Forty-eight years of baseball memories have yielded so much.
I set foot in fourteen Major League Baseball homes. Each one still has a lingering effect on me. Some of these places no longer have their respective teams playing there anymore.
It is one home team that had been a goldmine of memories since 2004 – the Minnesota Twins. Between two ballparks were a trove of memories that were never experienced elsewhere. My first time there was the first indoor baseball experience ever. Later that year, I attended my first Postseason game ever – the 2004 American League Division Series with the New York Yankees that lead to the Twins elimination that year.
In 2009, we all thought we were done with the Metrodome. Target Field was to open the following April, but those Twins were a tenacious bunch. They forced Game 163 with the Detroit Tigers. In the bottom of the 12th Inning, Alexi Castilla drove home Carlos Gomez to send the Twins back into the Postseason. The Metrodome remained open after that for the ALDS. I am proud to say that I was there – my greatest baseball memory ever.
Then came 2010. Target Field was a squeaky clean ballpark without a roof. It was built compactly maximizing the space to improve concourse traffic and provide premium areas never seen at the Metrodome. I celebrated the Twins’ new home, as they gave us a season to remember. I took in five games that first season – each one providing a great experience in a brand spanking new ballpark.
Target Field would also host my first All Star Game experience. The 2014 game would be remembered as Derek Jeter’s final appearance at the Midsummer Classic. With a group of fellow automotive media and some Chevrolet staffers, we enjoyed something I never thought possible in my life – right inside my home ballpark.
This year yielded another personal first – the home opener. In 48 years, I have never been to one.
This came a week after the MLB began their regular season. The Twins started their 2018 campaign on the road in Baltimore. We waited a week after the Twins played five games against the Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates, bringing home a 3-2 record coming into the home opener.
The wait was over, but not without some climatic insanity. The day began with sunshine, but with sub-freezing temperatures. There had been postponements this season elsewhere due to snow and rain. Our weather forecasters had us on edge because of predictions of both on a cold Thursday afternoon. Yet, the sun kept on shining through the first few innings while maintaining temperatures above the freezing mark. With some wind, it got a bit chilly up in my upper level seat.
Why did I wait 48 years to attend a home opener? Opportunity, timing…who knows? Consider the places I called home: Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Washington, DC, Madison…not every place had an MLB franchise when I lived there. Nor has the home teams in those other places had tickets available for their home openers. The Dodgers always sold out in the days of Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda. The Angels were not a priority at our household. The Giants and A’s – I wasn’t making that kind of money then.
The “sold out” case was mostly true in the case of the Twins. It was early on for the Metrodome and the Target Field. Yet, when I got to this year’s Twins Fest, they were selling tickets to the home opener. I lucked out and got a ticket. I felt like I was a kid again.
The home opener is a celebration of the game. It is a spectacular that introduced us to our home team and the temper of the new season. If you won the World Series, it was about the trophies, the rings, the banners – fanfare and celebration! If one of your greatest ballplayers passed away prior to the home opener, it was a memorial and a celebration of a hero’s life. The New York Mets and the Toronto Blue Jays had those moments this year with Rusty Staub and Roy Halladay, respectively.
The feeling of walking into your home ballpark is an unrivaled experience for a baseball fan. Yet, I questioned why there is a comfortable feeling walking into Target Field in contrast to the former home ballparks of my younger years. I never felt like being truly at home at Dodger Stadium, Anaheim Stadium, Candlestick Park, and the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Nor did I have any stake in the action when I walked into Camden Yards or Miller Park. I only had reverence to give walking into Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and Wrigley Field. I only felt like I was just passing through when I walked into Rogers Centre, Qualcomm Stadium, and U.S. Cellular Field.
Some of the names have changed. Some teams have left these buildings. Memories may have been turned to dust.
There is still Target Field and the Minnesota Twins that keep this baseball fan engaged with the game. This was demonstrated on Opening Day to an extent. You go early to get some food and catch the ceremonies to kick off the season. In our case, we had a memorial video to honor those who have passed within the Twins family and other key figures throughout baseball. I did well up when Dick Enberg was shown on the screen.
The ceremonial first pitch was the most fun I have seen in a while. The Twins brought out the USA Men’s Curling team who won Gold medals at this recent Winter Olympics on Pyeongchang. They wore their Olympic team parkas, which they revealed their own Twins jerseys underneath. This while the sun was shining, and the temperatures went just above the freezing mark for the first pitch.
There was one indication that this home opener would not like the others. Towards the end of the National Anthem sung by local artist Dessa, they released an American Bald Eagle named Challenger. Instead of returning back to where the eagle flew or to the handler down on the field, Challenger landed on the visiting Seattle Mariners starting pitcher James Paxton. I have never seen that before – and, I have to admit, it was quite funny. It’s not every day that you have an eagle land on your shoulder – especially if you’re the starting pitcher.
The game went on with the Mariners taking an early 2-0 lead. The Twins clawed back late, punctuated by home runs from Miguel Sano (in the sixth, scoring two RBIs), Mitch Garver (in the seventh), and Eddie Rosario (in the eighth). All told, Fernando Rodney got his save to finish up a Twins 4-2 victory over Seattle.
This first-ever personal home opener was not about wins, losses, home runs, and those fancy sabermetrics that permeate today’s ballgame. It is about the experience. It is also a civic duty to be there for the local ballclub.
This is a dream come true.