Remember when it used to mean something when the U.S. flag was lowered to half mast? It happened every few years or so. Now it happens with regularity and has lost its meaning as far as many are concerned. Governors routinely decree that the flags be at half mast. Some of the flags are lowered, some aren't. Some stay at half mast for days. "Do you know why the flag is at half mast? " someone asked earlier this year. I didn't have an answer. The process has gotten out of hand.

• I find it strange that fans of the Minnesota Vikings are wondering why the team isn't doing better (0-3 start). I've now asked five people to name five starters on the defense and not one of them - all considering themselves fans of the team - have been able to do it. There are five or six players missing from last year's starting defense, a situation made even worse when outstanding linebacker Anthony Barr was hurt a couple weeks ago and is out for the season. The cornerbacks are inexperienced and, before last Sunday's 31-30 loss to Tennessee, the Vikings were last among the 32 NFL teams teams in the ability to rush opposing passers. And the team also decided to trade away receiver Stefon Diggs who is having a good year at Buffalo. What did fans expect was going to happen this year? The defense has been horrible to this point. Minnesota had a 24-12 lead against Tennessee and the Titans scored two quick touchdowns to take the lead.

•The relatively new paths in and around Princeton are a great addition for those who enjoy running, walking or riding a bicycle. I have a sibling from Anoka who has been riding bike regularly for many years and makes use of paths in and around the Twin Cities. She came to Princeton a couple weeks ago and we rode for about an hour and she was complimentary of the paths here. There is one problem that occasionally pops up. The paths cross roads in some areas and there are walkways there which require drivers to stop if there are pedestrians or bike riders waiting to cross. I generally hang back when I'm about to enter a walkway, simply because I don't want to make a driver stop. But there are drivers who blow through the walkways as they disregard the signage. On two occasions this summer I was halfway through the crossing and the cars just kept coming, one of the drivers swerving to the left to avoid me and making a time-honored gesture with his hand. I wish drivers would be more careful, both on the paths and at other marked crossings around town.

• I have been following presidential elections since 1952 when I was a 9 -year-old paperboy as Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower squared off, and voting in them since 1964. To my knowledge, perhaps my memory failing me, I don't remember a sitting president saying he might not accept the results of the election. But that's what the current resident of the White House is threatening to do. It appears to many to be a desperate move, citing voter fraud as the problem. It seems irresponsible to me.

• Last Sunday the Minnesota Twins clinched their second straight division championship on a day that the Minnesota Vikings lost their third straight game. I tuned into WCCO television for the news, weather and sports and, sure enough, the sports reporter led off with a report on the Vikings. One team wins a division title and the other loses for the third week in a row - and the losing team gets top billing on the station's sports report for the day. That was a poor choice.

• How can anybody who takes time to consider the situation say that COVID-19 is a hoax? The last I saw more than 205,000 people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus, 2,036 of them in Minnesota. The number of health care workers in Minnesota who have suffered current or prior infections is more than 10,400. You of course have unbelievers, one person telling me earlier this week that hospitals are reporting many deaths as being from the virus when they're not. And the fact that the news came out this morning that  President Trump and his wife are infected tells us, as we have been told for months, that the virus is no respecter of what your station in life is, or who you are.

• The so-called debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden earlier this week was a joke. I couldn't stand to watch more than a minute or two at a time after the president began interrupting Biden or the moderator as they talked. One source counted Trump interrupting 70 times. Biden also began to do it, well after Trump did it with regularity, and the result was a farce. There were reports this week that new rules for the one scheduled the week after next were being considered, such as switches to shut off a microphone if someone tried to interrupt. I thought that was a good idea. A letter writer on the editorial page of the Tribune yesterday offered four options for fixing the debates. Option 1 was to have the candidates speak from soundproof booths, with the moderator having the ability to  shut off the microphone of the person who doesn't have the floor. Option 4 might have been the best: Suspend the debates until 2024.

• Someone I talked to last night suggested a day of mourning for the Minnesota Twins. I suppose they could lower the flag to half mast.


