Going home can be better than you think

That you can’t go home again is a conclusion that we all eventually come to in our lives.

Yes, you can physically go back to your home city or your old house, but it’s not going to be like you remembered.

In all likelihood, your friends will have moved away, your favorite hangouts may no longer exist, and who knows, you may have more people living in your old house than when you originally were there.

This can be the same for athletes as well. A lot of times toward the end of their careers, once beloved athletes will return to their original teams and it isn’t like it was. The team has probably gotten worse or the athlete will be on his or her farewell tour and doesn’t exactly bring anything to the team other than name recognition or “leadership” qualities.

I’ve seen this before as a Minnesota sports fan. I watched Torii Hunter return to the Twins after years with the Angels and Detroit Tigers, Kevin Garnett eventually come back to the Timberwolves after getting his NBA title with the Boston Celtics, and Thomas Vanek join the Wild after winning a national championship with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Probably the most disappointing one was Randy Moss, who had seven great years with the Vikings in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He returned briefly in 2010, which thrilled Minnesota fans, but ended up getting waived after only four games.

Moss’ tenure was so short and so useless that most Vikings’ fans have probably forgotten he came back — like a deadbeat friend who comes in and raids your fridge but doesn’t pay for anything. Moss never gave Minnesota any “straight cash homey.”

Not every athlete can be LeBron James, though, and return as a prodigal son who ends a championship drought. A lot of them just like to return where they were good and their former squads want to use them as a marketing ploy.

Fans get to see a player that used to be good and the player gets one last time to shine on the field, court or ice. At the end of their careers, though, it’s more of a glimmer than a shine. Still, it’s a win for both sides even though it’s not exactly a quality victory.

I used to shake my head at these occasions because they rarely end well for anyone involved. The player usually has a bad year, the fans don’t get to see what they paid for, and the team may get to hype up the player at the start of the year, but doesn’t get the return on that investment.

However, I’ve decided to look at things from a different perspective. I’m gone home myself this week for my brother’s wedding and coming back to Minneapolis is always an interesting experience.

The city is still the same and the four main pro sports teams are all still there, as well as the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

The Timberwolves still exist, but that’s about all they do. They are physically present in the city but don’t do anything that will cause you to walk by Target Center and say “I should go inside some time.”

The Gophers do some wacky things like hiring an amped-up maniac for a football coach whose obsession with boat rowing borders on the absurd. Not only that, but the basketball team still plays in one of the worst arenas in the land and the hockey team still doesn’t live up to the lofty and sometimes unreasonable expectations of its obsessive fan base.

However, other things have changed since I moved away almost a decade ago. The Twins have gone from talented to the toilet, the Wild have gone from potential Stanley Cup contender to that team that gets into the playoffs but doesn’t do much, and the Vikings have gone full circle from one step from the Super Bowl in 2010 to one step away again last season.

Fan experiences have also changed. I used to go to games with friends or my family and just bask in the fun surrounding a game. Now if I attend an event, I can’t help myself from analyzing it, second-guessing decisions and then coming up with a good game recap when it ends. I’ve gotten better at hitting the Off switch, but sometimes it takes an inning or a quarter to find it.

What I have found is that all these years, I still enjoy going home and watching sports. That’s not the main goal of my visit this week, but I’m sure sports will come up multiple times while I’m there.

I’d like to think that just like me, athletes feel the same way. Sometimes, they come back to a former team because it’s the only job they can land, but some just return because they loved playing here and they want to close out their careers in a place where they were happy.

That kind of feeling is important and fans definitely appreciate their efforts and want them to know it.

Just look at how things went not quite two weeks ago in Detroit. Former Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander came back to Comerica Park as a member of the Houston Astros and was clearly moved by the reception he received. He got three standing ovations and a tribute video on the scoreboard that captured his attention.

Verlander tried to ignore it at first, but he couldn’t help looking back at it and eventually stopped altogether and watched clips of his best moments in Detroit. It was heartwarming to watch.

Another beloved star might also be making his return to the Motor City. Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman resigned as the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning after helping the Bolts become a league powerhouse. He helped them earn a berth in the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals after easily dispatching Detroit in the first round. He also assembled the gold medal-winning Canadian squad at the 2014 Winter Olympics, so the guy can put together a winner anywhere.

With Yzerman’s resignation, the common thought is that he will return to the Red Wings and eventually take over as GM when Ken Holland’s extension runs out.

There’s no chance that the Wings will become a playoff contender anytime soon, but if Yzerman can find success in Florida, maybe he can bring Detroit back to relevance.

After all, he’s lived in the area all through his time in Florida. Most people want to leave Michigan for Florida, but Yzerman can’t bring himself to leave and Wings fans will welcome him back just as they loved him when he suited up for them in their heyday.

Just imagine if he does in fact take over the franchise. You thought Verlander got a great reception? Yzerman might get a parade in front of Little Caesars Arena.

This kind of fanfare is even reserved for players or coach who may not have left a team on the best of terms. Alan Trammell was a terrible manager, but Tigers fans still love him from his Hall of Fame playing days and gave him a great ceremony when his number was retired last month.

Even Green Bay Packers fans forgave Brett Favre for joining the Vikings with a passionate and memorable event when he also had his number retired. Even “traitors” and “failures” can still find comfort when they arrive back in town.

So maybe you can go home again. Even if you struggle, disappoint or flat-out enrage the people you left behind, chances are they will eventually be glad you came back. The experience may not be what you expected or what you were hoping for, but in the end, one thing is for sure.

There’s no place like home.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.


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