Wild Draw A Crowd

I pulled up to Worthington Arena at about 11:45 a.m. Thursday, fashionably late, of course. (That’s what I’m telling people, anyway. Obviously it couldn’t be because I had a hard time getting myself going. Couldn’t be.)
Anyway, as soon as I pulled up, I could tell there was a solid crowd on hand for the Minnesota Wild Summer Road Tour. Wild winger Matt Cooke, former team captain and current member of the FSN broadcast team Wes Walz, and TV analyst Mike Greenlay were in Worthington for an hour Thursday as part of the three-day tour around the state. Worthington and the surrounding area showed up to prove that the borders of the “State of Hockey” extend far beyond the Twin Cities metro and upper reaches of the state like Warroad and Eveleth.
The Wild representatives were set up at a table inside of the arena that would have been somewhat near center ice if the arena was frozen. Even halfway through the hour-long event, the line stretched to the south entrance of the building and, at one point, it looked as though there may be a few people standing outside. I’d guess that by the time I showed up, the line had probably dwindled down a little from what it was when the players arrived at 11:30. Although I don’t know what the turnout has been (Walz estimated they’ve had anywhere from 200-600 attendants throughout their stops), I’m guessing the show of people in Worthington was as good as anywhere else.
During these stops, fans have an opportunity to get autographs, have photos taken and, of course, have a chat (brief as it may be) with one of their Wild heroes. It’s much like the Twins Caravan that goes through the state every winter, just to give a frame of reference. Anyway, I think what these two teams (the Wild and the Twins) do for their fans is pretty special. After the autograph session, I had a chance for quick interviews with Walz and Cooke. Prior to joining the Wild, Cooke played for the Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. He told me Minnesota is the first place he’s played that had such a thing. When I lived in Kansas, the Kansas City Royals did make a few trips to outstate Kansas and Missouri, but it didn’t seem to me like it was nearly as big as what the Wild and Twins do.
I was glad to see so many fans of all ages taking advantage of the opportunity. Getting to meet professional athletes isn’t an everyday occurrence and, although they’re really just normal people like you or I, even 28-year-old sports reporters can’t help but get a bit starstruck. I also couldn’t help but overhear the number of people thanking the players for coming to town (Minnesota Nice is a real thing, you guys). It was nice to see. Knowing what a busy schedule most of those guys have to live by, I always think taking time out for fans — without whom they wouldn’t be able to play hockey for a living — should be appreciated.
Hopefully the excellent show of support in Worthington will compel the Wild (and maybe the Twins?) to come back soon.

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