That longtime cheer for the Minnesota baseball team has been heard a lot more than usual this season. The homer-happy Twins slugged their way into national recognition this spring and have staked a strong claim on the American League Central Division.
We had to go see why this team is so different than recent editions of the Twin Cities squad, so we caught the Twins-White Sox game on Sunday, May 26. The first-place Twins rolled to a 7-0 win before a sold-out crowd, bedecked in Twins jerseys and caps, on a perfect late spring afternoon.
We wore our jerseys — there was a Puckett, Thome and Dozier in our crowd — and TC caps. It reminded me of 1988, when I dealt 21 in Las Vegas and the Twins were the defending World Series champs. All of a sudden, Twins caps were all over the place.
People love to pile on a winning bandwagon, and that is evident across the Midwest now. Hell, I’m a Giants and Royals fan, but my teams are lousy. Go Twins!
It was my first game at the ”new” stadium, Target Field, and it lived up to its reputation. I saw several games at the beloved old Met, Metropolitan Stadium in suburban Bloomington, and the dank Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. It took until this year, the Twins’ 10th season in Target Field, for me to get back to see a Twins’ home game.
We did see the same two teams last year, as the Twins topped the White Sox 6-4 at the horribly named Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago on May 4, 2018. Neither team showed much promise last year, but this season, the Twins are the talk of baseball.
They have built a team packed with long-ball hitters and their pitching has been surprisingly strong.
The only drawback was the long, achingly slow-moving line to get into the park. It reminded me of the Twins’ home opener 40 years ago, which was played on a sunny afternoon on April 17, 1979. Twins legend Rod Carew has forced a trade to the California Angels and was on the other side of the field that day, which also helped draw an unexpectedly large crowd, 37,529.
The Twins’ owner, the notoriously tight-fisted Calvin Griffith, had not hired enough people to work the game, so parking was a hassle, as was getting in and out of the park. There weren’t enough vendors to serve hot dogs and beer, and to add insult to beer-deprived injury, the Angels crushed an error-prone home team 6-0 behind a powerful shutout performance by Nolan Ryan. The fans booed, as well they should have.
There were nothing but cheers at the 2019 game, as the Twins won their sixth straight game and 10th win in 11 games. Jake Odorizzi allowed just one hit in 5 1/3 innings while notching nine strikeouts. Overall, Twin pitchers struck out 16 White Sox, eliciting cheers from the crowd, albeit after being prompted by the electronic scoreboards.
Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler supplied the power, both hammering three-run homers. This team, unlike Twins teams in recent seasons, is hitting homers at a truly impressive rate. They are leading the majors in home runs, one reason they have baseball’s best record.
The franchise record for homers in a month was 55, set by the slugging 1964 team, which was powered by legends Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison and Tony Oliva. This team’s players may not have the status as those players, not yet anyway, but they mash the ball like them, and soon set a new record.
Those talented early Twins teams won the American League pennant in 1965, falling in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the great Sandy Koufax, and claimed AL West Division titles in 1969-70. But they never won a title, unlike the rowdy, fun-loving and hard-hitting Twins of Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek, who won the World Series in 1987 and 1991.
The Twins had some success in the early 2000s, making the playoffs six times from 2002-2010, and qualified for the Wild Card Game in 2017.
But they had little success in October, leaving fans hungry for fall success.
As we walked back to the light rail after the game, a man met us on the sidewalk, noticing our Twins’ caps and jerseys.
“They’re going to the Series this year,” he said. “They’re going to win it.”
That’s what tens of thousands of Midwest baseball fans want to believe, and see, this year. And they just might, too.
South Dakota native Tom Lawrence, a former Pioneer executive editor, has written about the state, its politics and people since 1978. Read his blog Prairie Perspective at http://sdprairie.blogspot.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @TLCF26.
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