What makes a great baseball place? Great teams and great stories, that's what.
It doesn't happen overnight. It happens over generations. And for those of us among the first generation of Twins fans, it's been a long time coming. But I smelled something other than RBIs coming from the Metrodome today. It smelled way more like the beginnings of a cultural shift than just a division championship.
Justin Morneau, mobbed after a game-winning homer on June 9
Some say that Minneapolis just isn't a baseball town. Maybe it's because on an average weekday in August you have to wade through 12 pages of pre-season football coverage in the Strib to get to the box scores of games that matter. Maybe it's because the hometown nine play baseball in the corner of a football field. Maybe it's because the mainstream media is way more into scandal than stats.
But don't believe it. If the lively blogger landscape hasn't convinced you otherwise, check out the 40,000 people who stayed for 45 minutes after the end of a game to watch a couple of innings taking place very far away. For every person there, 400 more watched the same thing unfold on TV. That's more than just cool. That's the sign of a community that gets it. That's the sign of fans who have come to realize that the game is as small as a single pitch, and as big as a 162-game rainbow -- and you never know exactly which moment is going to matter most.
While other sports hogged the spotlight, baseball in Minnesota has been simmering for a couple of decades -- some would say languishing -- under a teflon lid, just waiting to be let loose. It's been right there all along, growing deep roots and the occasional blossom. We didn't know it, but this town was becoming a great baseball place.
One of those blossoms is before us now. This team may play on fake grass, but boy do they play. They play like today matters, and tomorrow will take care of itself if they just take care of today. They play as if yesterday's elbow troubles are as stale and flat as 2004 locker room champagne.
They play with their wits and their muscle, but also with their noses. And fish glue. And tiny super-heroes. And big lumber. And sideburns. They play with their hearts and boundless joy. And they have written a very good baseball story.
And that's how baseball will get you every time. It's the stories that draw us in and teach us the game. If the reaction to Kirby's death proved only one thing, it's that these great stories don't just stay with us, they define us and become us. Before you know it, you discover that this game is in your DNA -- that it's been there all along. Wherever this happens, you have a great baseball place.
Oh sure, it has something to do with winning. But it also has to do with a hometown batting champ who isn't pretending when he "aw, shucks" his way through a thousand TV interviews. Or an MVP candidate who looks truly shocked when asked what it's like to live in such an accomplished household. Or a Gold-Glove centerfielder in his contract year who plays and celebrates with as much joy as a Little Leaguer. Or a Cy Young candidate who can't stop talking about his teammates. Or a back-up catcher with enthusiasm strong enough to infect you as you watch from your couch. Or a fisherman who insists on taking the ball one last time.
Hennepin County may have cooked up the plan, and the Legislature may have approved it, but the 2006 Twins earned their new ballpark by giving us a story we'll tell for the rest of our lives. They, with their predecessors and teams yet to come, have shown us why we need this game and why we love it. They sealed the deal with four months of the best baseball we've ever seen in these parts. And they are not done.
We don't know what the line-up will look like when the Twins run out onto the freshly-mowed field in 2010, but one thing is for sure: the story of the 2006 Twins will be there with them. The stories of Kirby will be there with them. The stories of Harmon and Tony and Rod and Bert and Kent and every other player who ever wore a TC cap will be there with them.
"You talk about the magic, the aura, but what really makes a stadium is the fans. Concrete doesn't talk back to you. Chairs don't talk back to you. It's the people who are there, day in, day out, that makes the place magic."
– Bernie Williams
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Cross section diagram of the field structure. (Click to enlarge.)
The Pro Shop.
We'll be packed into the first five rows of section 136. Hey, Wilson! I'm bringing my glove!
Here's where the plaza will empty out around that skyway emergency exit tower at the corner of Second Avenue and Seventh Street.
Off-topic, but this gigantic, cool, retro sign is just across the street from S&CH. Why? I don't know. Might look nice on top of one of those municipal parking ramps...