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I suspect a tradition was born in August 2014 when I got around to crossing Target Field off of my list. Since my 2006 visit to the current iteration of Busch Stadium, the moment when I had been to all 30 current ballparks, 4 new ballparks had opened: Minnesota, Miami, and two in New York. Of those, Target Field was the easiest to get away to visit, and I had college buddy Matt there to shack up with. My wife was kind enough to take sole parenting duties for four and a half days while I went. Matt’s wife was out of town. And fellow college buddy Rob was also released by his wife to join us. Net result: a mini reunion. Thanks, awesome wives. In fact, Rob’s wife suggested we make it an annual event. We just might…talks are already underway to attend 2015 Arizona Fall League games. So, yeah, here’s to old friends and awesome wives who understand the value of old friends.
So I got off the plane and was at Target Field not too long thereafter, where along with Rob and Matt, I met the exceedingly pleasant Mike Menner, the founder of Fiesta Del Beisbol. Every year, I hear wonderful things about friends getting together and enjoying baseball in Minnesota, and every year, I feel like I’m missing out by not going. But meeting Mike at a separate baseball event was an even better deal. He took me around Target Field with a deep knowledge of the ballpark and an approach to what makes a ballpark great very similar to mine.
That approach: love of the local. And Target Field does love of the local as well as literally any ballpark I have ever attended. Sure, there are the statues of Twins greats leading into the ballpark. I’ve seen enough statues at other ballparks that they’re almost a prerequisite. While not as beautiful as the sculptures at Comerica Park (which are among the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen), Target Field added a touch to the sculptures that seemed to localize them even more. Rather than proto-Homeric statements about heroism explaining the statues, the captions were (in most cases) simply quotes from the player depicted himself. So that’s what greets us as we enter the stadium.
Next, the Town Ball Tavern. I honestly cannot think of more lovely tribute to local baseball than that place. Rather than focusing on the Twins or on their minor league predecessors, the place focuses on local ball—American Legion-level stuff. And it is beautiful. The photos on the wall of the old, local ballparks. And the memorabilia in there is exactly the kind of thing I’m a sucker for. Old scorebooks and programs from amateur and barely-pro teams from Edina, Eden Prairie, Duluth, Moorhead…stories of guys I’d never heard of and fans who cared about them. And all of this happening as I stood on the basketball floor once used by the Minneapolis Lakers. If there weren’t a game going on, I’d have stared at that memorabilia for hours upon end. The ballpark hooked me there.
Also: the art. Mike took me to a somewhat off-the-beaten-path spot with art representing all 30 current MLB stadiums. The artist got it right with nearly every ballpark. I’m glad someone else noticed the coolness of the toothbrush-style lights at Progressive (nee Jacobs) Field. And I think it’s a bit of a negative that the characteristic the artist selected as the most individual about my home ballpark, Safeco Field, was that stupid roof—the most unappealing part of it, at least as I see it. But again, I found myself slowing down—way down—to enjoy that art. Score another for Target Field.
Two days later, I learned the benefits of having friends who persuade people for a living. Matt and yet-another college buddy, John, kinda got into a competition over who was the most silver-tongued, and I was the beneficiary. The result was almost unconscionably fun.
It all started with my own weaknesses. I wanted to see one relatively-exclusive area that my ticket would not allow me in. So I went up to the usher guarding the place.
ME: “Excuse me. Is it possible for me just to go in there and take some photos?”
USHER: “No. Sorry. This area is for only those with tickets to go there.”
ME: “Okay. Thanks.”
This is why I cannot have a job as an attorney or (God forbid) a salesman. I just don’t have any desire to extend that conversation.
Thankfully, Matt heard what I said and proclaimed me to be comically weak. “You’ve really got to sell yourself,” he said. “I think you’re selling yourself well short.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, I think I can get you into the Delta Club.”
The Delta Club was a place that Mike had told us about two nights earlier…a place for the muckety-mucks to spend their money, a place with fabulous memorabilia—exactly what I wanted most. And Matt thought he could get me there? Well, let’s see how it works. We approached the usher. I kept my mouth shut and let Matt get to work.
“Hi! This is my friend Paul. Paul is a nationally-known baseball blogger who travels around the country writing about and photographing baseball parks. He’s here this weekend visiting Target Field. Is there any way you can let us into the Delta Club so he can take some photos?”
Oh…so THAT’S how it’s done! I think it was in the “nationally-known.” I suppose I was. Just in that group of friends, I could prove that I was known in both Idaho and Minnesota. Plus, I know myself…that’s Washington! And who knows what state you’re in, friendly and kind reader of these words! That’s a fourth state!
Needless to say, the sorts of Twins stuff in there continued to emphasize what Target Field does best: a celebration of Minnesota baseball history. It’s no surprise to see the Hall of Famers in there: Puckett, Carew, Killebrew. But I always like it a little better when I find Tom Brunansky or Gary Gaetti around there. I squinted at Puckett’s contract. I checked out a K-Tel produce for Carew. I examined Brunansky’s jersey. I photographed everything through glass cases. And my friends trailed me throughout, fellow beneficiaries of Matt’s persuasive phrase-making. It shifts the focus from baseball history to Twins history, and that’s the best I can find. In fact, the Twins history was live and in the flesh on this day: Tony Oliva was enjoying lunch before the game (no, I didn’t take a photo…felt weird and stalkerish to do that, even as a nationally-known baseball blogger).
