If you build it, they will come. Especially if you build it outdoors, using the same architectural firm that designed Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Pittsburgh's PNC Park, and San Francisco's AT&T Park. And, most importantly, especially if you build it on mostly their - the taxpayers - dime.
I'd like to take this opportunity and thank the taxpayers of Hennepin County, Minnesota. If the Minnesota Legislature, and the taxpayers, hadn't agreed to pick up the tab for $350-million of the estimated $545-million it cost to build Minneapolis's new Target Field, there's no way local hero Joe Mauer remains a Minnesota Twin; there's no way he signs a mammoth $184-million extension. And you know what that would have meant, right? With Jason Varitek reduced to nothing but a laughing stock in Boston (there's no way he keeps up those 2010 numbers; no way!), and New York's Jorge Posada nearing the end of what is surely a Cooperstown-worthy career, Joe Mauer would have joined one of the Evil Empires. There's simply no doubt about it in my mind. One of the Yankees or Red Sox would have made it rain, like it has never rained before on a catcher, over Mauer.
Thank you, Hennepin County taxpayers. As much as I would have enjoyed watching Joe Mauer on an unbalanced schedule basis, thank you kindly for keeping him out of the American League East. He's all yours. You're paying his salary. Enjoy him.
Tucked in the Warehouse District in west downtown Minneapolis, Target Field is ... pure. Perhaps because she's new, and I because I visited in her inaugural season. (Get your mind out of the gutter.) But also perhaps because, no matter the weather, she's outdoors. And, by all accounts, the residents of the Twin Cities love her. Here's Minnesota Twins fan Alex, on his team's new home:
"Twins fans have a love-hate relationship with the Metrodome. It was our ticket to two World Series but was really a football stadium. Nothing about it had any connection to baseball; anything Twins related had to be removable since it was mixed use. Target Field oozes Twins and the team's history. My favourite part of Target Field is that it doesn't do anything ridiculous; no mascot slide, no hot tub in centre field. It's very focused on the game. It's not generic, either. The limestone is all quarried from Minnesota and makes the park unmistakable."
It rained steadily during my stay at Target Field; all game, just about. But it didn't matter. Another Twins fan who was also making his first trip to the new ballpark said it best:
"Sure, it's raining. But who cares? We're outside. We love baseball in Minnesota. And we love the Twins. But I think we forgot that the game was meant to be played outdoors. It's great. Everything about this place is just great."
The sightlines are, as I'm sure you figured, fantastic. Thirty-two dollars gets you a seat in left field on the third base side, just a few rows from the grass. Real grass. There are bleachers in left and right field, Minnie and Paul's Celebration Sign in centre field, and even heating lamps, which I must say are fantastic, at the entrance to each section. There's even a charging station in the spacious main concourse for when you've Tweeted away the battery life on your mobile phone. Yep, it's official: they've thought of everything.
You know my 15 minutes of #TBRTOAL fame? They'll be over soon. So I'm going to cherish the moments, like when local Minneapolis television news station Kare11 interviewed me about my journey during the game at Target Field.
The Little Things
I'm a simple man. It doesn't take much to please me, and I'm easily satisfied. And it's the little things at Target Field that left me thinking that "Minnesota" and "contraction" will never be spoken in the same sentence again.
The gates at Target Field are numbered. Like any other stadium, you'd think. But it's a bit different. Gates #3, #6, #14, #29, and #34. In honour of Twins legends Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek, Rod Carew, and the one and only Kirby Puckett. There's also a Gate #42, for the great Jackie Robinson. Perhaps I missed something like this in stadiums I've already visited, but what a fantastic idea. The next time you're meeting a friend at SkyDome, how would you like to say: "Meet me at Gate Stieb"? Or "Gate Key, 6 p.m."? Or "Gate Henke," or "Gate Alomar," or "Gate Fernandez"? You get the idea. The possibilities are endless. And, no, we wouldn't be copying the Twins. We'd be imitating the Twins. And imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.
There's also Target Plaza. Magnificent Target Plaza, which is essentially a park that sits beyond right field. It's there where you'll find larger than life statues of Puckett, Killebrew, and Carew. Carew's statue impressed me the most, his batting stance captured perfectly. That's not all; there's also Tradition Wall, with the names of every player to have ever put on a Twins jersey.
The rain was falling steadily when I was out in the Plaza in the 8th inning. And I was simply in awe. So much so that I realized, after the game, that I didn't take a single picture while I was out there. Not of any of the statues, or of Tradition Wall. Epic #TBRTOAL fail. You'll have to use trusty Google. Or, better yet, plan a trip to Minneapolis.
The combination of rain and a steadily dropping temperature from 52 degrees at first pitch sent us, the friends whom I was with at the game, to Hrbek's restaurant and bar. You'll find it on the main concourse, behind home plate, near the former first baseman's gate. We certainly weren't the only ones seeking refuge, and the place was packed. With televisions lining the walls, it was a great spot to eat and watch a few innings. I'd recommend the Walleye Fingers on the menu. Nails. And, trust me, with a large patio as well as a spacious indoor eating area, Hrbek's will be bumping once the weather gets a bit better.
Of course, it got me thinking. About Windows Restaurant. Forget that; how about Carter's? Or Alomar's Alley? There's got to be a better name than Windows Restaurant. And, to my knowledge, nothing has replaced the Hard Rock Cafe that closed its SkyDome doors after 20 years last season. The opportunities most definitely exist for Toronto to become a much better place to watch a ball game. Wake up, Toronto Blue Jays; wake up Rogers. I'm begging ya.
I'd been searching for microbrewery baseball heaven. And I found it at Target Field. The taps in the washroom, they flow with local beer. Fine, they don't, really, but wouldn't that be something? Judging by what's available at the ballpark, Minnesotans love to drink beer. At least the ones I was hanging out with, anyway. Here's your list; read it and weep: St. Paul's Summit Maibock, and Summit Extra Pale Ale; Finnegans Irish Amber, brewed in Minneapolis; Schell's Premium Grain Belt, hailing from New Ulm, Minnesota; Surly, also from Minneapolis; and, last but certainly not least, from neighbouring Wisconsin, Leinenkugel's and Rush River.
A Minnesota Brew will cost you $6.50, while draft beer will run you $7. But, with all those microbrew possibilities, you wouldn't disappoint me and go with a draft. My advice: try them all. You're only in Minnesota once.
Nights to Remember
Although my stay at Target Field was a short one, the game between Baltimore and Minnesota lasting only two hours and 17 minutes, I had a blast. (And the Orioles won! On guaranteed win night in Minneapolis!) After 28 years in the Metrodome, that dump, with its absurd garbage bag in right field and baseball stealing ceiling, the Twins, and their fans, are most deserving of their new digs.
But, you see, #TBRTOAL is not only about baseball. It's mostly about baseball, but not all about the beautiful game. It's about the new friends I'm making, and the old friends I'm able to see along the way. My stop in Minneapolis was a perfect example. Another boyhood friend of mine, Kunal, now calls the city home, and the two of us go way back. Once upon a time, we joined forces to become the greatest recreational doubles tennis tandem Toronto had ever seen. Forced to wait for the Milwaukee Brewers to return to Wisconsin, I was once again taken in by great friends, this time Kunal and Courtney, given a set of keys, and allowed to treat their home as mine. Thank you, guys. Especially for the Indian food, Courtney. I had a hankering for some home cooking. I'm indebted to you both.
It was fantastic to catch up and, as you can see from the picture below, good times were had. I don't anticipate ever laughing that hard again in my life.