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Ricky and Joe

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From the Catbird Seat Cloquet, 55720
Pine Journal
(218) 879-2078 customer support
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

There are two questions being asked after last week's NBA draft by fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves and I find both equally interesting.

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First, will 18-year-old Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio ever play for the team?

Second, does anyone have any idea what David Kahn was thinking during this draft?

The Wolves wound up making six picks in the draft - four of them in the first round - and used all four of their selections on guards. Ty Lawson was immediately traded, but it wasn't until the 47th overall pick - their sixth selection of the draft - that the Wolves drafted center Henk Norel of the Netherlands.

However, it's already being reported that Norel wasn't so much drafted for his potential as because he is Rubio's teammate in Europe.

For his part, Kahn insists that Rubio and sixth overall pick Jonny Flynn of Syracuse will be able to play together in the same backcourt. Both are considered point guards, but Rubio's skills indicate that he can be a special player.

I'm not sure I believe the Wolves' company line. I think it's more likely that Flynn was selected because it will cost the Wolves - and Rubio - money to buy out his contract in Spain and the Wolves are going to need a point guard to play for them right now. The fatalist in me isn't sure Rubio will be playing here anytime soon.

Kahn has already started his project of rebuilding the Wolves, showing Kevin McHale the door as coach and placing his mark on the team by trading Randy Foye and Mike Miller to Washington for the fifth overall pick and some spare parts.

To be fair, that trade did leave the Wolves a bit short at the guard position. But to spend five picks out of six in the draft on guards when there's a crying need for a real center on that team indicates that either Kahn has more moves planned or, more worryingly, he's out of his depth.

As I've mentioned in previous columns, the Wolves and the Wild face similar tasks - rebuilding image in leagues that are both image-conscious and star-powered. Rubio is surely aware of Minnesota's Sad Sack reputation but for now the Wolves are his way into the NBA and the big money it brings.

It's an odd partnership. Right now the Wolves need Rubio a lot more than he needs them - he has received offers from two different European leagues to play this season - and he has time on his side being just 18 years old. So the end result may well be a supremely talented player plying his trade elsewhere. How many times have Minnesota sports fans had to listen to that old song and dance?

# # #

Meanwhile, as the Fourth of July approaches, there are three numbers that may well take the nation by storm as the summer moves on.

The numbers are four-zero-zero, and whether they have anything to do with Joe Mauer's batting average at the end of the season may well be the sports story of the year.

On Sunday in St. Louis, Mauer got hits in his first two at bats to raise his average to the magic mark, but then went oh-for-three after that to 'fall' to .394.

The quest for someone - anyone - to become baseball's first .400 hitter since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941 - has seen many an excellent hitter flirt with, and fall short, of the magic figure. Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, and even Minnesota's own Rod Carew tried, but all fell short. Carew's .388 mark in 1977 remains the team record.

There are several things working against Mauer - first, the fact that he catches, which is obviously the most difficult position in baseball to play in terms of physical damage to the body. Second, there's the long grind of the season and the fact that the Twins need him to catch. Third, there is his history of injury.

However, Mauer has a few things working for him. First, he started the season a month late due to his back injury so provided he can gain enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, which should happen soon, he'll have a month less of the 'long grind' than most players.

Second, there's his obvious talent. Mauer does things that no other hitter in baseball does and makes them look easy, and his discovery of a power stroke has made him that much more dangerous at the plate.

Third, there's the advantage of playing in a so-called 'small market.' If Mauer is still at or near .400 in September, the media crush will be large but not as large as it would be in, say, New York.

However, Twins fans with a fatalist approach (such as myself) are already wondering how much having a .400 hitter under contract is going to cost when it's time to try to re-sign Mauer after next season. It's the typical Scandinavian approach - we can't stand prosperity. In the meantime, though, let's enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts.

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