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Posts Tagged ‘Target field’

Note to Triple In the Gap readers: I have joined the Peace Corps and have been living in Thailand since January and will be here until around opening day, 2013.

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby

Living without baseball hasn’t been as difficult as I thought.  The number one question I was asked from friends and family before I left was, “What are you going to do without baseball?”  This made me wonder if people thought I was so shallow that all I thought about was baseball.  No, I also enjoy good literature and films like Shoeless Joe and The Natural.

Like all the other luxuries I enjoyed in the states (peanut butter, toilet paper, comfortable weather, libraries with English books) I don’t miss what I don’t have.  If I was in the states and was barred from going to baseball games, then I’d miss it.  But there’s no one here asking me if I saw the play that Denard Span made last night or what a great time they had at the Saints game, so I’m apathetic.

Honestly, I am!

“If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base.” – Dave Barry

However, I am getting small fixes now and then through the games I have saved on my computer and the computer game Baseball Mogul (I’m currently playing a full season as the Billy Martin-led Twins of 1969.)  As for reading the news on the internet, I’m pretty satisfied simply checking the Twins box score and then the standings to see what team’s been hot lately (as of today, the Twins!).

Now that the season’s in full swing, I keep getting the comment, “It’s a good thing you’re not here with how bad the Twins are.”  I strongly disagree.  No, I don’t want to go back just to see a Twins game, but I have honestly missed bad Twins teams over the last decade.  We Twins fans have been spoiled.  We are not Yankees fans – we do not need to go to the World Series to be satisfied with our team.  We take what we get and I think the last decade has spoiled us  to the point where they’re a little more like Yankees fans, but still light years away from their egotism.

“This is a game to be savored, not gulped.  There’s time to discuss everything between pitches or between innings.” – Bill Veeck

Last season was frustrating for me.  For my entire life I could always count on going to the Metrodome by myself or a friend on game day and finding a seat to watch the greatest major league baseball organization in the history of Planet Earth.  Last year, the fair-weather fans flocked to the brand new Target Field like it was a 1994 Garth Brooks concert.  Twice I showed up by myself hoping to squeeze in somewhere – no go.  Meanwhile, there were 40,000 people inside about to see the game and 5,000 of them would leave early because their short-attention spanned kids consumed too much cotton candy and Mountain Dew and wouldn’t stop crying for two innings while witnessing one pitch through six innings … the first one.

“I believe in the Church of Baseball.  I tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones.  I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan.  I know things.  For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball.  When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance.” – from Bull Durham

I’ve watched some of the best baseball of my life when the Twins were “bad” (https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/best-of-the-best-greatest-games-attended-6-10/).This year, 2011, the novelty of Target Field has worn off and the Twins are horrible with their number one draw, Joe Mauer, on the bench with owwy legs.  I think I’d be able to get a seat on game day now.  I don’t care if the team’s bad.  One of my favorite Twins teams was from 1996 with Paul Molitor and Chuck Knoblauch leading off the lineup with matching .341 batting averages (Molitor’s was slightly higher) and a pitching staff that couldn’t strike out Babe Ruth (present day).

If there’s something I miss most about baseball at this point, it’s that everyone at the games speak English.  I miss it, but in the same way I miss my friends, family and book stores – it’s what I signed up for and I was prepared for that sacrifice.

As for the 2011 Twins, I don’t care how bad the team is, I just want to be able to see them without having to buy a ticket four months in advance.

“The other sports are just sports.  Baseball is a love.”  – Bryant Gumbel

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Here are some of my favorite pictures I’ve taken from ballparks around the country.

For the record, my favorite major league park is PNC Park in Pittsburgh and the best minor league is Fifth Third Field in Toledo.  Click on the photos to enlarge.

 

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The Minnesota Twins recently announced plans to upgrade the beautiful Target Field with improvements such as a new high-definition scoreboard above the right-field stands and free Wi-Fi throughout the park.  In response to this, 2006 American League MVP Justin Morneau announced his displeasure that the team did not decide to move in the fences (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/baseball/mlb/11/12/morneau-twins.ap/index.html). 

Target Field proved to be one of the most difficult fields in the big leagues to hit a home run.  The Twins hit 52 home runs at home and 90 on the road while the pitchers gave up 64 at Target Field and 91 during away games. 

