of people angry who are trying to snap a picture of Joe. Meanwhile, Joe and Jim take a picture with the dance team and dance directors, and we continue to chat (about the game-winner and the LLWS) until I finally escort the guys back to the Lexus Locker Room.

So there you have it. Full respect to Dustin, his fellow Twins PR staffer Molly Gallatin and Wolves staffers for getting this done. Rumor has it we’ll be back doing something like this soon. If I absolutely have to go through a similar situation, I’ll (grudgingly) take one for the team. See you later.