Target Field makes me happy.

Last year the upper midwest emerged from a 3-decade funk of watching baseball indoors in the world’s worst stadium. Yes, the Twins won two World Series at the Metrodome and created great excitement and community spirit in 1987 and 1991. But that was because of the teams, not the venue.

A few nights ago I went to a game by myself at our year-old ballpark, courtesy of a last minute cancellation and discount price offer of a friend with season tickets. (Thanks Rita!) I took the opportunity to just wander around for the whole game, sit in different sections all over the ballpark, take some pictures, and just let the sights, sounds and smells waft.

You can almost see the Metrodome from here - but who wants to? (photo by Steve Date)

I went to 3 games last year and fell in love with Target Field like just about everyone else. But last year the place was new — unfamiliar and unexplored. Monday night I felt like I spent some quality time with a new friend.

I’d never gone to a ballgame alone before and I enjoyed the experience in a whole new way. Not that I don’t like good conversation (because I do) but it was a chance to just look around and get to know the place. The baseball game seemed like a backdrop for the real event, which was the ballpark itself, and seeing how the people interact with it and with each other.

There were a lot of "#3s" on this night. Everyone who passed by paid their respects at the Harmon Killebrew statue. (photo by Steve Date)


Two young fans are thrilled to talk with Twins pregame co-host Anthony LaPanta. (photo by Steve Date)


I'm not sure if I wish I could be the kid or the dad. (photo by Steve Date)

The evening began with a tribute to Twins great Harmon Killebrew, who recently died of cancer (see previous post). There was a video and a moving moment when the entire Twins team surrounded the big #3 etched in the infield dirt as manager Ron Gardenhire gave a short speech about his hero and held Harmon’s jersey in the air.

Gardy and the current Twins team remember their mentor and friend, Harmon Killebrew. (photo by Steve Date)


She's too young to appreciate the importance of Harmon Killebrew to Twins fans, but when she's older, she'll remember being here on this night. (photo by Steve Date)


Everybody is #3 this week. (photo by Steve Date)

Right field (photo by Steve Date)

I think my favorite part of Target Field is the outfield — asymetrical, quirky and visually interesting from every angle. Little flower beds, an overhanging home run porch in right field, the iconic Twins-shaking-hands sign in center, the steep angular lines of the seats, the view of the Minneapolis skyline to the east — I can go on and on.

On this night, slugger Jim Thome returned from the disabled list with a vengeance and hit two homers – one a 465 foot monster that landed almost at Gate 34 in the right field plaza.

(photo by Steve Date)


Target Field gets even more beautiful as night falls. (photo by Steve Date)

The Twins were great last year, winning the division and providing us with a lot of excitement. This year they’re off to a slow start, to say the least. As I write this, the Twins have the worst winning percentage in major league baseball and are 14.5 games out of first place. But people are filling the ballpark every night and having a good time anyway. Why? Because they’re spending time together outdoors, in a place that is better than they had hoped for and which has quickly become much more than just a place to watch a baseball game.

My daughter Emily's long-time friend Kelsey Boesch (center) happened to be on the Kiss-Cam that night. You'll have to guess who she just kissed. (photo by Steve Date)


This night was all about Harmon Killebrew (photo by Steve Date)

Tomorrow night I’ll be back at Target Field with my daughter Lauren — Chicago’s biggest Twins fan and lover of Target Field. I can’t wait.

Lauren with her first Target Field Kramarczuk's brat last July. There will be more.

But in the longer term, I’m also looking forward to growing old together with my new friend — this wonderful place.

(To see more photos from this game, go to my Flickr set here.)

(photo by Steve Date)

Harmon Killebrew

The Minnesota Twins’ inaugural season began a few days after my 8th birthday. I knew nothing about baseball and neither did any of my friends, but we all signed up to play little league that spring. I still remember going to the registration night with my dad, new glove on my hand, as if we were going to hit the field right after we filled out the form.

I also brought my baseball glove on my first visit to Metropolitan Stadium a couple of months later. My memory tells me that the Twins beat the Kansas City Athletics 4-3 and Harmon Killebrew hit a home run. We sat in the 2nd deck on the first base side. You can probably look it up and prove me wrong, but it’s my memory and I’m sticking to it.

The Twins were Minnesota’s only major league team at the time — the Minneapolis Lakers had left for L.A two years earlier, and the Vikings wouldn’t arrive until September. We 8-year olds didn’t know squat about playing baseball, but we knew we had a big league ball club and the bonus was that it came with an established star player — Harmon Killebrew.

Harmon was never flashy, never cocky, never sexy. He and Minnesota were a perfect fit.

He was also not particularly large in stature, although he seemed like it to us kids. At 5’11”, and a bit over 200 lbs, other big hitters tower over him in old photos. But his stocky frame and muscular legs, coupled with that memorable extension when he swung the bat, turned out to be a perfect combination for hitting a baseball a long distance. He was a power hitter — period. He even later admitted that he never paid much attention to his batting average. He drew a lot of walks and also struck out a lot, but he also gave us plenty of thrills.

Possibly the oddest tribute in all of sports is the red stadium seat that hangs high on a wall above the “Log Chute” ride inside the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. The mall was built over the old Met Stadium site. The lone seat marks the approximate landing spot of Harmon’s longest home run at the Met, estimated at 522 feet.