As a slugger, I can see where Morneau would like the fences moved in.  Many balls were hit to the power alleys at Target Field last summer that looked like sure home runs, but either hit the wall, the warning track or into an outfielder’s mitt.  Sluggers want to hit more home runs and drive in more runs and that’s no exception to Morneau. 

Justin Morneau is one of my favorite players. The longest home run I've ever seen was hit by him at Miller Park. I still disagree with him.

On the other hand, Morneau is coming off selfish.  Moving in the fences may help him, but few others.  I love watching Morneau play baseball, don’t get me wrong, but I disagree with his argument.  At the very least, I disagree he went public with his complaint.     

You could still be in the Metrodome.  After years and years of trying to get a real ballpark, the Twins finally build one of the most beautiful parks in the country and its first season is concluded with complaints.  C’mon, Justin, be happy you’re playing under the sun on real grass and your locker isn’t the size of a broom closet. 

Most of the time, the Twins are a small-ball team.  The 2010 Twins were an anomaly compared to most of the teams in the last decade.  With the help from Morneau, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Danny Valencia, Joe Mauer and Jim Thome, the 2010 Twins played very little small ball.  In fact, they were second-to-last in the American League in stolen bases (68).  The Twins won’t be playing this kind of baseball forever.  The 2001 through 2008 Twins would have thrived even more at Target Field.

Home runs are overrated.   Home runs are like a big plate of pancakes.  They tasted delicious back in the late nineties when records were being broken every year, but after consuming them for so long, fans are getting sick of them.  I’m no exception:
https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/baseballs-greatest-plays-part-one/
https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/03/08/baseballs-greatest-plays-part-two/

Sluggers have been spoiled by small ballparks for too long.  Almost every team in the majors has gotten a new ballpark in the last 20 years.  Very few of them are considered pitchers parks.  The exceptions might be Petco Park, Citi Field, Safeco Field and Target Field.  Comerica Park in Detroit was a perfect pitchers and triples paradise before management decided to move the fences in after the 2002 season (the left-center field wall currently stands 370 feet from home plate – it used to be 395).  If Target Field is a pitcher’s park, then it distinguishes itself from the other parks all the more.  If the fences are moved in, it’s that much more similar to the majority. 

I don’t hear any pitchers complaining.  What happens when the fences are moved in?  Will the Twins hitters make up the difference in home runs the pitchers give up?  The pitchers need to keep the ball in the park and Target Field fits this purpose.  The majority of Twins are pitch-to-contact pitchers so the club needs a park that will keep the ball within its dimensions. 

The best home run hitters normally aren’t swinging for home runs – they come naturally.  If hitters are worried about not being able to hit a home run at Target Field, then don’t try.  Aim for the gaps, doubles are more exciting anyway (https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/tris-speaker-earl-webbs-records-can-be-broken/). 

The Twins were 53-28 at home – the best in the American League.  How could the Twins be so good at home when they can’t hit home runs there?  The answer is simple: home runs aren’t needed to win ball games and this is the main reason Morneau is wrong.  The Twins numbers at home (.282 AVG, .354 OBP, .422 SLG, .776 OPS) were much better than on the road (.265, .328, .421, .750).  Minnesota’s offense produced more runs, RBI, doubles, triples, walks and had less strikeouts at home.

As for the pitching splits, the numbers are far more skewed.  On the road, Minnesota pitchers had a 4.39 earned run average to go with a 1.32 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched).  At Target Field the pitchers’ ERA was 3.53 and their WHIP stood at 1.27. 

So, to sum things up, Mr. Morneau, the Twins score more runs and allow much less at Target Field.  Why on earth should the Twins mess with this formula?

There's nothing wrong with these dimensions. Target Field is not Yankee Stadium, where pop flies to right field end up in the seats. Home runs are earned here.

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This is usually where fans and players say their team had more heart than their opponents.  I do not jump on the bandwagon that says the championship team had more heart than the others.  However, I will do my best to convey how and why the Twins won the AL West, flew by the better-on-paper Detroit Tigers and took down the speedy St. Louis Cardinals in an exciting seven-game World Series. 

