Monday, August 3, 2009

Minnesota Twins 5, Los Angeles Angels 13 (11 innings) – Friday, July 31, 2009

I suppose, since Melvin and I are going to see the Twins, it is appropriate for both of us to post to Baseball Byways. Who are Castor and Pollux? Romulus and Remus? E.D. Hirsch, Jr. would be proud of me if I could answer these questions. Maybe it would help if I had been born in late-May or early-June.

As Melvin and I have made our way across America, we have encountered several Twins fans at various games. When we tell them that we have included the final year of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in our itinerary, they all say the same thing, ‘Why don’t you wait a year and come to the new stadium?’ Easy for them to say; they’ve been to the dome any number of times. I have only been once, opening day in 2003, and I wanted to see one more game before baseball leaves the stadium. The Twins are scheduled to play their first game at Target Field against the Boston Red Sox on April 12, 2010.

The Twins’ final year in the Metrodome prompted Mel and me to visit the sites of two earlier local ballparks. We started by driving out to the Mall of America, in Bloomington, which was once the home of Metropolitan Stadium. “The Met” was the original home of the Twins and was constructed to (successfully) attract major league baseball and football franchises to the Twin Cities. Before securing a major league team, the stadium opened in 1956 as the home of the long-established Minneapolis Millers, then the Triple-A, American Association affiliate of the New York Giants. When the new ballpark led to the Washington Senators transforming themselves into the Minnesota Twins in 1961, the Millers folded, as did their cross-town rivals, the St. Paul Saints. The Twins played at The Met from 1961 to 1981, when the Metrodome opened.

Mel and I hunted down the memorial home plate, embedded in the floor in the northwest corner of “Nickelodeon Universe,” an amusement park inside the mall. Once we were correctly oriented, we found above a ride the red upper deck seat where Harmon Killebrew blasted a 520-foot home run to deep left-center field on June 3, 1967. The Met was known as a hitters park but this shot is in another category altogether. This was the longest home run Killebrew ever hit, and the longest ever hit in Metropolitan Stadium. Without any other context, like other seats or the ability to see it from the home plate plaque, the lonely red seat doesn’t really convey much. Metropolitan Stadium was demolished in 1985.

We went next to the former site of Nicollet Park, at 31st Street and Nicollet Avenue South, where the Millers played from 1896 until Metropolitan Stadium opened in 1956. Mel recalls that the park was owned by the trolley car company, which had routes on both streets. After the Millers moved to Metropolitan Stadium in 1956, a bank was constructed on the site of the old stadium. On the day Mel and I visited, the branch of Wells Fargo that is the current occupant appeared to be patronized primarily by Somali immigrants, a curious sight to see. A two-sided plaque outside the bank gives some history of the Millers, which played in a variety of leagues, and Nicollet Park.

Our last stop was Target Field, such as it is as of July 2009. The stadium sits atop and along-side highways, with 20,000 already existing parking spaces within one block of the ballpark. A new light rail stop is being constructed immediately adjacent to the stadium and the park can also be reached via the vast network of sky-ways that connect buildings in downtown Minneapolis. Baseball is inherently nostalgic and I can be easily seduced by ballparks that evoke old stadiums. However, it looks like Populous (formerly HOK Sport, and now independent of the HOK Group) has designed something elegant and new, with a beige limestone exterior. Mel took me across the street to see an early loft conversion and we got a bonus: there was a photo mural of Athletic Park, home of the Minneapolis Millers from 1889 to 1896.

Stadiums of the past, ballpark of the future, finally it was time to go the Metrodome, the Twins' home of the present. Twins pitcher Nick Blackburn got off to a slow start, with two runs scoring against him on just eight pitches in the first inning. Joe Mauer hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the third to get the Twins back on top. A triple by Nick Punto and a double by Denard Span in the bottom of the fourth made the score 5-2. A two-run homer by Bobby Abreu in the top of the seventh brought the Angels within one and when Mike Napoli hit reliever Matt Guerrier’s second pitch over the wall, it was all tied up. It stayed that way until the top of the 11th, when it took three pitchers to get three outs. Unfortunately, Bob Keppel and Jesse Crain got none of those outs and gave up three runs apiece.

There is not much to like about the Metrodome. Instead of just numbers, the franchise has banners beyond the outfield of the players whose numbers have been retired; Jackie Robinson, Killibrew, Rod Carew, Tony Olvia, Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett. The banners look like baseball cards and are pretty neat. I am (still) not going to apologize for wanting to get back here one last time. As for the question, ‘Why don’t you wait a year and come to the new stadium?,' maybe I will. Incidently, a violent thunderstorm began in the bottom of the ninth, which would have caused a rain delay at Nicollet Park, Metropolitan Stadium or Target Field.

MLB Wrap-Up

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