As the game time approaches, the sun seems a little brighter, the sky a little bluer, the grass a shade greener. Once the game begins, the ball hops off the bat with an especially sharp crack, the pitches seem to have more zip and whir-r-r than ever and the fielders move with a unique combination of grace and energy. In the stands, the beer is crisp and cold and the hot dogs steam in the cool of early spring. The fans cheer on their old and new heroes and follow this opening contest with pennant race intensity – the most intense among them logging each play in the new season’s first scorecard. Baseball Is Back!
Baseball Roundtable … March 26, 2013
April 13 was the Minnesota Twins 2015 (Home) Opening Day and, as usual, the Twins did it up right – to a point.
BBRT note: The Twins came into their home opener six games into the season and already five games out of first place, so the level of optimism may not have been quite as prevalent as at some earlier Minnesota home openers – but the excitement surrounding the thought that Baseball Is Back still ran high.
As is tradition, the day started with free breakfast on the Twins Plaza – and what says spring and baseball more than hot dogs, chips and ice cream in the morning, especially when accompanied by blue skies, plenty of sunshine and Twins’ mascot TC the Bear. Breakfast was served from 6-9 a.m., with additional festivities (music and concessions) planned on the Plaza and at the Target Field (light rail) Station beginning at noon The Plaza started to fill up before noon (the gates opened at 1 p.m.) – with nearby eating and drinking establishments, as well as parking lots, drawing big crowds even earlier. (A word of advice from BBRT, when the Twins have a sell out – and this game was sold out – on a work day, get downtown early if you don’t want to spend some time looking for parking.)
The mood was festive, with most of the crowd outfitted in Twins-identified gear, concessions stands on the Plaza doing a brisk business and DJ Madigan spinning plenty of upbeat tunes from the balcony above the crowd. (The mood would later go from festive to restive, but we’ll get to that. Let’s enjoy the moment for now.) Photos with the various statues of Twins’ heroes or sitting in the “big glove” seemed the order of the day.
By one p.m., the Plaza was full of happy fans waiting for another Target Field Opening Day tradition, the opening of the gates by Twins’ legends. What better way to enter the ballpark then through a gate opened that day by the likes of Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek or Tom Kelly? To top it off, once you got past the metal detectors, you were handed a free Twins hooded sweatshirt – a true Minnesota-focused promotion. For a look at BBRT’s post on 2015 Twins’ promotions (and some unique items other teams are giving away), click here. Day one of the 81-game home season was off to a great start.
Once inside the ballpark, fans rushed not to find their seats, but rather to secure a seat or place in line at one of Target Field’s many food and beverage locations. From Hrbek’s to Barrio to the Town Ball Tavern and from Red Cow to Kramarczuk’s to Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen, they were all kept busy – and for good reason, the food and drink options at Target Field remain exceptional. (For BBRT’s recent post on 2015’s new Target Field food and beverage offerings click here.)
I made my way to Hrbek’s, where the new College Daze Bloody Mary – garnished with everything from cheese to pepperoncini to a slice of pepperoni pizza – was proving quite popular. It seemed mandatory to have your picture taken with the new drink before consuming it. I’m sure social media, like the tip of the pizza slice, was saturated. My pre-game choice was the Shrimp Corn Dogs – jumbo shrimp (served on skewers) fried in jalapeno corn batter with a Chili Lime Aioli for dipping ($15). Great shrimp flavor, just enough “zing” and a complementary tart sauce; and light enough to leave room for the obligatory Opening Day (old school) hot dog later in the day.
Then, with my freshly purchased scorecard in hand, I went in search of my seat – Section 213, Row 1, Seat 14 – and was pleasantly surprised. I was just to the right of home plate, second deck, first row; and the view of the field was great. It was also, particularly for Minnesota, a perfect day for an Opener. Game time temps above 60 degrees, sunny, clear blue sky with just enough clouds to give it some depth. And, as always seems to be the case on Opening Day, the grass was crisp green, the batting practice balls stark white and all the colors in the stadium (logos, bunting, base lines, etc.) especially vibrant.
As we all waited for game time, we enjoyed: a brief performance by recording artist Shawn Mendes; the introduction of both teams (players, coaches, videographers, trainers, etc.); the National Anthem (actress and singer Greta Oglesby), with two American Bald Eagles from the Minnesota Raptor Center present and a follow-up flyover by a pair of Minnesota Air National Guard F-16 fighters.