The real MVPs
The Blue Jays’ George Bell won the American League MVP award that season, but an argument could be made that Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola should have shared it.  Without those two starting pitchers, the Twins could have found themselves at the bottom of the AL West.  As a team, the Twins had a 4.63 ERA.  Take away Viola and Blyleven’s numbers and the Twins’ ERA jumps to 5.29.  The top two starters combined for a 3.47 ERA, 32 wins and 518 2/3 of the team’s 1,427 1/3 innings pitched.  Blyleven’s season was even more amazing as he approached the single-season record of home runs allowed that he’d set the previous season with 50 (see: https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/blyleven-scattered-50-home-runs-throughout-1986/).  The Dutchman gave up 46 in ’87.  

Other contributors on the mound
Although I’ve pointed out the many misfires in the Twins’ pitching staff, there were a few others who could be counted on.  Les Straker had spent the previous 10 seasons in the minors for the most part.  He emerged in ’87 to win eight games and sport a 4.37 ERA with 154 1/3 innings pitched.  More importantly, Straker pitched nine innings over two starts in the World Series and held the Cards to four runs.  Many argue he was prematurely taken out of the third game in St. Louis after pitching six shutout innings and holding a 1-0 lead.  Juan Berenguer allowed three runs after pitching only 1/3 of the seventh inning and the Cardinals went on to win 3-1.  

Speaking of Berenguer, aside from his performance in the World Series, the Panama-born relief pitcher was a rare bright spot in the bullpen.  Signed as a free agent before the season, Berenguer won eight games, lost only one while sporting a 3.94 ERA.  He proved even more valuable against the Tigers in the ALCS, pitching six innings of relief and allowing only one run and one hit while striking out six.  Berenguer recorded a five-out save in the second game, racking up four strikeouts.  

Senor Smoke.

 

Keith Atherton wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad coming out of the bullpen.  The glasses and mustache-wearing Virginia native won seven games with a 4.54 ERA. 

They didn’t beat themselves
Like the Twins of 2010, the ’87 squad didn’t give its competition many free chances.  Minnesota led the league in fielding percentage in ’87 (.984) and had the least number of errors as well (98).  Kent Hrbek (1B), Gary Gaetti (3B), Dan Gladden (LF) and Tom Brunansky (RF) were all in the top five at their respected positions in fielding percentage in the American League.      

Murderer’s row
The Twins didn’t have an entirely dangerous lineup, but there were four batters in the middle of the lineup who were known to put a few balls in the gaps and seats.  Minnesota hit 196 home runs in ’87; 125 of those were hit by Kirby Puckett (28), Kent Hrbek (34), Tom Brunansky(32) and Gary Gaetti (31).  Opposing pitchers had to feel a huge relief when they got through these four in the lineup.  Gaetti wasn’t much of an on-base machine that year (.303 OBP), but he got his hits when they mattered. He knocked in 109 runs and also had 36 doubles.  Although Brunansky struck out 104 times, he also drew 74 walks, raising his OBP to .352.  Hrbek’s 34 home runs were despite playing in only 143 games.  He earned his top slugging season in ’87 with a .545 mark while drawing 84 walks and struck out only 60 times.  

And then there’s Puckett.  The center fielder tied Kansas City’s Kevin Seitzer with the most hits in the AL with 207.  Puckett played 157 games while putting up his staggering, yet consistent offensive numbers (.332 / .367 / .534) while never seeing a pitch he didn’t like and couldn’t hit hard for a single (at least).  The biggest smile in baseball also had 32 doubles, five triples, 12 stolen bases, 98 RBI and 96 runs scored.  Puckett’s regular season was best known for what he did over two days in Milwaukee, August 29 & 30.  The stout-legged Twin went 10-for-11 with two doubles, four home runs, six RBI and seven runs scored.  He also robbed another future hall of famer, Robin Yount, of a grand slam of the second game with one of his well-known leaps against the wall.  

Other contributors on the field
There was also the defense of Greg Gagne and Steve Lombardozzi up the middle, the clutch hitting of Randy Bush, Gene Larkin and Roy Smalley, the speed of Al Newman and the veteran presence of a late-season acquisition, Don Baylor.   

