So, how to summarize a great day? Victoria asked me what were the best parts, and I hadn't really thought about it that way. It was all great!
But as I started trying to answer the question, a few things rose to the surface. So, here they are, in chronological order.
1. Tony's Speech
I didn't expect this to be an emotional experience. The other unveilings last year really weren't.
But Tony O is so genuine, so likable, so humble, so tranquil that this could not help but be emotional. He dedicated the statue to the fans and seemed like someone not the least bit jaded by the success or many years in the public eye. He seemed to still think of himself as a kid from Cuba who had played baseball in the tobacco fields (noting that it was 50 years to the day since he left Cuba for the US).
Here's his whole speech, which you won't see on any of the news shows. Jump in to about 1:30 to skip the presentation of the miniature statue. (And please forgive the shakiness of the video, which was the result of having to hold the camera over my head the whole time. Darn shortness.)
Watching major league players hit baseballs may not seem like much, but it's just a blast. They look like they're having fun, and the balls fly every which way. It's the kind of thing you wish you could join in on.
Thome steps in.
Kubel hit a few upper deck shots, and I think it was Cuddyer who hit one off the facing of the way upper deck in left -- the part above the upper concourse!
When you're sitting anywhere in the outfield, you have to pay attention. And every so often you can feel the excitement level ramp up from nothing to everything in the space of about a second. Then somebody gets a chance at a souvenir, and a story is created. (Not all the stories are happy ones.)
It was in and then quickly out of his glove. You gotta make that play.
Pitchers lazily shag flies, and new-from-the-minors infielders work very hard. Even grizzled veterans try out new positions (today it was Cuddyer at second).
Today, the sun was shining, and all seemed right with the world.
3. The Target Field Staff
I noticed it last year, but it hasn't faded one bit. The staff throughout the facility is just about the happiest, friendliest bunch you might ever encounter.
It wasn't just about opening day, either. These people seem to genuinely like what they are doing. Congratulations to whoever does the hiring, training and managing.
I was greeted happily everywhere I went. I heard stories, I told stories, and I laughed with more than a few ushers, chefs, concession stand folks, and even elevator operators.
One usher told me how much she missed the Metrodome, but only because it had felt so much like home after many years attending to the same gate. She laughed as she said it, knowing how absurd it must sound.
Then she said, "It's good to have you here again."
She wasn't talking about me personally (we'd never met before), but me as part of the crowd.
The dessert carts came out earlier, and looked even better than last year.
4. The Star-Spangled Banner
Have you ever wondered why it is that we start a sporting event with a song? I mean, I'm a professional musician and composer, and even I don't entirely get it.
Yes, it's patriotic and blah blah blah, but we could just as easily recite the Pledge of Allegiance together, or have someone read the Gettysburg Address. No, we sing a song.
I think it's probably about the unifying power of music, but that's all the further I'm willing to analyze it tonight.
But, as songs go, the Star-Spangled Banner has become so widely the Star-Mangled Banner (I'm looking at you, Xtina) that it's easy to forget that, at its heart, it's a lovely song which tells a very dramatic story.
Today, as performed by Rick Oliva and Maria Versalles, it was done up just right. (And major kudos to whoever timed that flyover.)
When I'm working with musicians, I try to teach that technical perfection in performance is not the goal. Connection and communication of emotion is the goal. Histrionics, cheesiness, aloofness, boredom and melodrama are just some of the enemies.
Whether you loved it for the performance or just because it signaled the official end of our baseball drought, today's SSB was beautiful.
5. The 8th and 9th
For seven innings, the Twins looked flummoxed by Brett Anderson. I wasn't always watching the game closely, but whenever I heard the crowd cheering wildly and stopped taking pictures long enough to find out what had happened, it turned out to be a routine base hit.
Like you, by about the 6th inning I was confident in predicting that the nerve-fueled mistakes of the first inning would end up being the deciding factor in the game.
But Anderson was not as sharp in the 8th, and the Twins had learned a thing or two in those frustrating earlier innings. They came out in the 8th sensing the potential for weakness, and adjusted to take advantage of it.
The action drew everybody to the top step. (Click to enlarge greatly.)
Mauer drove in the winning run with that single. (Click to enlarge greatly.)
By then, I was actually watching the game closely, from the rail above the bullpens, while eating a pulled pork sandwich from the State Fair stand. (If you haven't tried these, be sure to head over there. It's the best bargain in the joint at $6.50. And delicious...)
Joe Nathan was warming up, and the fans were chatting with him. I couldn't hear him, but from their reactions, I take it he was chatting back -- or at least acknowledging them somehow.
When the gate opened and he emerged, everyone stood up and began to shout.
After the game, he admitted that the reaction was pretty overwhelming. But he came in, looked great, and did the job. Like you, I've been waiting a year to see that at Target Field.
Only during the post-game interview in the stadium did I find out about his little sacred act before the game. In case you missed it, he brought some dirt that he had saved from the Metrodome mound and spread it on the TF mound. He said simply that he'd had pretty good results at the old place, and wanted to bring some of that luck with him, for himself and for the team.
Apparently, it worked.
With apologies to the sluggers, Nathan has been my favorite Twin since he first came here. It was heartbreaking not to see him pitch at TF last year. That makes today a Very Big Moment. I'm sure there were times in the past year when he wondered if he would ever pitch at TF. I know I did. That he's there and successfully closing one-run games says a lot about him.
If baseball is all about life and death, Tommy John surgery looks, at best, like hope for continued life, with the distinct possibility of symbolic death. We've seen too many guys come back as shadows of their former selves to think that it's a guaranteed cure-all.
But to see Joe Nathan hit the mound today is the rebirth we all held our breath and hoped for. Congratulations, Joe, and welcome back!
(As an aside, it also highlights the difference between a pitcher who does all the offseason and rehab work he's supposed to, and one who does not. Yes, I'm looking at you, Frankie).
When the last out was caught, the team celebrated...
...and the fans lingered. It was that kind of day.
Hey look! Winter is gone! Baseball is really back! Twins win!
Lots more pix and stories to come. See all you BPMers tomorrow night (weather permitting, of course)!
"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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