Posts tagged ‘Target Field’

HERE COMES THE SEASON

 

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Target Field

I am ready for baseball to start. As I write this, the tv brings me a spring training game between the Twins and the Red Sox from Fort Myers, Florida. How nice! In just over a month, the regular season will start, and that will be equally nice.
Consider the nearly silent anticipation before each pitch, the gasp of expectation from the crowd at each swing, and then the shouts and hoots at each hit and catch – it is all exciting, so very satisfying as the rituals of baseball appear in each game; never in the same order, never in quite the way it’s been witnessed before.
At the stadium, the senses are activated with vast possibilities. Listen for the concession guys as they carry their wares up and down the sections of the stadium, and for the crack of the bat as the PA announcements ring through each tier. See the flags fly on top of the stadium as the wind changes, affecting fly balls in windblown arcs, and see the fresh, clean uniforms as the team first comes onto the field after the national anthem. Feel the sun on your face, the excitement as the crowd reacts, the up-and-down as THE WAVE comes by in its different levels of intensity. Taste that bratwurst with all its spicy trimmings and taste the thrill of a stolen base or a double play well executed. Smell the wonderful cotton candy, smell the tantalizing hot spicy foods, smell the dust as a base gets stolen or a run gets scored with a slide under the catcher’s tag.

 

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Buxton Sliding into second base

Whether you’re sitting in a stadium or in your own armchair as you watch in on TV, or listening to the game on a radio out in your fishing boat, consider the intellect of the game – the sensation is virtually the same no matter where you take in the game. You sense the strategies as they happen – an intentional walk, a executed successfully hit and run, a pitching change – it’s all there, whether in person or by courtesy of your home appliances.

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There’s not a big fluff of endless pre-game blabber from overexuberant, underqualified talking heads like we see in other sports (please read here: football.). There’s no need for tailgating – baseball doesn’t need to hype itself up to get going. There is no clock – it is not a matter of who scores more points in a time frame, but who puts who out 27 times while trying to score more times in that limit of 27 outs.

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Casey, Ted and Jim enjoy a game at Target Field

And as George Carlin said in his famous routine about baseball, the goal of baseball is to ‘run home’. How can it be any better?

PLAY BALL!

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BASEBALL FOR GENERATIONS

I first learned my love for the game from my dad. We played catch from when I was old enough to give a ball any form of forward momentum. Mom, too, could bring it when she was available to engage me in a game of catch or a round of batting practice. Even my lovely grandma Hilda took a swing or two with a bat. Aunts Shirley and Inky played semi-pro softball so they showed me some good techniques when they visited from St. Paul. Many other aunts and uncles joined in as we visited them or they visited us.

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Dad in front of his brothers (My uncles) Elwood, Willie, Gus, Henry and Ken

Get all the cousins together and you never saw such a festivity of baseball. We played in back yards, front yards and back alleys. We chased balls under apple trees and down the curbs of the streets before the ball would go down the storm drain. We teased each other about our feeble swings or waving at the air with helpless effort. We would drop our bats and gloves right in the middle of the yard when we were called over to the grill for hot dogs and hamburgers, only to return and play some more. This was true of both sides of the family – whether it was the Johnson/Grundstrom side or the Ruud/Strand gang. And by the way, boys and girls played as one. Who knew, also, that decades later I would join my wife’s cousins in the identical games of fun in their own yards and fields.

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The Johnson cousins, all grown up –  front: Chris, Jean, Charlie, Jim   back; Leslie, Aunt Inky, Cher, Becky, Aunt Shirley, Lois

 

Then we grew up and had our own kids. I first taught Heidi and Steven through simple ‘roll the ball across the floor’ to encourage good hand-eye coordination, just like a good daddy of the 1980s should do. Then it was underhand tossing out in the yard, and finally full games of catch or some batting drills in front of the garage door. Then it was out into the street where I would throw balls as high into the air so they would learn to catch those fly balls . . . and later hearing from the neighbors how fun it was to watch that Johnson family get out and enjoy themselves so much.
There’s the joy of taking the whole family to the game. Down to the Metrodome we’d go, maybe once a year, and we’d experience the grandeur of the game. 2002 presented a nice thrill, when I was selected in a lottery to get tickets to the playoffs against the Angels. I managed to squeeze in a game with each kid at those playoffs … I will remember that for a long time. And again, later on in the first season of the Twins at Target stadium, Sue and I got to take in a game with Heidi and her husband Jon – and it was Jon’s first major league ball game ever – truly memorable when Thome hit a home run to win the game in the bottom of the tenth.

