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Sports news takes back seat on this day

MINNEAPOLIS -- Various teams from a Hispanic baseball league for adults had been spotted playing Sunday afternoon games at Bassett Creek Park. This was mentioned to the boss in the Minneapolis Star Tribune's sports department. It was deemed worth...

MINNEAPOLIS -- Various teams from a Hispanic baseball league for adults had been spotted playing Sunday afternoon games at Bassett Creek Park. This was mentioned to the boss in the Minneapolis Star Tribune's sports department. It was deemed worthy of a story to be accompanied by photos.

"We don't have anything major to compete with it for space on Tuesday," the boss said. "Why don't we run it then?"

Liz Flores from the newspaper's photo staff spent a couple of hours at the dusty ball field in Crystal and came up with some great shots of the action between the Charros and theCerveceros.

We were ready to have the big play on the sports cover on Tuesday. And then came Monday -- first with the reports that the Timberwolves were close to trading Kevin Garnett to Boston, then that NFL coaching legend Bill Walsh had died, and finally that the Twins had traded veteran second baseman Luis Castillo to the Mets for a pair of minor leaguers of questionable prospect status.

The story on the rivals from Liga Hispana fought its way into Tuesday's sports section on page C6, accompanied by one of Flores' photos.

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Then came Tuesday's news cycle and more huge headlines for the sports section. Joe Christensen, one of our baseball writers, came up with the best Twins story of this season: Johan Santana, the game's best pitcher, ripping General Manager Terry Ryan and ownership for choosing to subtract Castillo and add nothing to the team at the trading deadline.

Any other morning, that story gets the big splash on our sports page and a couple of sidebars to go with it. On Wednesday morning, it was competing for page C1 space with Tuesday afternoon's official confirmation that Minnesota's most monumental trade since Fran Tarkenton came back from the New York Giants in 1972 had been completed.

Garnett had gone to Boston for five players and two No. 1 draft choices. And he had added to the dramatics of the situation by pointing to Wolves owner Glen Taylor -- not basketball boss Kevin McHale -- as the man behind the trade.

There still were options for a sports columnist for Thursday's edition. The Twins had four consecutive victories and two consecutive nights of dissension in the clubhouse. Suddenly, the much-praised Ryan was taking more heat from his players and the sporting public than was the Timberwolves' much-maligned McHale.

So checking in on the suddenly sassy Twins was an option, as was checking in on the Wolves' four young players from the Garnett trade for a 7 p.m. news conference.

Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes and Sebastian Telfair were going to be there. Taylor and McHale also were scheduled to appear in public for the first time since trading the only superstar in franchise history.

With some input from colleagues, it was decided to go with one of the new Wolves as a column subject.

Heck, it had been so hectic back here that two other staples of this hot part of summer -- the successful 3M Championship and the early days of the Vikings' stay in Mankato -- weren't even on the possibilities for today's column.

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It appeared the local TV stations all made the same decision: the Wolves news conference over the Twins for the lead tape on their sports segments.

The cameras were all in place in the back of the room when I walked past the location of the news conference at 6 p.m. When I returned a half-hour later, the camera people were pulling out plugs, wrapping cords and hustling hither and yon.

"What gives?" I asked.

"Didn't you hear?" one of these fellows said. "The 35W Bridge by the university collapsed. It's bad. Real bad."

The camera people and TV reporters were gone in a couple of minutes. I packed up, went to the parking ramp behind Target Center and exited to go -- where?

I wound up crossing the Hennepin Ave. Bridge, took a right on Main Street and headed down the cobblestone street. There were a few people still sitting in the sidewalk areas in front of cafes. But mostly there were folks in running clothes, and on bikes, and even pushing baby strollers headed toward the end of the road where Main Street dead-ends maybe 150 yards from theI-35W Bridge.

We saw the smoke, saw the bridge and its downward angle, moved off the street to make room for the emergency vehicles.

Several young men in Twins jerseys were standing in a field, as close to the bridge as the police tape would allow.

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"There were 10 of us going to the Twins game in two cars," Matt Ryan of Little Canada said. "We were a couple of minutes from the bridge. Then, traffic basically stopped. We couldn't figure it out. Someone in the car next to us said, 'The bridge collapsed.' So we took the next exit and came down here. I can't believe it."

Tim Gagne from Roseville, the grandson of Verne, was in the group. "I woke up this morning and saw what Santana had said and I was so mad at the Twins," he said. "I was just cussin'. And now you see this -- hear how bad it might be -- and I feel kind of silly for being that upset.

"Johan's mad. Garnett gets traded. It doesn't mean as much as we think, does it?"

His friend Scott Walsh from St. Paul said: "Doesn't mean a thing."

PATRICK REUSSE is a sports columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

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