Daily diary for the 2020 Minnesota Twins

Monday, Sept. 28 (the Cincinnati series) - Today I had someone say to me that the Twins backed into the Central Division championship yesterday. They may have played poorly against the Reds but I've always been one to say that if a team has the best record, they didn't back into a title or the playoffs. The Twins had the best record in the division, even if they did lose two out of three to the Reds, a playoff team in the National League, and didn't hit well with runners in scoring position. The Twins were only 3-for-20 with runners in scoring position in the two losses to the Reds. In the 7-2 loss in the opener (4-2 going into the ninth when manager Rocco Baldelli inexplicably put a pitcher out there who had never pitched in the major leagues and he retired only one of seven hitters), the Twins failed to score in the first inning with the bases loaded and one out. They got a run in the second and then had a runner on second with no outs and didn't score. They had runners on second and third with one out in the fourth and didn't score. And in the eighth, trailing by two, they had runners on second and third with one out and didn't score. They struck out 14 times in that game. In Sunday's extra-inning 5-3 loss they were 1--for-7 with runners in scoring position. No one can deny that Nelson Cruz has had a very good season for the Twins (.305, 16 homers, 33 RBIs) but I hope he's saving his best for last. He was only 1 -for-10 against the Reds and struck out five times. He was hitting .342 on Sept. 8 and since then in 11 games he's 6-for-37 (.162 with 14 strikeouts, has hit only one of his 16 homers, has an on-base percentage of only .262) and has really struggled with runners on base, coming up with 11 runners on in one game and failing to drive any of them home. The team's announcers have been fond of saying no one can get a fastball by him but he's missed a lot of fastballs lately. Maybe he will break out against Houston. The team clinched a home playoff spot with a 7-3 win on Saturday in which they had eight doubles as Luis Arraez returned to the lineup with four hits, three of them doubles, and drove in three runs. The Twins played a good all-around game Saturday and then looked  a bit listless in Sunday's loss. Byron Buxton was hit in the head by a pitch Friday and sat out the next two games, as did Josh Donaldson who again experienced leg difficulty that caused him to miss more than a month of the season. Donaldson, once a league MVP and the team's top off-season signee, hit.232 and drove in only 11 runs this season.

Tuesday, Sept. 29 — This is written before today's opening playoff game and may be irrelevant. But I worry about the team's offense, having done nothing in two of the three games vs. Cincinnati. And I understand if you might say I am overreacting. But last year the Twins were second among the 30 major league teams in runs, hits, average and OPS (on-base percentage and slugging percentage added). This year, two days before the end of the season, they were 18th in runs, tied for 19th in hits, 18th in average and 15th in OPS. You might say that many averages are down this season. But it's the same for everyone. A number of players had big seasons last year that I thought might not be repeated - and that has come to pass. Before the Cincinnati series they were fourth among the 30 teams in average (.278) with runners in scoring position. But they only scored 165 runs in those situations and that was 22nd in the majors. I've thought all season that they had an unusual amount of solo homers and a story in the Tribune on Sunday showed that 62 of their 91 homers were solos. That's 68% and the league average is 57%. And, strangely, they didn't hit one homer in the series with the Reds. They scored 1.3 fewer runs a game than in 2019, hitting .242 compared to .270 last season, and the slugging percentage was way down. Cruz has gotten lots of attention but Eddie Rosario, with all his antics in the outfield and on the bases, and bad-pitch swings, has 42 RBIs, 9 more than Cruz, and had a lot of big hits down the stretch. The pitching has been way better than last season and I think that offset, to a degree, the lack of hitting. 

Thursday, Oct. 1— I woke up Thursday morning hoping I had encountered a bad dream. But I opened the paper that morning and there it was, a 3-1 playoff loss to the Astros that followed the 4-1 loss the previous day when an error by a reliable player on a routine play handed the Astros three runs in the ninth inning. Two runs and only seven hits in two games — that was the output on offense for the Twins. The two losses stretched the franchise's losing streak in playoff games to 18, something no other team in the major professional sports has ever done. The Twins, with the best home record (24-7) in baseball this year, lost to a team that had a 9-23 record on the road and a 29-31 record that, with Milwaukee, was the worst record among the 16 teams in this year's expanded playoffs. The starting pitching was very good, Kenta Maeda giving up 0 runs in 5 innings and Jose Berrios giving up 1 in 5, a slow roller trickling into the outfield that would have been right to the shortstop, if not for a shift, driving in the run. This morning I recalled sitting in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Jan. 9, 1977, as the Minnesota Vikings, in their fourth Super Bowl in eight years, lost 32-14 to Oakland, never imagining that 43 years would go by without another Super Bowl appearance. As unbelievable as that is, the 18 straight playoff losses by the Twins makes it pale in comparison. Over that same stretch the Astros have won - won, not played in - 43 playoff games. Manager Rocco Baldelli has gotten credit from many for the team's good records and division titles the past two years, although he had a lot more weapons at his disposal than the team's front office provided previous manager Paul Molitor, who was fired following the 2018 season after being voted Manager of the Year in 2017. If you get the credit for good things, then you must accept the blame for bad things, right? The team is 0-5 in his two playoff series. Columnist Jim Souhan made a point in today's column that in four of those five losses Baldell had his best pitchers on the mound and he didn't let any of them pitch beyond the fifth inning. They gave up 4 runs in 19 innings and the relievers gave up 17 in 22 innings. Okay, the losses to the Astros weren't all Baldelli's fault - the team hit only .118 (7-for-59) in the two games. The biggest play of the two games for the Twins might have come in the first inning of the first game when, with the bases loaded and one out, Eddie Rosario scorched a line drive tpward right field that would have have scored two runs, maybe three. But it ended up in the glove of the Houston first baseman and there weren't many threats for the Twins the next 17 innings.

