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Sports and community

WHEN the Minnesota Twins won the ``Mississippi'' World Series against the downriver St. Louis Cardinals, much of the non-baseball world hardly took note. Americans abroad had an easier time finding the market quotations on, say, Minnesota's 3M Corporation than following the box scores on the Twins, who Sunday night won their first World Series ever. Not that the Series lacked its share of remarkable individual exploits - including, on the downside, some clearly missed umpire calls in the seventh game. Usually such individual and team exploits get most of the attention the morning after.

But at times the community dimension of sports most deserves mention. Sports are a way to express community. And the St. Louis and Minneapolis-St. Paul series stirred the kind of loyalties, the healthy league and regional partisanship, that enables sports to serve a constructive community purpose.

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When a sport comes on hard times - by gambling scandal, drugs, labor-management struggles - the fans become perplexed. Although winning isn't everything, chronic losing suggests that flaws in management, recruitment, game strategy, or morale must be overcome.

Professional football returned Sunday to its regular squad format after its player-strike interregnum, when substitute teams were used. But the league has yet to dispel the fan distaste over its player-management dispute. Rivalries, whether between labor and management, between competing teams, or between fans of opposing teams, can get ugly. Pro football failed to bring into its internal business dispute the kind of refereeing changes it would insist upon if such disputes were witnessed on the playing field.

We often take the side of small-time sports over big-time sports, as on campuses when the emphasis on sports gets distorted. Spectator sports can become an addiction; fans can let TV games turn them into couch potatoes.

No one would argue that other businesses, such as television and computer manufacturing, should not be allowed to become ``big'' but should be held at the mom-and-pop grocery-store level. Similarly, it would be foolish to try to contain all sports at the deemphasized-campus or sandlot level. In college towns, a successful sports program can become an economic and social engine.

Sport is a metaphor for ambition, activity, success. The key is to maintain a sense of proportion. Integrity, effort, intelligence, selflessness, even long-term planning, are the stuff of sports, just as they are in other aspects of our lives. These qualities help elevate the spirits of a community like Minnesota - indeed the spirits of all baseball fandom - long after a rare championship season.

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