 

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   A young Steven ready to play

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Jon, Heidi and Sue at Target Field

My sister’s kids, too, found their uncle Charlie (Me) always good for some time outside with a bat and ball …. And now as their own kids issue forth, I suspect I will not hesitate to show those babies of this not so old century a thing or two about the glories of baseball, too.

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My kids and their cousins – kids of my two sisters.  Steven in front, In the back is Karen, Paul, Dan, Adam, Joel and Heidi

Baseball – a family game in so many ways.

GOING TO THE TWINS STADIUMS

My baseball team, the Minnesota Twins, have played in three different stadiums.

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METROPOLITAN STADIUM. Very bare bones for sure. Metal framework, very little glitz and decorative items – unless you count the TWINS-O-GRAM out by the scoreboard. Box seats, bleachers, and three decks behind home plate. It was located far south of downtown Minneapolis, so to get there from my Uncle Paul’s house in Anoka (where we always stayed when we went to a game) it was a good hour-long car drive. Stupid little fact for those who don’t know: The Mall of America now sits where the Met used to be, and includes a home plate at the same spot where the MET home plate was. I’ve seen games from the third deck (my first ever, with my Grandpa Johnson, my dad, and who knows who else … I was maybe 8.) and along each baseline, and in the left field bleachers. At that last game, I was there with the sixth-grade school patrol kids from Parkville and we saw the Twins hit four consecutive homers in a row. I saw Mickey Mantle and Carl Yastrzemski there.

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HUBERT H. HUMPHREY METRODOME. Used for both the Twins and the Minnesota Vikings (I think that’s a football team or something like that . . .). A covered dome, with a cloth roof the same color as a baseball … now, there’s clear thinking … and a guy even hit a fly ball so high it got caught up there. The dome collapsed often, which led to its eventual demise. To prepare it for baseball (from that shape that the other game required) seats had to be folded up and a large tarp (called the BAGGIE) hung in the right field. I’ve had occasion to watch games from every side of the field – including a few playoff games (Angels in 2002 and Yankees a few years later.) I saw many big names – George Brett, Jeter, Bo Jackson, various White Sox players … Pretty weird for a stadium, really.

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TARGET FIELD. Opening in 2010, this is a REAL baseball park. I’ve only been to a few games so far – left field bleachers for our first game, in which Jim Thome hit a tenth inning walk off home run to beat his old team, the White Sox … and up high above third base with my friends the Stengels and a few with Sue … and then over at the far end of right field when I got to be at a game when my fourth grade teacher John Pagliaccetti was the veteran who got to raise the flag during the anthem. One very cool thing that the other stadiums lacked: I can get there on the North Star Train, saving me parking and the headache of downtown Minneapolis traffic. This is a big improvement over the first two stadiums. I trust it will be there for a long time and be the home of many championship teams.

TWINS FAN all the way. There is no other.

I am a TWINS fan.  I pay attention to the other sports to some degree, but ultimately, emotionally, and in all totality, I am a TWINS fan.  That means I watch football when the Vikings are good.  That means I can maybe tell you the name of the professional hockey and basketball teams in Minnesota.  I am not a sports fan who follows every waking moment of every active sport – I am a TWINS fan.

When the radio blares the play by play broadcast of the Twins or I hear the theme song of the Twins for the first time of the spring, my spirit brightens up like someone upped the voltage in my soul.  My focus goes to the game, the sounds, the feelings – and that focus stays on duty all season long, regardless of the level of success of my team of all teams.

There is just something about baseball that speaks to me.  The reasons may include the summer weather, the laid back nature of baseball, the fact that it is a game for the ordinary guy – you don’t have to be tall (like basketball) you don’t have to be oversized (like football) and you don’t have to have sharp dangerous implements on your feet (hockey.)  It is therefore MY kind of game.

They came to Minnesota when I was 7 ½ – a perfect time for a young lad to attach himself to professional sport – and baseball it was for this guy.  My grandfather was from Michigan, so he was a Detroit Tigers fan – and because of that, my very first Twins game was against the Tigers that summer of 1961.  I don’t recall who else was with us – Dad for sure, maybe a couple other uncles, but that’s it.  I remember nothing of the game – but it was hot as we walked a long way up the ramps at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.  I assume we could only afford the tickets for the third deck there, so we were as far away from the players as possible.  As I think about it, I must have seen some top notch players that day.  There were the Twins, of course – Killebrew, Allison, Battey – and more.  I suppose also that I saw famous Tigers players such as Al Kaline and Norm Cash.   That was my first game – my baptism into baseball – and even though I remember so very little of that day, I was hooked – terminally, critically, lifetime-long hooked.