Friday, Oct. 2 — Upon reflection, I came up with one good thing about the two losses to the Astros: I didn't have to pay unreasonable prices for playoff tickets, as i have in the past. I would have attended, sure in my baseball heart that the Twins were going to prevail this time. Next week: A list of the "busts" among Twins players this season.


PRINCETON SPORTS MEMORIES 

Oct. 7, 1965 — Princeton beat Braham in the PHS Homcoming game, 53-7, as Dave Duncan scored six touchdowns, one on a pass reception. He had 142 yards in 12 carries. Sportswriter Pete Finelli reported that "a couple hundred students and adults rushed to the center of the field, gathered around the players and sang the school song" after the game. Note: Duncan was also the Homecoming king that year.

Oct. 7,  1970 — After Princeton won in Cambridge at the Homecoming game there in 1969, Cambridge beat Princeton 60-14 at the Princeton Homecoming. Cambridge had a 554-176 edge in yardage . . . The PHS cross-country team finished fifth in the 40-team Swan Invitational in Duluth. Curt Homstad was 28th, Kevin Gerth 29th. 

Oct. 8 1975 — Princeton won in overtime at Braham, 36-34, in the first Princeton overtime ever as Dan Johnson scored four times and ran for 140 yards. Johnson scored in overtime and Stu Remus (155 yards) ran for the two-pointer. Note: 1975 was the first year that overtimes were used in high school football.

Oct. 9, 1980 — Doug Burns won the Rum River Conference cross-country title and Shelly Beals (6th) and Lisa Herman (4th) were all-conference . . . Steve Wankel ran for 133 yards but Princeton lost 13-7 to unbeaten Sauk Rapids.

Oct. 15, 1985 — Princeton (5-1) beat Sauk Rapids 12-7 in the Sauk Rapids Homecoming game as Christopher Grigsby and Dale Stay scored.

Oct. 11, 1990 — Tom Erickson threw for 173 yards, Robyn Lee ran for 103 and Princeton beat Mora in the PHS Homecoming game, 14-6 . . . Corrine Lundell had 23 kills but Mora upset Princeton in volleyball.

Oct. 12 1995 — Jason Kok won the St. Michael-Albertville cross-country invitational, his second straight win at an invitational . . .The PHS football team narrowly missed upsetting Foley at the Princeton Homecoming. The score was 9-6 and Princeton had four turnovers, Foley none

Oct. 12, 2000 —  All-conference in tennis were Jenny Cartwright, Genna Carlson and Cally Anderson. The team (8-7) beat Cambridge 7-0 . . . In a very unusual game the Princeton football team beat Chisago Lakes 41-14 despite having only three first downs to 16, having the ball for 17  minutes to 31 for Chisago, and running only 35 plays to 67 for the opponents. Quarterback Dane Larsen (6 carries, 105 yards) ran 29 and 83 yards for touchdowns and Paul Gibbs (7 carries, 135 yards) ran 25 and 78 yards for scores.

Oct. 13, 2005 — Shannon Guse and Traci Arnold finished 1-2 in a five-team cross-country meet at Foley as the team won, and Dylan King won the boys race.

Oct. 14, 2010 — The boys and girls cross-country teams both finished second at the Foley Invitational. Dylan Hass was fourth for the boys and Ashley Urman was sixth for the girls . . . The girls tennis team beat Chisago Lakes 5-2 in the first round of section playoffs.

Oct. 8, 2015 — Princeton (3-4) beat Big Lake 14-12 in the PHS Homecoming game as Shane Fleury and Drew Wahlquist caught TD passes from quarterback Tyler McAlpine . . . The girls tennis team (20-3, 8-0 in the M8) clinched at least a tie for its fourth straight Mississippi 8 title, beating North Branch 7-0 and Big Lake 7-0.

(Dorr is the former editor of the Princeton Eagle (2 years) and Princeton Union-Eagle (31 years), and has covered sports in the area for the past 53 years.)

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