Great night, right? Well, John couldn’t be shown up.
See, John is a lawyer, and he couldn’t let Matt (who advocates for underdogs for a living–he is one of my life role models) show him up in the persuasive-speaking department. We had ourselves a genuine, friendly competition going on (and I was the winner).
“Well, Paul, I know that the Twins’ World Series trophies are downstairs in the Champions’ Club. It’s the $500 a ticket place, but I think I can get you in.”
“I’ll just tell them that you’re a renowned baseball lifestyle blogger.”
I started laughing. “That doesn’t’ even mean anything!”
“I know it doesn’t. But it sounds good, doesn’t it?”
John went to work. He had to demonstrate Matt wasn’t the only one who could talk ballpark personnel into bending the rules for me. He headed to the Guest Services booth and asked to speak to someone from Media Relations, since he had a baseball lifestyle blogger with him. We waited a few minutes, and up walked Patrick Forsland, the affable and kind director of Guest Services for the Twins. John was ready.
By the way, my favorite part of what follows is the pause.
“Hi. This is my friend Paul Hamann. [Pause. A little longer than you might think.] He’s a baseball lifestyle blogger who writes about ballparks he travels to. Now, I want him to write a really good review of Target Field. You see, the last time he was in Minnesota was 21 years ago, and the Metrodome, as you see here [John produces his smartphone with my MLB ballpark ratings upon it], he has it ranked 41st out of 45. I think that Target Field is more likely to be at the top where it belongs if we could get him down to the Champions’ Club and show him the World Series trophies.”
Much to my delight, Patrick agreed. Next thing you know, we all were on the elevator headed down to the crème-de-la-crème of the Twin Cities elite, snapping photos of the World Series trophies.
I did like the Champions’ Club. It was strikingly similar to Safeco Field’s Diamond Club, where I spent the 2011 Dads Gone Wild with my friend Andrew. I guess I don’t like the concept of having the World Series trophies in a place where only the rich can see them: there must be a better way for all Twins fans to celebrate them regardless of their annual household income. Then again, I don’t think I’ve seen actual World Series trophies in any other ballparks; maybe the Reds had their 1990 trophy in their museum and I missed it? Or is it sitting around in a glass case in the team’s offices where fans can’t see it at all? So maybe it’s actually more accessible rather than less.
But the place had a nice twist: one could watch the team take cuts in the batting cage before the game through a glass cage in the restaurant area. It was quite nice. Anyway, this baseball lifestyle blogger can thank both his silver-tongued friends and Patrick for taking him down to the Club. Yes, it did impact the ranking. (A reminder to ballpark staff everywhere: I absolutely, 100% can be bought.)
So all of these local touches would mean nothing if the ballpark itself weren’t part and parcel with the locality—just putting these local perks inside the lamentable Metrodome would have done absolutely nothing for the ballpark there. But Target Field is fantastic, passing the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test even if I had never left my seat. The integration of the ballpark with downtown is seamless and beautiful; it fits right in with the indoor walkways that make the place famous. Midwestern down-hominess prevails, from an actual 50-50 raffle (haven’t seen one of those outside of a high school event before) and donuts for sale. As I waited through a rain delay at one game and a non-delay half-inning rain shower at another, I was able to enjoy the gorgeous pink sky that only a Midwestern rainstorm at dusk can provide. Not even the terrible baseball played by a bad Twins team (I saw them defeated thrice by the Royals in a year when the Royals seemed to be putting it all together) could counteract that.
And neither, of course, could going to games with my friends. Rob still leads the non-family division of most ballparks visited with me…Three Rivers, Wrigley, Kingdome, and now Target Field…and probably 10 minor league parks on top of that. And Matt and I sat there chatting about old times, including a spat of comparing notes on the positives and negatives (nothing disrespectful, I assure you) of our college-era exes. Matt noticed that one member of the elderly couple seated in front of us, trying not to show they were eavesdropping, wrote on her scorecard: “They’re talking about past relationships!” Ah, the Midwest. Nosy and passive-aggressive, and yet endearing in its own way.
And in the end, the positives and the pervasive Minnesota-ishness of the place carries the day. It’s one of the better ballpark experiences I’ve ever had—baseball-centered and Minnesota-centered, with all of the friendliness of the region as well as the friendliness of my actual friends. While I will be to many more ballparks with Matt and Rob and, I hope, John and new friend Mike, I’m not sure any of them will be as nice as Target Field.
BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:
2014 debutantes and eventual league champions Kansas City were in town for a four game series, of which I saw three. The Royals, in the midst of their historic and memorable ascension, took all three games I saw.
Josh Willingham, who had just been traded away from the Twins, provided a crucial bases-clearing double in the first game.
Six homers in a lamentable rain-delayed 12-6 Royals win in game two–Willingham had another.
Erik Kratz–whom I had seen win MVP of the 2010 AAA All-Star game–homered twice in the series finale.
A pair of saves for Greg Holland.