Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Evening baseball at Target Field is cool. Ballpark temperatures last night were not. The sticky heat is actually a bonus, I thought, as I happily wandered the concourse with my husband prior to the game.

At the time we were on the prowl for food. Getting to the park early, shuttled there by one of the convenient Express buses, and having a bite to eat onsite before finding your seats, is part of the package deal for many of us.

"This is great," I thought. "It's real summer baseball." The light wrap brought along was obviously not going to be needed. There was no reason to reach for a sweater, which is often appreciated when temperatures drop with sundown this close to September.

The sun slid away, leaving shadow in the stands. A plane flew overhead. It diverted my attention from the game, going badly for the Twins. It was 4-0 in the first inning. The Baltimore Orioles were taking a decisive lead.

"This is the same as last time we were here," we groaned. We slumped back in numbed silence. We're having sheer bad luck in our choices of games to attend. Absence of victory when we go explains why it's been awhile since our last game.

Following the slim line of the plane out of sight I commented on how neat to be on that plane right now. It must be awesome to peer out your window and realize you're looking directly down into a night baseball game.

From your window seat the action is briefly all yours. It's ball under the night lights. You likely have the rush of one who gets in through the gates for free. The playing field is green and manicured for the precision moves which wins depend upon. In the stands there appears to be a sea of navy and red. Ah, the faithful fans!

Navy and red, the colors of the Twins team, are worn by many fans, generally as tee-shirts with player numbers on them. Little kids come with their Twins baseball caps. You look around and there's someone you recognize. Then it sinks in. It's the #7 or #33 or #41, numbers widely seen on fan jerseys, that gives a block party feel to the parade of humanity around you.

As the game went on there wasn't much to cheer about. Lester Oliveros, the new guy traded for Delmon Young, proved to have solid stuff in his pitching. There was a double play or two which we spontaneously applauded (needing no help from the electronic prompters). Closer Joe Nathan came in and competently closed down the 8th inning. That was about it.

Fortunately a losing effort at the ballpark can be recompensed to some degree by other things. The three-ring circus, once Barnum & Bailey's domain, has moved to the modern ball game. Fan favorites like Circle Me Bert perk up the crowd. We rally at the cheerful (and loud) promotional and advertising fill-ins. It makes me surmise that fans aren't so much fickle as starved for any feel-good emotion they can get.

The highlight of the game for me was having my picture taken with Tony Oliva. It'll take someone else to explain who he is. I'm unsure as to his position on the Twins staff. But if you're a Minnesota Twins fan he needs no introduction.

I'll call him a goodwill ambassador for our team. He's unbeatable in his courtesy, his integrity, his accessibility and for his undisputed place at the heart of the Twins franchise since its beginning years in Minnesota.

The Twins arrived here when I was a youngster. Neighborhood pals Jim and Bill were wild about the new team from Washington D.C. They were the Senators there. Here they were our Minnesota Twins. They took their name from the twin cities of St. Paul (state capital) and Minneapolis (largest city).

The two brothers talked a lot about the Twins. My siblings and I got acquainted with the new team through them. Foremost in their adulation, as I recall, was Harmon Killebrew. (The Hall of Famer died of esophageal cancer this past May.)

We came to know Jim Kaat, Earl Battey, Bob Allison, Camille Pascual. And then, later, there was this rookie by the name of Tony Oliva.

Tony O he was affectionately called. Whether the nickname was given him by the press, or this is how the neighbor boys referred to him, it's by this pleasing moniker that I think of him. They were all heroes of Metropolitan Stadium, the Twins field at Bloomington, the largest suburb.

It's possible these two brothers never attended a Twins game. We certainly didn't. My first game was at the Metrodome. This was well after it was built.

Folks didn't travel much out of their area then. Not even for a baseball game when you lived that far away.

Radio was best friend to fans from a distance. Announcers, describing every play vividly and in detail, and with consummate zest for the game, were about as important as the players to the legions of baseball radio listeners. Baseball was on TV but it wasn't the means by which those we knew kept track of the scores.

The Minnesota Twins bridged differences between the small town/rural experience and the metro region. It brought us all closer at a time when the interstate system had yet to be built. The baseball team helped form a new Upper Midwest alliance. This entity had less to do with geography than with pride through the power of sports.

I didn't think of any of this as Tony Oliva gamely posed with me, as he did with others, all basking in his greatness as we stood alongside him for that one quick shot. But it's there in my smile. And awareness of his part in establishing Twins Territory, I believe, is there in his kind eyes.

Ro Giencke - August 24, 2011

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