MINNEAPOLIS — Joe Mauer grew up in the frigid winters of Minnesota, but no high school baseball game he played in compared to the first game of his second minor league season.
Mauer, just 19 at the time, was part of a Low-A Quad Cities team that played a 17-inning game on opening night. Mauer was behind the plate for all 17 chilly innings, which he said was colder than any snow-filled game he was a part of during his time at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul.
Like Mauer, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau recalled the coldest game he ever played in came during his time with Quad Cities, where temperatures were in the teens and the snow was blowing.
“But you know what? We survived,” Morneau said. “It can be tough to play in, but you warm up with the heaters in the dugout and you go out there and play.”
That’s exactly what the Twins and Tigers did Monday as they took part in the coldest home opener in Target Field’s four-year history. The temperature at first pitch at 3 p.m. CT was 35 degrees Fahrenheit. It didn’t break the record for the coldest Twins opener ever, but it still made things a bit uncomfortable for players and fans alike during Detroit’s 4-2 victory.
“It was chilly. It was chilly once the shade got on the dugout,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “It was pretty cold out there. Both teams went through it.”
There were talks about whether the Twins might move Monday’s season opener back a day because of the frigid temperatures. Minnesota had an off day scheduled for Tuesday in case Monday’s weather didn’t cooperate. But despite temperatures that barely surpassed freezing, the game went on as scheduled, leaving players from both sides to deal with the elements.
“There’s nothing you can do to change the weather,” said Morneau, a native of Canada. “Both teams have to play in it. We both came from Florida. There’s no advantage. It’s not like we’ve been up here playing in cold weather for a month or anything like that. It’s whoever whines about it the least, I think, who’ll have the best chance of winning today.”
The victorious Tigers (or at least one of them) had a secret to staying warm in the chilly April weather.
“You put Vaseline on your legs and your arms. That’s the secret nobody really knows about,” said center fielder Torii Hunter, who spent 11 seasons in Minnesota but played his home games inside the Metrodome, not at Target Field. “Put lots of Vaseline on to close your pores up and then you put your sleeves on and put on two pair of underwear, keep those warm. You just play. You just kind of zone it out.”
If anyone had an advantage in the colder temperatures, it was the pitchers, said Morneau, as they’re able to move around on the mound and stay involved on every pitch. Tigers starter Justin Verlander lasted just five innings and threw 91 pitches, baffling Twins hitters to the tune of seven strikeouts. He was pulled prior to the sixth inning as Detroit held a 3-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Twins starter Vance Worley opted to wear short sleeves — the only Minnesota player who wasn’t decked out in long sleeves.
“For me, I stay hot all the time,” Worley said after the game. “I was sweating just walking out there to play catch today. If I went sleeves, it would have been really hot out there.”
Unlike Mauer and Morneau, most of Minnesota’s players come from warmer climates and likely never played in this type of weather growing up. California native Aaron Hicks, who made his MLB debut Monday, said he went through six pairs of hand warmers during the course of the game. Second baseman Brian Dozier, who grew up in Mississippi, played one game in college at Southern Miss in which there was snow throughout the entire nine innings.
“I thought I’d never play in another one,” he said before Monday’s game. “At least it’s sunny outside.”
Now that Monday’s chilly opener is out of the way, the Twins should be in the clear in terms of weather the rest of the week. Temperatures are expected to get back to the low 50s by Wednesday and stay that way into the weekend.
For one day, though, it felt more like hockey weather than baseball weather. Twins general manager Terry Ryan recalled one game in Detroit about a decade ago when the Twins and Tigers could have just as easily put on hockey skates instead of baseball cleats.
“In the dugout, the water, you could ice skate in their dugout,” Ryan said. “I swear to God, the ice in that dugout was an inch thick. … It was freezing. That’s about the coldest I’ve been in.”