Visit to ballpark pretty much right on Target

Before I attended my first Major League Baseball game eight or nine years ago, I was thrilled to be heading on down to see my favourite team, the Minnesota Twins, at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
As the family car crossed the I-35W bridge and the fluffy roof of the ‘Dome appeared, I remember feeling a shudder of excitement.
THIS was the Mecca of my interest in baseball.
Yep, the dingy, dirty roof topped off exactly where I wanted to be for my first Major League baseball game, which the Twins were to contest against the Texas Rangers in July 2002.
Our seats, in the left-field bleachers, were a neat place to see the Twins eke out a 4-3 decision over Texas en route to their first division title in 11 years, much of the time in between filled with mediocrity and even downright putrid play.
I was in awe of the massive stadium, easily the largest sporting venue in which I had set foot, and was amused by the whoosh that escorted fans out of the doors when leaving the game.
Perhaps it was a byproduct of watching sports in the ancient but familiar CanadInns Stadium and Winnipeg Arena (MTS Centre didn’t open until 2004), but the Metrodome really didn’t seem like THAT bad of a place to go watch a game.
Well, my low standards were blown of the water on Friday night when I was able to visit the brand-new Target Field when the Rangers, much improved and leading their division this time around, paid a visit.
While the Canadian content was able to make my first visit to see a Twins game unforgettable, as Manitoban Corey Koskie pounded out a couple of base hits, driving in a pair of runs, but it wasn’t to be this time.
Victoria, B.C.’s Rich Harden was slated to start the game for Texas, but was demoted to the bullpen just days before the game, and, of course, Minnesota’s Justin Morneau has been sidelined with a concussion since July.
Harden’s demotion opened up a spot for Derek Holland to take the mound for Texas (lovely), while for the Twins, scheduled starter Nick Blackburn was called out of duty after being forced into relief action the night before against Detroit.
That meant that Matt Fox was recalled from AAA Rochester for his Major League debut.
I figured that with these two pitchers on the mound, neither of whom will be mistaken for Cy Young, that the game would be an offensive romp, dampening my excitement a bit.
But no, there were only five hits through five innings as Fox and Holland both pitched pretty well.
Though the Twins fell behind by a run in each the sixth and seventh innings, they were able to quickly recover and tally the winning run in the bottom of the seventh, to the delight of the strong majority of the 40,000+ in attendance as they eventually recorded another 4-3 win.
The whole big crowd experience is something that isn’t often felt in Fort Frances, and it’s a nice change of pace to hear (and join in with) a mob of thousands booing a fan on the big screen decked out in Green Bay Packers gear.
Fan involvement, a burgeoning trend in recent years across pro sports, was boosted at Target Field, especially for those equipped with cell phones.
At one point, fans were invited to snap a photo of themselves at the stadium and fire it to the Twins’ gameday staff to be played on the Jumbotron, while there was also an option to vote, via a text message short code, for which song should be played to open the sixth inning: “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash or the latest hits from Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift.
Humanity was saved as the “Man in Black” won over half of the votes and brought joy to fans young and old when it was blared over the loudspeakers as the Twins took the field.
Actually, music, for better or worse, played a major part in the game production.
The offspring of former Twins, Rick Oliva (son of Tony) and Maria Versalies (daughter of Zolio) performed a stunning rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as Oliva picked an acoustic guitar. In terms of national anthems that I’d experienced live, only the fan reaction to a performance at Chicago’s United Center before a Blackhawks game even held a candle to the subtle showing that Oliva and Versalies put forth.
Lastly, and some would say most importantly, the food at Target Field was outstanding.
Having not had lunch after taking off from Fort Frances after getting Friday’s Daily Bulletin cranked out, I felt entitled to sample more than one booth. The sausage calzone ($8) was a little bit bigger than a Pillsbury Pizza Pop, but with a much better, fresher flavour. Marinara dipping sauce never hurts things either.
Later in the game, I opted for a pair of tacos ($5) that were filled with mouth-melting ground beef as the expected taco toppings (lettuce, tomato, cheese) sat perched atop. The optional sides of jalapenos and salsa added a welcome kick for a fan of a little zing like me.
Washing all of that down with a local Grain Belt Premium ($7.50) was a much, much better option than the other options of Budweiser and Michelob (though I admittedly have a predisposition towards microbreweries and away from national brands when possible). The buzzword around beer these days is “drinkability” and the Grain Belt was extremely, well, drinkable, smooth and tasty.
Traveling to and from the game through public transit was relatively easy and inexpensive, at the Metro Transit’s light rail Hiawatha Line offered a park-and-ride option from near the Mall of America in Bloomington for a $4 round trip.
The tram was a little crowded, and it was a bit of a slow option both ways as it still had to stop at red lights downtown, but it was still a better option than driving, especially considering that a round-trip on a Winnipeg Transit bus runs $4.50.
The only qualms with the overall experience were minor ones, most notably when there was some confusion trying to get down to the second deck after the game, as one of the two escalators was still running ‘up’, and a staff member temporarily prevented fans from using the single ‘down’ escalator, even though it still appeared to be running.
The one other nitpicky thing was that PA announcer Adam Abrams, who has been in the position since 2006, lacks the presence and charisma of his predecessor, Bob Casey. Abrams just slid into the background of the game and was barely noticeable at times.
He certainly has big shoes to fill replacing the affable Casey and may not be keen to tread that territory again, but a little more personality, even a la Winnipeg Goldeyes voice Ron Arnst, would have been welcome.
The nosebleeds in section 302, where we were situated, didn’t exactly induce epistaxis, but it was difficult trying to pick up the ball at certain angles. Both my dad and I were convinced that several balls were being hit to left field when they ended up in right.
Because of the lack of depth perception, I stood up and cheered when it looked like a Twins’ blast would be clearing the left field wall, but eventually landed well short of even the warning track in right field. I slunk back down like an idiot.
Though the home team wasn’t able to put any home runs over the wall, Friday’s game was still an excellent showcase of the beautiful, and delicious-smelling, new park, thankfully inhabited by a talented, and admittedly less delicious-smelling team looking for its second-consecutive division championship and first World Series title since 1991.
Wouldn’t that be a way to ring in the new park?

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