There was no ceremony or speech-making, so you may not have noticed it, but construction on the new Twins ballpark actually began today.
It began this morning when crews permanently closed a portion of Third Avenue North which will be replaced by the main entry plaza and pedestrian bridge. Later, they also closed a lane on North Fifth Street to begin preparing the bridge to be substantially rebuilt. Some of this work was already underway when I last visited the site a couple of months ago, but back then it was being done on spec. Now, it's officially a part of ballpark-building.
That makes this a pretty big day, though it didn't really seem like one. Let me share three random thoughts for the occasion.
Remembering Ebbets Field
I'm reading a book called The Greatest Ballpark Ever by Bob McGee. His first chapter recounts the day that demolition began on the great old park. Former players and former fans were on hand, the Star Spangled Banner was sung, a somber ceremony took place and photos were taken.
Then a wrecking ball, grotesquely painted to look like a baseball, smashed into the roof of the visitor's dugout (watch it here). It was a very sad day for a lot of people.
Fans develop deep connections to the place where their team plays. It happens across sports, but it's somehow deepest in baseball. The game is about place, after all. It's about leaving home on a journey and trying to find your way back home. It's hero mythology come to life. That's just one of the reasons that baseball is the greatest game. It's about -- no, it is the human experience.
Over years, the confines of the baseball stadium become the walls of your home. They are safe, familiar. Fans start and end many journeys there. There are happy times and sad times. You leave, but you always find your way back. The walls change, of course. They get a new coat of paint now and then, maybe a new picture or bulletin board gets hung. But they remain home.
The Nature of Home
My parents are moving in a couple of months. Their condo is up for sale (it's lovely), and they are moving back to a neighborhood they love.
Whenever they move, I think again about how history wants to attach itself to places, but it never quite works. I think about our old family homestead up in Princeton, where no one from our family has lived for 20 years. I think about how no one there will ever know the story of how Chris and I broke the stairway doorknob during a fight and had to work together to get it open again. Though they may stand on the same spot, no one else knows about how I got hit in the eye with a batted ball right there. No one ever will. Someone may dig up the bones, but no one will ever know the names of those cats (Rex and Rascal) and parakeets (Perky, all of them). And no one knows that my grandmother's wedding ring is still there, somewhere in that dirt.
I think about my own 1907 house and the very large family (Frank and Augusta Carlbom and their seven children), now all gone, who called it home for some 70 years. None of their history seems to be found in our walls, though it feels like it should be there.
If the ballpark is home, then the fans are family with the team. The stories go well beyond what happened on the field. The people who went out to Ebbets Field on that dreary day knew it all too well. They knew they were losing the place where Jackie Robinson made history, but they also were losing the place where history beyond baseball was spun into the Brooklyn DNA across generations.
Of course, losing the ballpark was an echo of the real loss. It was the owner, not the team or the park, which betrayed the family.
The Metrodome is converted to its football configuration after the Twins game on August 29, 2002
I remember standing in the Metrodome on the day before the labor dispute was settled in August 2002. There was this sense in the air that the Twins -- this 100-year-old franchise, founding member of the American League -- might never play again. If there had been a strike, who's to say that the Twins wouldn't have been contracted as part of the settlement? I stood there thinking about Calvin Griffith and Carl Pohlad, Kent Hrbek and Herb Carneal, and all the other people who had been part of this particular family -- even Walter Johnson.
That was the darkest day I've ever known as a Twins fan. I stood at the upper deck railing for a long time after the game and watched as crews converted the Dome into its football configuration. I cursed the place on my way out. It felt like the concrete oval, which came in on time and under budget, was about to kill my team, and take with it the memories of this gigantic family. Though others were certainly complicit, what hurt most was that the home had betrayed the family.
Places, Past and Future
If you go out to the Mall of America, you can stand right where Harmon Killebrew hit a whole bunch of home runs. You can occupy the space that Rod Carew stole on multiple occasions. You can inhabit a little piece of the earth that teams fought over 81 times a year (and more) for over 20 years. More magical things happened on that spot than can be recounted here.
What's interesting to me is that space doesn't appear or disappear. People say, "I wish I could knock out a wall and have a little more space in here." But new walls simply enclose space which already existed. Tearing down walls just exposes space which was previously enclosed. That's the purpose of architecture: to enclose space for people to use. The space doesn't change, just the enclosure. But the enclosure, in turn, changes the people it encloses.
When all is said and done, memories stick to the people, not the places. And the success of the place will be measured by the memories it allows us to create and hold. That's the real ballpark magic.
I've walked the Rapid Park lot many times, and I've tried to discern from the site plans where home plate might be. It's not easy, and probably won't be determined officially for some time. But I do this to celebrate in a very small way the memories which are to come.
Right now, you can occupy space which will be fought over 81 times a year (or more) by the best players in the game. One day, a World Series will be played there. One day a no-hitter will be thrown right there! More magical things will happen there than we can imagine right now. But we will remember them as they happened in that place.
So, if you get a chance, go down there and occupy the space -- just so you can say that you did. In the long lens of time, that space, though as yet unenclosed, is already part of the game.
"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
Explore the Site
Here are 50 images chosen randomly from the 3037 found on this site. Click the image to be taken to the original post. A new list is created every 10 minutes.
Walkway sneak peek
The 1963 team won 91 games! (Click to enlarge and see the names)
T is for Twins
Gate 6 Oliva, with the 573 Club looming large over it (I wonder how Tony feels about that)
Replays on the out-of-town scoreboard!
Looking up Sixth Street, now barricaded for plaza extension.
That's Noah and my brother, Chris, checking out the Loge Box amenities
Here's a closer look at the bullpen area. It's hard to tell for sure, but I think there is still an opening to the concourse right above.
The bridge is Seventh Street.
Double plays will be turned here.
Stay warm while buying tickets.
Two concepts here remain in the final design. First is the oddly-shaped pavilion in center. Second is the section just above the right field fence. In the current design this section will hang over the field by a few feet. The original doesn't do that, but you can see that the concept goes way back in the planning.
An arch under construction.
Click to see the whole, beautiful image. (Photo by Tyler Wycoff)
Doors directly to the concourse, and a view of the stands beyond
Look at all that blank space. Canvas! (What should go on those walls? A giant schedule perhaps?)
It's pretty easy to see right into the Twins dugout!
Here you can see the real beauty of the Seventh Street side, and get a solid sense of why the overall design really works. The building's purpose is clearly visible, there are numerous connections from inside to outside, scale is nicely mitigated, the stone is attractively used, materials are pleasantly mixed and truly complementary. It's just a winner in so many ways.
Click on this photo to see what it looked like on this spot 101 years ago (I'm not kidding)
The steel cage expands.
Sunday afternoon, WFTC-HD 720P
Storage tracks in the foreground.
Just lighted panels... *sigh*
Though there's nothing there now, you have to believe they'll find a way to add a party deck up there at some point.
Looking down what was Third Avenue, and will be a freeway entrance ramp beneath the outfield stands.
Champion's Club details (click to enlarge)
Stairs wrap around the skyway escape tower. A very nice finishing touch.
I could gaze at this streetscape all day. It isn't perfect, but as a model for Minneapolis, I love it. (Except the Biff, of course. Click to enlarge.)