Spring can’t come too soon to the Upper Midwest. That’s always true, of course, but especially this year, as the Minnesota Twins open their 2010 pennant drive in brand-new Target Field. Baseball fans here are giddy with excitement. The team will be good, despite losing closer Joe Nathan for the season to elbow surgery. And despite not having signed superstar catcher Joe Mauer to the anticipated ten-year deal; not yet, anyway.
This preview offers a suitably optimistic assessment of the team’s prospects. We’ve added Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy and Jim Thome to our already-strong lineup. Sure, there are always things that could go wrong. Like Justin Morneau’s back. Like the starting pitching, which looks solid; but then, it did at this time last year, too.
But even if the Twins don’t win their division, which would be an upset, it will be a fun season. Because the Twins are just a fun team. In the gym last night I read a Sports Illustrated article about a phenom catcher named Matt Wieters, who is about to play his first full season in the majors for the Baltimore Orioles. The article was effusive–Wieters’ college teammates nicknamed him “God”–and suggested that Wieters is following in Joe Mauer’s footsteps. Maybe. But Wieters is 23. Mauer is 26, and he’s won three AL batting titles and an MVP award.
A lot of the excitement surrounding the Twins centers on Target Field, which will open the regular season on April 12. Target Field has been dubbed “the coolest ballpark in America.” High praise, but if you read the linked article from Twin Cities Business magazine, you may be persuaded.
One thing is for sure: there will be days when Target Field is the coldest park in MLB. The younger generation, reared on the unlamented HHH Metrodome, doesn’t remember the April days when 1,000 brave fans wore down parkas to Twins games at the old Met, occasionally watching the action through flurries of snow. They used to spray-paint the dirt green to make it look as though the grass was up. Night games in September got cold, too.
But no one here in Minnesota is thinking about that. The field at the new park is heated, so snow will melt, and a remarkable drainage system will make the grass field playable in all but the heaviest downpours. Plus, the concourses are heated so the fans needn’t be cold, even if the players are.
From a construction standpoint, the Target Field project was remarkable. It is built on a tiny plot of horrible soil–so bad that the stadium doesn’t rest, structurally, on the soil at all:
Steel pipes, 10 inches in diameter, were driven 100 feet down to bedrock, then filled with concrete. This isn’t wildly unusual, [M. A. Mortenson project manager Dan] Mehls says, except for the number of them, which was 3,300–more than 62 miles of pipe–and the fact that it took six months to drive them all. Target Field actually sits on those columns. You could dig out 100 feet of dirt from beneath the stadium, Mehls says, and it would just stand there.
Not only that, the park is squeezed amid highways and railroad tracks, next to the county’s garbage burner. Target Field may be the country’s most legitimately urban ballpark:
Nevertheless, it is a thing of beauty:
The season can’t begin soon enough. In the meantime, maybe this will tide us over–the Twins’ song, one of the best in major league sports, I think. Unfortunately, the original version of the song, dating to 1961, can’t be found anywhere on the web. This is the “jazzy” 1980s version, but you can still get the idea:
We can also daydream about highlights of Twins seasons past. Rod Carew was one of the Twins’ greatest stars; the new park has giant art works, portraits of Carew and Kirby Puckett etched into wood. I think I once saw Carew steal home, but memory is tricky and I can’t be sure. Once, he stole home twice in the same game:
And, of course, we can reminisce about Game 6, the occasion of the only paranormal experience I’ve ever had, far away in Munich, Germany. Here in the Upper Midwest, no explanation is necessary. It’s just Game 6:
Spring can’t come soon enough. Despite unseasonably warm temperatures and plenty of rain, the snow pile in the street in front of my house is still six feet high.