The man with a plan and really big, dark glasses
Manager Tom Kelly was 36-years old when the 1987 season began.  He took over as Twins manager after Ray Miller was fired with 23 games to go in the ’86 season.  Kelly won 12 of those 23 games.  The no-nonsense manager took a team that should have won about 79 games to World Series champs the next season.  Kelly was not in the dugout for the fame, he was there to do a job.  This seemed obvious as the Twins celebrated on the field after winning the seventh game of the World Series and Kelly quietly sat on the bench and allowed his players to have this time for themselves.  His managing style has stretched to the present day where every Twins team is built on knowing the fundamentals and avoiding physical and mental mistakes; respect the game and your opponent and they will respect you back. 

 

They got hot when they needed to
Everything I’ve written up until now proves that the 1987 regular season Twins were far from the 1991 Twins or the 1965 Twins, or 1969, ’70, 2002, ’06 or ’10.  But when the postseason began and the Metrodome roof nearly popped off from so much noise, the Twins couldn’t be beaten.  I mean that literally: they were 6-0 at home in the postseason (2-4 on the road).   

My mom took my nine-year old 60-pound body to the first game of the championship series against the Tigers were I watched Gary Gaetti launch two homers and my Twins put up four runs in the eighth inning to beat Detroit 8-5.  Bert Blyleven pitched the Twins to a 6-3 victory in game two.  If it wasn’t for an eighth inning two-run home run from Detroit’s Pat Sheridan, the Twins may have swept the series.  Instead, they won games four and five at Tigers Stadium to take the AL pennant; the franchise’s first since 1965.  The Twins saved their wins against the Tigers for the playoffs: they were 4-8 against them in the regular season.    

In the World Series, it was dome, sweet, dome.  The Twins outscored St. Louis 33-12 at the Metrodome.  Minnesota managed only five runs at Busch Stadium in games three, four and five.  Late-season acquisition Don Baylor, who had last hit a home run on August 23 while he was still with the Red Sox.  Baylor’s home run was a grand slam against the Twins.  After picking him up off the waiver wire, Baylor hit well as a designated hitter, but didn’t show much power.  Down 5-3 in the fifth inning of the sixth game of the World Series, Baylor tied the game with a two-run home run.  Twins fans will show no shame in saying Baylor only hit one home run for Minnesota. 

It was Hrbek who blew the game open with his sixth-inning grand slam.  I remember hearing the rumor that when the mighty Minnesotan high-fived the Twins’ bat boy before touching home base, he broke the poor kid’s wrist.  Don’t quote me on this one as this was a rumor that was circulating through my peers at Columbus Elementary.  I realize fourth graders aren’t the most reliable source.  I think I still believed in Santa Claus, too.  

It was this man who allegedly broke the hand of the batboy after his game six grand slam.

 

After batting only .191 for the season, catcher Tim Laudner batted .318 for the series and knocked in four runs.  Second baseman Steve Lombardozzi hit a meager .238 in the regular season, but turned into Ty Cobb against St. Louis, batting .412 with four RBI.  Dan Gladden, after an average season at the plate and a great season in the field, he finally let his bat match his glove in the postseason.  Gladden batted .314 in the ALCS and World Series combined, leading all Twins starters.  Puckett batted .357 against the Cardinals and tied a World Series record in Game Six with four runs scored.  

Frank Viola’s 3.72 ERA and two wins were enough to win him the World Series MVP trophy.  Blyleven won one game with a 2.77 ERA.  Despite his shakiness during the regular season, Jeff Reardon did not allow a run over four and two-thirds innings.  

Nine years old or 32, I love the Twins
I was nine years old and I had yet to develop the attention span to watch a complete game on television.  I did, however, grab the Star Tribune sports page every morning and look at the box scores, standings and statistics.  I always went right to Kirby Puckett’s line from the previous game to see if he gained any ground on the batting title (I’d sometimes check Wade Boggs as well in hopes of an 0-for-5 game).  I wasn’t much for reading columns and features (unless they involved Kirby), but I would keep an eye on the standings as well as the statistical leaders in each league.  

I was playing baseball with my neighbor and buddy Brian when the Twins won the AL pennant in Detroit.  I remember my mom calling out to me, “Jeff, do you want to watch the Twins in the last inning?  It looks like they’re going to win!”  “No, that’s okay,” I replied, as I was too content to throw the ball around with Brian to be bothered with my favorite team winning its first pennant in 22 years.  

