MINNEAPOLIS — The mix of Joe Mauer and Ryan Braun jerseys would have you believe that this weekend’s series between the Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers is a heated rivalry.
Last season, the game on July 2 between these two teams was the most-attended game at Target Field all season, drawing 41,378 fans. Each of the three games that weekend drew over 40,000 fans, the most highly-attended three-game series of the year.
It’s the same story when Minnesota travels to Milwaukee to play at Miller Park. Droves of Twins fans make the annual trek east, across the big river and into enemy territory. Add in that Miller Park’s parking lot is perhaps one of the biggest pregame tailgating spots in baseball, and it can make for a rowdy atmosphere — especially when two neighboring fan bases collide.
“That Saturday game in Miller Park is probably up there. It’s better than any other single game we play all year,” said Twins reliever Glen Perkins. “There’s tons of fans there. They’re all out by our bullpen. That’s a fun day.”
Does the series mean the same to the players, though? Sure, they feed off the excitement of having plenty of their own fans while on the road.
But does it feel like a rivalry?
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“I wish it did,” Perkins said. “Here, we just played the Cubs and the Phillies, and those guys had a lot of fans here. I’m assuming that the Brewers will obviously have a lot of fans here, too. I think it’s going to feel more just like that than as far as the border battle. … We have better rivalries with the Tigers and White Sox and those teams.”
It hasn’t been the same between the Twins and Brewers since Milwaukee left the American League Central and joined the National League in 1998. Since then, the two teams from bordering states don’t see each other all too often. While Minnesota only plays a handful of NL teams each year, Milwaukee always makes it on the schedule, both at Miller Park and in Minneapolis.
While six games is hardly enough to make it a full-fledged rivalry, it at least keeps things interesting when the two teams see each other twice a year.
“It’s a fun series, don’t get me wrong,” said Twins catcher Joe Mauer. “But it’s just part of the interleague part of the year. … I think it’s kind of neat for the fans. It’s probably a little more (of a rivalry) when we play the White Sox or something like that.”
Perhaps the sense of a rivalry the fans feel stems from the natural rivalry that bordering states are bound to feel. Certainly, the tension between fans of the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers runs high during the National Football League season. The same goes for college sports, as the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Wisconsin Badgers boast one of the oldest rivalries in college football.
In recent years, Wisconsin has the upper hand when it comes to bragging rights. The Packers are just two years removed from a Super Bowl title, and the Badger football and basketball teams have also enjoyed postseason success. Meanwhile, the Vikings are stuck in rebuilding mode, the Gophers football team is coming off consecutive three-win seasons and the U of M’s basketball team has missed out on the NCAA Tournament.
Until last season, the Twins were Minnesota’s main bragging right over the neighbors to the east. The Brewers made a playoff run last year, while the Twins lost 99 games.
So it seems like a foregone conclusion that Twins fans and Brewers fans would feel some semblance of a rivalry. For now, though, things have remained relatively civil between the two sides.
For most of Friday’s game, Brewers fans sat on their hands as their team was getting no-hit heading into the sixth inning. A three-run homer by Ryan Braun quickly changed that. But in the bottom of that inning, Minnesota’s Trevor Plouffe tied it with a solo homer — his second of the game — and once again silenced the Brewers faithful while igniting the home crowd.
Finally, the visiting Brewers fans got the last laugh as Martin Maldonado’s two-run homer in the ninth inning put Milwaukee up for good. The Milwaukee fans in attendance began a “Let’s go, Brewers!” chant, as Twins fans filed for the exits.
It’s another page in what could pass as Minnesota’s National League rivalry — for the fans, at least.
“I don’t know if it’s because in baseball you play so many games so that each individual game has less significance or whatever than say football, where you see a team twice a year, or college football where it’s once a year,” Perkins said. “When I was a kid, I guess I just liked coming and watching the Twins play. I didn’t care who they were playing.”