BBRT would note here that the largest ovation during the introductions went to Torii Hunter (starting in right field), returning to the Twins after seven years (Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers). The 39-year-old Hunter previously starred in center field for Minnesota (six-time Gold Glove winner and two-time All Star while with the Twins) and the team won four division titles during his tenure. The fans clearly loved his style and his smile – and the applause intensified when this quote from the returning Twin appeared on the scoreboard: “This is where I need to be. This is home to me.”
BBRT: Hunter’s popularity was also evidenced by the large number of new and old “Hunter – 48” jerseys in the crowd. Sitting next to me were a father and son (about 2 ½ years old) in matching new (no pin stripes, the little extra gold trim) Hunter home jerseys. Although, I must say, the youngster cheered loudest for his personal hero – Brian Dozier.
Notably, another returnee to the Twin Cities joined Hunter in throwing out the first pitch, as the crowd welcomed back the newest Timberwolves’ player Kevin Garnett – a member of the T-Wolves during their most successful seasons and now back with Minnesota after playing with the Boston Celtics (2007-13) and Brooklyn Nets (2013-15). Note: Garnett was a member of the Timberwolves from 1995-2007); and a ten-time All Star and NBA MVP (2004) during that time. Minnesotan Tyus Jones, who recently helped lead Duke to the NCAA National Basketball Championship, delivered the baseball to Garnett on the mound, and Garnett threw the ceremonial first pitch to Hunter. All three hometown heroes received rousing ovations – and the pre-game excitement continued to ratchet up.
I won’t go into much detail about the game – a 12-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals – it’s been well dissected in the traditional and social media. Let’s just say it started out pretty well for the home team, with the Twins scoring first (Kenny Vargas singling home the doubling Brian Dozier with two outs in the bottom of the first); was fairly crisply played over the first five frames (Twins trailing 2-1 after five); got a little shaky in the sixth, with starting pitcher Trevor May giving up a single and two doubles to the first three hitters and Hunter making a throwing error (still, after seven innings the Twins were down by only 5-3); came completely unraveled in the eighth inning, when Minnesota used four pitchers and Kansas City scored six runs on two hits, three walks, two hit batsmen, an error and a passed ball. Ouch! It was at this time that the fans – many heading for the exits – finished the move from festive to restive. Needless to say, it was pretty quiet – and a bit lonely – in the bottom of the ninth.
Fortunately, in baseball you don’t have a lot of time to dwell on today’s loss (or celebrate a win). Unfortunately, the Twins have an off day today (Tuesday), but tomorrow they’ll be back at it and working to right the ship. And, we’ll all have to keep in mind, it’s early and there is always something to see (and, these days, eat and drink) at the ballpark. For example, yesterday Twins’ third baseman Trevor Plouffe started a nifty 5-4-3 double play to end the fourth inning and homered to lead off the bottom of the seventh. The simple fact is “Baseball Is Back” and we should all enjoy it!
Now, just so I don’t leave my Twins fan readers sharing only the frustration of a 12-3 loss. Here are a trio of events from the first week of the season that caught BBRT’s attention:
- On April 7, Oakland 3B Brett Lawrie had a tough night. Lawrie came to the plate four times in the A’s 3-1 loss to the Rangers and struck out four times – on a total of just twelve pitches. Lawrie faced three different pitchers, had a nice balance of six called strikes and six swinging strikes and whiffed on a combination of one fastball (the first pitch he faced), three curves and eight sliders. His final swinging strike also marked the final out of the contest.
- TheYankees-Red Sox game of April 10 really aged New York first baseman Mark Teixeira. The 19-inning game started at 7:05 p.m. on Friday (April 10) and ended at 2:13 a.m. on Saturday (April 11). Teixeira (born on April 11, 1980) started the game as a 34-year-old, and finished it at age 35.
- On Saturday April 11, Arizona Diamonbacks’ rookie pitcher Archie Bradley – in his first-ever MLB appearance – drew the unenviable task of facing reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers. Bradley pitched six shutout innings for the victory (one hit, four walks, six strikeouts). You might think a rookie beating the reigning Cy Young Award winner in his first start is what attracted BBRT’s attention, but that would be wrong. Bradley was the fifth rookie pitcher to make his first MLB start against a reigning CYA winner and the fourth to earn a victory. What got BBRT’s attention was Bradley’s single off Kershaw in bottom of the second inning. Since Bradley didn’t give up a hit until the fourth inning, the young pitcher actually collected his first major league before he gave up his first major league hit. I like that kind of stuff.