Harmon’s greatest attribute was not his ability to play baseball, however. When you listen to all the tributes to him over the coming days, I guarantee you will not hear a single one that doesn’t mention his character — who he was as a person. Of course it was a different era, and sports stars hadn’t yet become the rich, ungrateful, “don’t-give-crap-about-being-a-role-model”, jerks that seem all too prevalent today. But even in those innocent early ’60s, we all knew Harmon was someone special, someone we could look up to, to emulate. He might strike out with the bases loaded now and then, but he would never let us down. And he never did.

Twins baseball was a big part of my life in elementary school and Harmon was the biggest Twins’ star. To be honest, I had a lot of “favorite players” in those early years – Tony Oliva, Bob Allison, Zoilo Versailles and a little later, Rod Carew. I remember trying to start a Lennie Green fan club during that first season. But Harmon was who I imagined I was when I was at the plate.

In recent years, Harmon showed us all how to grow older. He did it by staying busy, making himself useful, caring about others and teaching younger people to appreciate the sport he loved so much. He mentored many of the current Twins players, too young to remember his playing days — and became their hero, too.

I watched the sports on a local news channel this evening and they showed a press conference with a bunch of former ballplayers. Teary-eyed Hall of Famer Paul Molitor said, “I picked the right guy to be my hero”. Jack Morris was completely choked up and said that it was Harmon’s quiet strength and kindness that he will remember. The TV sports reporter, who is about my age, concluded with, “He was my childhood. He was our superstar.”

In the past few weeks and months, Harmon also showed us how to die. His straightforward, 3-paragraph statement just last week began with this sentence, “It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end.” No sugar coating, no false hope, just the truth.

Let the tributes roll in. Harmon deserves all of them.

An aging Mickey Mantle once said something like, “Ah, to be 25 again and the star of the Yankees”. I say, “Ah, to be 8 again and pretending to be Harmon Killebrew”.

Damn Yankees! – Yogi was right even when he was wrong

“It ain’t over ’til it’s over”, according to Yankee legendary malapropster Yogi Berra. But he also said, “It’s like deja vu all over again”, and right now that seems closer to the truth for the Minnesota Twins. It would take either a miracle or a deal with the devil, such as an appearance by the fictional Joe Hardy, for the Twins to get past the Damn Yankees in the American League Divisional Series.

Quite simply, the Twins have not figured out a way to beat the Yankees in the playoffs. You may not want to join me in my pessimism just yet, but realism, at least, certainly seems appropriate and optimism would be downright silly in the Twins’ trip to the Bronx this weekend. So let’s just tip our hats to the Yanks (we can curse them without hating them) and give our Minnesota Twins high fives for a wonderful season in our great new ballpark.

Twins celebrate a walk-off win over the Toronto Blue Jays last Saturday (photo by Steve Date)

Rather than dwelling on the losses of the past two evenings, I prefer to remember my visit to Target Field with my family last Saturday. It was a stunningly beautiful autumn day (if you were sitting in the sun). The home town boys had been on a slide since clinching the AL Central Division title. They needed a win to stir up some mojo for the playoffs.

Wacky hijinx by the kids before the game in the big glove. (Kyle, Emily, Lauren) (photo by Steve Date)

Shortstop Alexi Casilla provided the necessary excitement with a base hit in the bottom of the ninth, driving in two runners for a walk-off win. The celebration on the field and in the stands could have been mistaken for a championship win. It was one of those moments that can make baseball as thrilling as any sport. I feel lucky to have been there.

'. . . and we'll see you tomorrow night!' - the words of 1991 World Series announcer Jack Buck echo in the ears of Twins fans when they see Kirby's statue at Target Field (photo by Steve Date)

The Twins have provided a lot of thrills over the years and I was fortunate enough to have been an in-person witness to two of the best — the Game 7 win in the 1987 World Series and Kirby Puckett’s game winning home run in Game 6 of the 1991 Series, a moment that has been immortalized by Kirby’s Statue at Target Field.

The outfield at Target Field is a work of art. (photo by Steve Date)

As I’ve said before, I love Target Field. I’m glad it was built and I’m happy with the plan the movers and shakers came up to pay for it. To the extent that taxpayers are chipping in, all I can say is that it’s worth every penny. It’s an amazing asset to downtown Minneapolis and to baseball fans all over the upper midwest.

No matter what the outcome of this playoff series, the situation is this: The Twins have a solid team with a bright future, they have a great stadium that is generating a lot of community pride and they’ve moved to the next phase of a team history that doesn’t take a backseat to anyone.

Yogi Berra also said, “When you get to a fork in the road, take it”. The Twins took the fork and will be providing the beauty, excitement and spirit that baseball brings to a community for many years to come.

Yogi missed the mark a bit though, when he said, “The future ain’t what it use to be.” For Minnesota baseball fans, it is — and maybe even better.

So my hat is off to the Minnesota Twins baseball club and the powers that be in government and business, not to mention journalists such as my friend Steve Berg (see earlier post), that had the foresight, creativity and determination to make this happen.

We Minnesota baseball fans now have plenty to look forward to and it has nothing to do with beating those damn Yankees this weekend.

So go Twins! It ain’t over ’til it’s over. New deja vus have to start somewhere.