I can also remember my dad telling my sister and I after the Twins won the World Series that we should appreciate it while it lasts because we probably wouldn’t see it again.  We were fortunate enough four years later to see the Twins celebrating a World Series title and I’m keeping my fingers crossed again this year.

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The 1987 Minnesota Twins will forever have a place in the hearts of Twins fans.  They were the first team to win a World Series since the team moved from Washington D.C. after the 1960 season.  The ’87 club is one of two Minnesota teams to take the title and the ’87 club did so despite the fact that there have been many superior teams to play under the Metrodome roof or the sunny skies of Metropolitan Stadium or even Target Field.  The 1987 Twins were the underdogs of underdogs and it was a joy to watch them defy all the odds and defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series at the innocent age of nine.

As a nine-year old, I didn’t worry that the Twins pitching would hold out in the playoffs.  It didn’t worry me we had to play the 98-win Detroit Tigers in the championship series.  It didn’t worry me we would be playing the team of the eighties in the World Series.  I couldn’t care less that our closer owned a 4.48 ERA for the season.  These facts don’t bother nine-year olds.  We had Kirby Puckett and that’s all that mattered.

As a 32-year old, I’ve had time to look over the great ’87 Twins and realize how they had no business in the playoffs, let alone winning the World Series.  That’s what makes them so great.  Baseball fans will never put the Twins of ’87 next to the greatest of all time, but they could easily be put next to the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team.

How did they do it?

The Minnesota Twins were outscored by their opponents throughout the ’87 regular season.  They finished the season with an 85-77 record despite being outscored 786-806.  According to baseball statistician Bill James’s pythagorean formula which estimates a team’s winning percentage based on runs scored and allowed, Minnesota should have finished the season with a 79-83 record.

Luck of the draw
When fans talk of the ’87 Twins, they like to talk of the team’s dome-field advantage, and they have good reason to.  The Twins owned a .691 winning percentage and a 56-25 record at the football stadium they called home for too long.  What fans tend to not mention is how nasty the team was on the road.  Minnesota was just 29-52 away from home (.358).  In 1987, home-field advantage in the playoffs and World Series simply alternated every season.  Having the best record in your league or winning the all-star game did not matter.  Coincidentally, the Twins got lucky twice and “earned” the advantage in the championship series and World Series.  (They got lucky again in 1991.)  It didn’t matter too much against the Tigers as we took two of three in Detroit to take the pennant.  It did matter against the Cardinals as the Twins became the first team in baseball history to win all four games at home and lose all three on the road.

Alan Trammell led a great Tigers team in '87 with a .343 average, 28 home runs, 105 RBI, 109 runs and 21 stolen bases.

Even the hitting wasn’t that good
Toronto owned the best ERA in the American League in ’87 at 3.74.  The Twins were almost a full run behind at 4.63 to put them in 10th of 14 teams.  The league average was 4.46.  Despite being known as a great hitting team, Minnesota ranked just eighth in runs scored with 786, behind the league average of 794.  The Tigers, the team we whipped in the ALCS, scored the most runs in the AL with 896.  Both the Twins’ batting average (.261) and on-base percentage (.328) rank below the league average.  Only the team’s slugging percentage .430 ranks above the league average at third in the league.

Looking at the starting lineup, it’s not difficult to see how different the ’87 Twins are from today’s players.  We’ve been spoiled as of late having one of the game’s best hitters as our starting catcher.  In 1987, the Twins catchers were very un-Mauer like.  Tim Laudner played 113 games, 105 in the field.  The Twins’ main catcher hit .191 with a .252 on-base percentage.  His backups were Sal Butera (.171 / .217) and Tom Nieto (.200 / .276).  The only catcher who hit well (in fact, very well) was Mark Salas (.378 / .431 / .622), but the Twins traded him in June to the Yankees to get Joe Niekro.

Leadoff batters are usually one of the team’s best at getting on base.  Dan Gladden, acquired in a trade with the San Francisco Giants just before the season began, finished the season with a .312 OBP.  Shortstop Greg Gagne, who could be found in the second spot many games, had a .310 OBP.

