The Minnesota Twins had the best logo in sports: Two fat
identical twins, in baseball uniforms, shaking hands across the
Mississippi River. As a child, I assumed that both men--kindly,
giant, lumpen--were Harmon Killebrew.
For 21 years those Twins played in Metropolitan Stadium. When
Minnesotans went to the Met, it was not to take in Aida. The Met
was 343 to left, 330 to right, 402 to straightaway center--sexier
measurements, to me, than Marilyn Monroe's. The place smelled
like Schweigert hot dogs and Grain Belt beer and first baseman
My family would drive to Twins games in our Ford Country Squire
station wagon. My dad always stopped at Cal's Market on the way
and bought a five-pound sack of peanuts. Then we sat side by side
in the second deck, seven of us, linked at the elbows like paper
dolls. Perched a mile above the field, spent shells piling up at
my feet, I felt like an assassin.
Which, in a manner of speaking, I later became. I flung Reggie
Bars, like Chinese stars, at the New York Yankees' rightfielder,
circa 1978. This past summer, when Twins fans showered Yankees
leftfielder Chuck Knoblauch with garbage at the Metrodome, I felt
at once both shame and pride.
Pride, because the Twins--whose owner made no effort to compete
in the past 10 years--drew 1,782,926 fans in 2001. (The combined
population of Minneapolis and St. Paul is 669,769.) In '91, when
the Twins won their second World Series in five years, they drew
2.3 million to the Metrodome, where crowds generated noise
equivalent to that of a DC-10 at takeoff.
Our outsized enthusiasm for baseball has always been thus. In
1979, when the Twinkies finished in fourth place in the American
League West, Bombo Rivera received hundreds of write-in votes
for student-council president at the University of Minnesota,
where the Puerto Rican outfielder was, needless to say, not
enrolled. Why, then, did unctuous baseball commissioner Bud
Selig suggest last week that Minnesota can't sustain "a stable,
competitive and economically viable franchise for next season"?
Because Minnesota taxpayers have said repeatedly that they would
rather not build a new stadium for Carl R. Pohlad, the
86-year-old billionaire banker and Twins owner who bears an
uncanny resemblance to C. Montgomery Burns of The Simpsons.
Wisconsinites did fund a ballpark for Selig, and hence the
unstoried Milwaukee Brewers will survive for decades to come.
The Twins, along with the Montreal Expos, will likely be sent
packing next month.
Baseball will keep the four-year-old Tampa Bay Devil Rays and
vaporize a 41-year-old Minnesota franchise whose caps crown the
Cooperstown bronze busts of giants Killebrew and Kirby Puckett
and Rodney Cline Carew. Bombo, Lombo, Bruno, Zoilo: We hardly
Selig and Pohlad have robbed us of even the small courtesy of a
chance to say goodbye. Though we never knew it, the last Twins
game in Minnesota was an 8-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox
on Oct. 7. So all I can do here is say so long to Mudcat Grant
and Tony Oliva, Butch Wynegar and John Castino, Bert Blyleven and
Kitty Kaat, Hosken Powell and Lyman Bostock, Larry Hisle and
George Mitterwald, Doug Mientkiewicz and Cristian Guzman and the
most Minnesota Twin of all: Kent (T-Rex) Hrbek of Bloomington--my
hometown and the former home of Metropolitan Stadium.
Before Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, Hrbek was asked what he
would be doing that Sunday afternoon if he didn't have a game to
play. His answer summarized the ethos of everyone I know from
childhood. "I'd be watching football," he said dismissively,
"like any normal American."
We are, in Minnesota, stalwart sports fans who lost the Lakers
to Los Angeles, the North Stars to Dallas and now, it appears,
the Twins to oblivion. Basketball came back, hockey came back,
but we're unlikely to see baseball again. The game's perverse
overlords will give one of their own, Pohlad, $200 million to
disappear but will not contribute the same amount--nor so much
as a nickel--to a new stadium. We are, to baseball owners, a
"revenue stream," and that stream flows only one way. It's no
longer enough to buy tickets and T-shirts and $6 beers: You must
also pay for the stadium and, having done that, a license for
In announcing the elimination of two teams, Selig said, with some
depravity, that it wasn't a sad day. I'll try to pretend that is
true. In my mind's eye, then, it's forever 1977, and Carew is
flirting with .400, and I'm sitting in the second deck. And you
cannot--literally or otherwise--wipe the Sunkist-orange-soda smile
off my face.