Mike Creger: Making up with baseballI haven’t been the best baseball fan in the world. After lolling about the impressive new Minnesota Twins ballpark, Target Field, on opening day Monday, I just may make a change.
I haven’t been the best baseball fan in the world. After lolling about the impressive new Minnesota Twins ballpark, Target Field, on opening day Monday, I just may make a change.
This is a place where baseball can be enjoyed in giggly fashion.
Talking with fans from the region Monday, nearly every one of them shared a story about going to an outdoor park as a child with their father. I had no such luck. My father was, we heard through the years, a good pitcher in high school down in Plainfield, Iowa. He likely could have pitched in college had it not been for a war in Korea, where he wrote gushy letters to a woman back home, soon to become his wife.
Dad spent time working and raising what turned out to be a large family of eight kids. I remember word leaking out when we were young that he had this baseball past. But he was reluctant to talk about it. When he did, he used the same phrases about it being a “long time ago” and that he really “wasn’t all that good.”
Undeterred, we would ask for a catch and be denied. Too tired. Too busy after he got home from his job an hour away with a farm to tend to as well.
I remember exactly one time when he actually played catch with us. It lasted about five minutes and then he complained of a sore shoulder. That was it. He probably then sent us out to weed the two-acre garden or feed the animals.
Dad loved the Vikings and football overshadowed baseball in my childhood. But we never got to any game in either sport at Metropolitan Stadium, which was only about 45 minutes from where I grew up.
This isn’t to say I harbor any ill feelings about missed opportunities. We all have our unique childhoods and I wouldn’t trade mine for anything.
Baseball was far removed from my radar until the Twins landed the All-Star game at the Metrodome in the mid-1980s. It was the first time I really took notice of this kid named Kirby Puckett, who made it onto the American League team. I’d been to games in the cheap seats as a teenager, usually on Sundays with our church group. For me, live games and the Metrodome were a novelty and a time to run around and bug girls and flip malt cup tops onto the field. The game was secondary, but so was the product on the field for the Twins in those days.
Then, of course, came 1987 and the first World Series title. I was slowly getting to enjoy this Twins thing. Come 1991, I was enjoying my first journalism gig and living with my brother, who had cable. Because of that, I swear I watched nearly every game that season either in person or on TV. So it was sweet reward when I joined a group to go into a lottery for post-season tickets.
We got the only playoff game lost in the Metrodome that year, against the Blue Jays. My friend and I had little hope that we’d get to use our second set of tickets, for Game Seven of the World Series.
But Puckett did me and all of us a favor in Game Six against Atlanta, willing the Twins to another day with defense in the outfield and a homerun to win it. That glorious trip he took around the bases is immortalized with the statue unveiled Monday on the plaza outside Target Field. Passing by it, I silently thanked Puckett again for getting me to Game Seven.
Amazing as that game was, often referred to as one of the greatest games in World Series history, I remember telling my buddy in the stands how enhanced it would have been if the game was outside, in a real ballpark. It didn’t help that our seats were nosebleed, under the scoreboard in left field.
I soldiered on over the years watching the team on TV and at the dome. Even when they started a decline in the late 1990s, it was a charming reminiscence of the salad days of the early 1980s and my first games there.
But then the dome started to wear on my soul. I went to games at the old park in Milwaukee. The new park in Denver. In 2002, I got to Yankee Stadium and saw the Twins at Shea Stadium against the Mets. Any chance of again entering the Metrodome for a game was slipping fast.
The game Monday was the first I’d attended in at least two years. The Metrodome no longer had any appeal for me and I was starting to think I wasn’t a real baseball fan at all.
But standing next to Tony Oliva behind the batting cage Monday afternoon, and seeing his warm smile under a bright sun across green grass, melted it all away. I got chills. And baseball came back to me.
It wouldn’t have taken the extraordinary access I had Monday to do it. The ballpark could be considered “mall-like” by some purists, but I’d call it simply conducive to what the game is all about. It’s about hearing people in all the nooks and crannies talk about the game. About being on top of the field and not straining in a seat pointed toward the outfield. About hearing a pure crack of the bat, no echoes, and balls sailing over the left and right field walls. Sun, skyline, and breezes.
Target Field is where any type of fan can fall in love with the atmosphere again.
Dad is gone now, but it’s a place I would have loved to have taken him. Those high school pitching memories would have surely returned to him and he might have even been inspired to have a catch.
Mike is the editor of the News-Chronicle. He can be reached at 834-2141. Email at mcreger @lcnewschronicle.com.