A very-average, but not bad, division
The Twins won the AL West by two games over the Royals.  The race wasn’t as close as the standings look as after clinching the division, the Twins dropped five straight to finish the season.  I believe I remember Kent Hrbek saying in his autobiography Tales from the Minnesota Twins Dugout that it wasn’t that they lost their edge after clinching the division, they just couldn’t play with a hangover.  They held their largest division lead of the season the night they clinched the title with a seven-game edge.  They’d lose five games of their lead in the next six days.  As for the rest of the division, Kansas City was the only other team to finish above .500.  Despite this fact, the top and bottom of the division were separated by only 10 games.  Texas and California were in the cellar with a 75-87 mark.

Some nasty pitchers … and not good-nasty
The 1987 Twins pitchers consisted of Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, one other starter who could be depended on, one reliever that didn’t worry fans when he came in the game and a scattering of players the Twins guessed, checked and discarded throughout the season.  Before spring training, Minnesota traded Al Cardwood, Neal Heaton, Jeff Reed and Yorkis Perez to Montreal for Tom Nieto and Jeff Reardon.  Reardon (a.k.a. The Terminator) had accumulated 162 saves for the Expos and Mets and a 3.11 ERA.  The man Puckett sarcastically nicknamed Yakity-Yak saved 31 games in ’87, won eight, but also lost eight and sported a 4.48 ERA.  He averaged 1.6 home runs allowed per nine innings pitched, which would have put his total near Blyleven’s (46) had he been a starter.

Mike Smithson started 20 games and could only manage four wins and a 5.94 ERA.  The Twins traded Mark Salas in June to get Joe Niekro from the Yankees.  Niekro went on to win four games in 18 starts with a 6.26 ERA and got himself thrown out of a game for keeping emery boards in his back pocket.  Relief pitcher George Frazier made his way to the Twins before the season in a trade that sent Ron Davis to the Cubs.  Considering Davis’s stats, it’s sad Frazier was an upgrade after he won five games and posted a 4.98 ERA in ’87 (Davis had a 9.08 ERA in ’86).  After looking good for the Phillies in the first half of the season (3.38 ERA), Dan Schatzeder came to the Twins via trade in June and posted a 6.39 ERA over 43 2/3 innings.

Joe Niekro moments before being thrown out of a game for keeping emery boards in his pocket to doctor the ball. Allegedly, when Niekro tossed it out of his pocket, Kent Hrbek tried to cover it up with his foot.

The Twins even picked up a future hall of famer at the trading deadline to help out the pitching staff and he was outright nasty.  Forty-two year old Steve Carlton won one, lost five to go with his 6.70 ERA in 43 innings.  Then there was Mark Portugal (7.77 ERA, 44 IP), Joe Klink (6.65, 23), Roy Smith (4.96, 16 1/3), Allan Anderson (10.95, 12 1/3), Jeff Bittiger (5.40, 8 1/3) and Randy Niemann (8.44, 5 1/3).

Looking at all of these numbers, it’s hard to believe this team finished above .500, let alone won the division, dominated the ALCS and won an exciting World Series.

…next week: Here’s how they did it (Part two)

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I was fortunate enough to make it to two Twin Cities games this weekend. The first was the St. Paul Saints at Midway Stadium and the second was the Mariners/Twins game at Target Field. Both games were sold out and had standing-room only seats available, which is what I got.

A word to the wise: if you’d like to actually watch the Saints game, don’t bother with the standing room tickets. My three friends and I had a difficult time finding a place where we could see the entire field. Most of the time we couldn’t see home plate.

As for the Twins game, I found a spot a few feet from the left-field foul pole, in foul territory. There are plenty of spots to enjoy the game, but arriving early and securing a place is wise.

I may have witnessed one of the greatest pitched games I’ve ever seen. I’m sure it really helped the Twins were playing the Seattle Mariners, but it was impressive none the less.

Francisco Liriano pitched seven innings, gave up two hits, two walks and struck out 11. Then Jon Rauch took over for an inning and struck out another two. Matt Guerrier closed out the 4-0 win with another two strikeouts, giving the Twins 15 for the game.

A fan next to me pointed out late in the game that Denard Span had not fielded a single ball. I thought about it and realized left fielder Delmon Young hadn’t either. I checked my scorebook to find there was not one outfield putout the entire game. In fact, the two hits the Mariners did have were doubles to right fielder Jason Repko, but that’s it. Two balls made it out of the infield!

