Our second MLB trip of the 2011 season took us to Minneapolis to see the Twins at Target Field. Planning the trip for late September, we knew there was a chance that the night game we would attend could be cold, with temperatures in the 30s. Circumstances dictated the timing of our visit, and we were delighted to get a chance to visit Minnesota. Though I have been to the Minneapolis airport (to change planes), this visit would be the first “real” trip to Minnesota for each of us.
In a perfect world, we would have driven to from central NJ to Minneapolis, as road trips allow us to see some much of the US. However, there simply wasn’t time, since the drive would have been 2400 miles round trip, taking 34 hours. With the drive not a viable choice, we flew from Newark, NJ to Minneapolis, MN. With the flight clocking in at two hours and 30 minutes, we arrived too late to catch the game that night (September 20th). Instead, we checked into our hotel in Bloomington and settled in for the night.
1. Minneapolis, Wednesday September 21st
The morning dawned cloudy, with temperatures in the 40s. That might not qualify as cold in September for Minnesotans, but considering we came from a place where it was still warm and humid, it felt as though we skipped fall and went straight into early winter. Luckily, we knew this was possible and dressed accordingly.
Following breakfast at the Denny’s that was part of the hotel complex, we drove to Minniehaha Regional Park, along the banks of the Mississippi River. A bucolic retreat from urban Minneapolis, the park reminded me to some degree of Central Park in New York City. A stroll along the Mississippi River in the late September chill made it feel more like football weather, but we enjoyed the fall like conditions, despite the lack of sunshine.
Based on the rock formations in the park, it seemed as though at least some of the features were carved out by glaciers. We’ve seen similar rock formations at the Delaware Water Gap on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In fact, Minniehaha Park was very reminiscent of the Water Gap, from the rocks to the forest primeval. After following the river for a while, we decided to drive further up the river, closer to downtown Minneapolis.
Parking near the locks on the Mississippi River, we walked up to Lock No. 1. Over the years, we have seen the Mississippi from different locations, but this view was special; we were near at the start of the mighty river. As we walked along the river side, we were surprised by a visitor; a bald eagle. The beautiful visitor caught us completely off guard, so we didn’t manage to get any pictures.
Even though the sun never did peek out that day, the refreshingly cool autumn air made our exploration quite enjoyable. On the way back to the car, we wandered through some of downtown Minneapolis. Despite the tall buildings, the vibe of the place was more like a medium sized city. Remarkably clean for an urban area, Minneapolis possessed a charm that cities of its size do not have back East. My first impression of Minneapolis was overwhelmingly positive.
2. Target Field
Rather than drive to Target Field and search for parking in an unfamiliar urban area, we opted to take public transportation to the game. Walking to a Metro stop from the hotel, we passed the Mall of America, which was just down the street from our hotel. Strangely, we did not visit the Mall during our stay, even though it is a top tourist destination.
Catching the Metro Blue Line near the Mall, the light rail took us to a stop just across the street from Target Field. Since the trip was on a local line with several stops, it took about 40 minutes to reach our destination. With trip being a mere 10 miles, the ride seemed fairly long, similar to that of the train ride from Manhattan to Citifield, the home of the Mets. However, that’s where comparison ends, since the light rail in Minneapolis was MUCH nicer than the New York City subway system.
After getting off the train, we got our first view of Target Field. The curves and the glass on the exterior gave the park a futuristic look, yet the brick siding exuded a more retro vibe. Walking around the stadium, we discovered several bronze statues of Twins’ legends. Each statue seemed to capture the essence of the player, from the crouched batting stance of Rod Carew to the quiet dignity of Harmon Killebrew.
My favorite, however, was the statue of Kirby Puckett. It perfectly caught the fist pump of Puckett rounding the bases following the home run that won Game Six of the 1991 World Series. Glimpsing the statue took me back to that night, reliving the moment as if it happened yesterday. In my opinion, that image epitomizes Twins baseball.
The cloudy skies that night did not afford us the best view of the interior of Target Field, though we did wander the concourse snapping pictures and taking in the atmosphere. Target Field felt like a modern ballpark, with great sight lines throughout the stadium. Though the stadium seemed bigger in person than I expected (due primarily to the four deck seating layout, which included the press level), the seating capacity is just under 40,000. Yet, despite its size, there seemed to be some sense of intimacy that does not come through at home on TV.
Following our tour of the stadium, we searched for food before heading to our seats. Like most big league parks, there were many places to grab something to eat. The featured restaurant within the park was Hrbeck’s Restaurant, named for the Twins first baseman during the glory days of the 1980s and early 1990s. Open even when the Twins aren’t playing, it seems to be popular in the community, though Yelp reviews are not particularly flattering. As is our custom, we opted for more standard baseball fare, grabbing hot dogs and sodas before finding our seats.
Sitting in our seats in the autumn chill before the first pitch, I couldn’t understand why a ballpark in Minneapolis would be an open air stadium. Having seen all of the current MLB stadiums, it is clear to me that an outdoor stadium offers a better fan experience. However, when you play baseball in a place where snow is not that uncommon into May, pragmatism may have to have some place in the decision making process. Perhaps Twins fans are accustomed to the chillier conditions, but at least some baseball fans would trade comfort for ambiance in this situation.
The Twins hosted the Seattle Mariners on this night. Both teams were limping to the finish at the conclusion of disappointing seasons, and seemed to be playing out the schedule. Starting for the Mariners was the young right hander Michael Pineda, completing his rookie year. Following the season, Pineda underwent surgery to repair a right shoulder labrum tear, and it would take two full seasons for him to return the mound. For the home team, the starter was Kevin Slowey, suffering through a brutal 2011. This would be his last season in Minnesota.
On this cloudy and cool evening, there were far fewer fans in the park than the announced crowd of 36,000 by the time the first pitch was thrown. The Twins scored runs in the first two innings off Pineda, whose night ended after four innings, and Slowey was pitching as though he would make the slim lead hold up.
The Mariners’ offense awoke in the fifth inning, scoring two runs, followed by thee more runs in the sixth. That ended Slowey’s night after six innings. Though the Twins would score single runs in the 8th and 9th innings, the Mariners held on for the 5-4 victory. Even with the scoring, the game time clocked in at about two hours and 45 minutes, which is not bad for an American League contest. We left Target Field that night with a favorable impression of the park, and we would get a look at the stadium in the daylight the following day.