Since that first game on a sunny afternoon, I have seen a good many games.  I know I saw a few in my elementary school years – two games in particular come at me from my memory – we saw a night game against the Boston Red Sox, where I got my first autographs – Rico Petrocelli and Mike Andrews of the Red Sox.

The other game was as a reward for those of us who were school patrols.  The school sent us down to a game – and ours was on June 9, 1966 against the Kansas City Athletics – in which a major league baseball record was set.  The Twins hit five home runs in a row – off the bats of Oliva, Killebrew, Mincher, Rollins and Versalles.  We were in the left field seats – and I recall the Rollins home run coming straight at us, landing only a few rows in front of us.  That was one exciting game.

In high school, we got to a game a year – usually when we drove down to the Twin Cities to visit Uncle Paul and Aunt Marlys.  No particular game comes to mind during those years, except the one that was rained out, finding us driving away from the ballpark after the second inning – one of the more disappointing days of my life even yet today.

In college, there were more opportunities to go to games … Paul and Marlys were still around, but I also would go down and visit my college girlfriend – and she was kind enough to tolerate going to ball games now and again.  It was during these years that we saw the last of MickeyMantle and HarmonKillebrew –

Wilma and I got married in 1982 – the worst year of the Twins ever.  I don’t recall if we ever attended a game in those first years of our marriage, but I still kept the radio warm with the voice of Herb Carneal and gang.  Back then, only select games were televised, so when they were on, by golly, I was there.

1987 – The World Series and the Twins against the Cardinals.  I should have known things were going to go well earlier that summer when a great omen appeared.  Mom and dad were down for a visit, and as we sat out in the back yard in the evening air, I had the TV on so we could hear the game.  I happened to go into the house just as they announced their ‘home run inning”.  It the Twins hit a home run that inning, winner would get a Twins jacket …and much to my family’s delight, they called my Dad’s name… and sure enough, there went a home run.  Dad got the jacket in the mail a week or so later, and when he died in 1991, I got the jacket …and still have it today.  Wilma is very patient with me about the jacket …it is old and getting threadbare here and there, but it is still my Dad’s jacket, and it is a TWINS jacket.

Wilma’s in-laws lived in the Chicago area, so we got to go to the old Comiskey park to see the Twins play the White Sox – that game was rained out—and we drove back to the house by driving through puddles hubcap deep in the underpasses of Chicago.  Fortunately, the Twins were back in town almost right away, so our rain checks were still good – and don’t you know, we got to see the Twins win via a grand slam by catcher Tim Laudner … this was also 1987, by the way.

A precious moment – in the World Series of that year, our daughter Pebbles was a whole 2 years old … and every time Kirby Puckett did something great (which was often) – she would bounce up and down and shout KIR PUCKEE!  KIR PUCKEE!

Over the years, I have infused my kids with the Twins – and maybe not so much BamBam, but Pebbles for sure.  Wilma and I haven’t gone to many games in the Metrodome, making going to those games all that much more special.  I even had the chance to take each kid to a playoff game in 2001 against the Angels… and good old sister and bro in law Impi and Toivo took me to a playoff game against the Yankees a few years ago.

I have seen many great players over the years – even more than I’ve mentioned, including Mantle, ReggieJackson, GeorgeBrett, Nolan Ryan, Carl Yastrzemski, Rod Carew … .  I’ve seen the Angels often, the A’s, the Royals, the Mariners, the Rangers for sure … I don’t recall how many others …. But I’d sure like to add to the list.

I’ve been to the new Target field twice – once with Pebbles and her hubby and once with some good friends from church, and am looking to go again soon.

On an aside, we visited Wilma’s sister in San Francisco once – and saw the Braves play the Giants in old Candlestick park, but that has nothing to do with the Twins…. Suffice it to say that we saw Barry Bonds hit two home runs.

I want to go to at least one live game every year … just one.  I’d like to do more, but that’s just not as practical as I’d like – it is a 2 hour drive and then all the fun of parking and stuff like that.   I don’t necessarily need to souvenir – but hey, I will get a brat with all the works, and I’ll want to sit as closely as I can to the infield, but I will be glad to get into the ballpark.

Like I said, I’m a TWINS fan.  I don’t follow the National League much.  I don’t have a secondary favorite team.  I am a TWINS fan forever and a day.