The Twins are looking great and I hope they can continue in St. Petersburg against a nasty Rays squad.

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The last thing Target Field, the Minnesota Twins new ballpark in Minneapolis, needs is a convertible roof.  Adding a roof to the park would have been a terrible idea and Twins fans should be thankful they’ll have a park that belongs to Minnesota and not just a nice place to watch baseball.

The only complaint I’ve heard about the yet-to-open Target Field is its lack of a convertible roof to shelter Twins fans from the unpredictable weather Minnesota provides in the spring and fall.  They say it will be too cold in April and October.  There’s the worry there will not only be too many rainouts, but snowouts as well.

I can’t believe I’m hearing this complaint from Minnesotans.  I’m a Minnesotan and I thought the mentality was that we embraced the cold.  We’re strong enough to bear sub-zero temperatures all winter, so what’s a 45-degree day in April?  Do you think Target Field vendors won’t be smart enough to sell coffee and hot chocolate?  We’re from Minnesota and we know how to dress for cold weather.

Target Field is a park, not a stadium.

The toughness of the natives is only a minor reason why the Twins are better off without a roof.  I’ve been to a number of ballparks around the country and the best ones never have a roof.  Take Miller Park in Milwaukee for example.  It’s a great stadium and a great place to watch baseball.  However, there’s no sense of Milwaukee in the park.  Even when the roof is open, the field and stands are still enclosed within the walls giving the park no sense of location, much like the cookie cutter parks of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Philadelphia built in the seventies.  Of course, Miller Park goes above and beyond those stadiums, but there’s little sense of community with the rest of the city.

A great stadium, but take away the logos and Miller Park could be belong to any city. There’s no connection to Milwaukee, let alone a good breeze on a hot summer day.

The best ballparks aren’t just ballparks in the city, they are part of the city: Camden Yards in Baltimore, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, AT&T Park in San Francisco and Comerica Park in Detroit.  When you’re in Camden Yards you can tell you’re in Baltimore.  When you’re in Chase Field in Phoenix, you might as well be in Flagstaff.  With the Roberto Clemente Bridge and Allegheny River within site, PNC Park feels like a part of Pittsburgh.  The best place to watch a baseball game is at a park, not a stadium.

Camden Yards is as much a part of Baltimore as Cal Ripken Jr.

In a recent article on mlb.com, Twins president Dave St. Peter had similar thoughts on the lack of roof.  “I think we all believe that we ended up with a much more character-filled ballpark, perhaps a ballpark with better sight lines. And it certainly has much more charm than some of the retractable-roof facilities you find in baseball.”

There’s also the question of when to close the roof.  Rarely has the closing of the roof been warranted in games I’ve attended in Milwaukee and Seattle.  The Mariners closed the roof of Safeco Field in a game I attended last summer.  The day was overcast and I figured a shower or storm was nearing.  When my friend and I took a walk around the park later we couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the weather was.  The clouds had parted and the sun was shining.  So why did they close the roof?  I’ve been in Milwaukee when the weather is a bit cool, in the low 60s, and they will close the roof.  Why?  This isn’t a space shuttle launch.  Everything shouldn’t have to be perfect for a baseball game to be played outside.  When teams have convertible roofs, it’s as if it becomes an excuse to play in perfect conditions as often as possible, cutting off the fans from the outside world.

Someday Pittsburgh will have a team to match its park.

Rain outs?  One thing the Minnesota Twins have lacked in the last 28 years is a good doubleheader.  Twins fans may complain about getting wet, but they won’t complain when Ozzie Guillen is thrown out of the end of a doubleheader as his team is about to lose its second game of the day.

With the Twins downtown ballpark, fans will know they’re in Minneapolis as they look at the IDS Tower in the skyline and the light rail passing by just as Cardinals fans know they’re in St. Louis when they see the arch beyond the outfield wall.  Yes, we’ll be cold from time to time and we’ll get wet now and then, but when it’s pushing 90 degrees in July and the openness of Target Field allows a cool breeze to run from center field to home plate, Target Field won’t look or feel any better.

Target Field is Minneapolis and Minneapolis is Target Field.

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