Niesen: Baseball owed Twins All-Star Game
MINNEAPOLIS — Baseball owed this one to Minnesota. And really, it owed it to itself.
There are lots of beautiful ballparks across the nation. There are lots of beautiful new ballparks across the nation. There are so many other reasons to host the All-Star Game, from the sheer aesthetics to an anniversary to a simple "it's our turn" mentality, and really, Minnesota shouldn't be surprised that it took so long.
In Minnesota, they're accustomed to waiting. They waited through years of uncertainty about their team that included the option of it being bought by Major League Baseball and contracted in 2001. They waited through the minutiae and bureaucracy of a stadium debate that culminated, finally, in a bill being signed in 2006.
They stuck it out for two more seasons in the Metrodome, capping a 28-year stay in a bubble they came to hate, and for that, they deserve this game.
I will fully admit that I'm a reluctant Minnesotan, a wimp in the face of cold winters, a lover of abject humidity. I'm also a baseball snob. I will admit all that, and I'll concede that Target Field is a great place to watch baseball. It's beautiful, the weather is lovely in July, and the food is good.
That said, I didn't fully understand fans' unrelenting love of the place until I first entered the Metrodome two weeks ago. Within five minutes, I knew. I couldn't imagine baseball being played there, and though I know Twins fans have many fond memories of baseball there — including the 1985 All-Star Game — it's impossible to discount where Target Field stands in the hearts of its team and its fans now that I've seen their previous home.
"The fans up here certainly deserve this," Bud Selig said on Wednesday as he announced the 2014 All-Star Game would be awarded to Target Field.
"This park is just beautiful, and it is a testament to (the Pohlad) family and to Carl (Pohlad) and to the entire organization."
Both statements couldn't have rung truer, and with Twins greats like Rod Carew, Bert Blyleven and Tony Oliva standing behind Selig as he said them, it was hard not to remember the team's past successes. The whole afternoon was riddled with nostalgia and deservedness, remembering star players long-retired and the battles for everything from success to stadiums to relevance that seem to plague all Minnesota sports.
Carew was happy to offer his memories of past All-Star games, their intensity and his honor at being selected. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak recalled his experience at the 1965 All-Star Game at Metropolitan Stadium with his family. Hennepin County Board of Commissioners chair Mike Opat talked about the time he worked the concessions stand at the 1985 All-Star Game at the Metrodome, serving beer and barely catching a glimpse of the game itself. Even Selig, the man who's attended more All-Star Games than he can likely remember, talked of his first Midsummer Classic, in 1950 at Comiskey Park when Ted Williams broke his elbow and played the rest of the game.
The All-Star Game has that magic for those who have been. They've seen the best players up close, felt the thrill of pomp and circumstance in the city they love, and that kind of experience can't help but gloss over so much else. Memories defer to the good and forget the struggles, forget that these games mean nothing in terms of a team and its success. And that is why, now that they've gotten this, and deservedly so, the Twins should be reminded what they still owe.
"We use this event to celebrate the best of our game," Selig said.
Lately, the Twins have not been the best of the game. They remember when they were so easily when the aging players sweating in their suits crowd behind Selig and smile for the organization they love, and the Twins know they want to get back to that. Now, the league has delivered for them. It's acknowledged that yes, you worked hard for this stadium, and it is a gem. It's affirmed that the Twins went from somewhere close to the brink of extinction to one of the league's hallmark franchises.
Now, the Twins must affirm that they can win.
When owner Jim Pohlad spoke on Thursday, he seemed close to relieved. His and his family's years of effort and dedication to their team had paid off again, this time with the All-Star Game. He should be proud. But as he wrapped up his comments, Pohlad's closing words hung shakily in the air:
"I suppose we could hope to do a double in 2014 and have not only the All-Star Game but the World Series. It actually would be greater if we could just be awarded the World Series, but we'll do our best to win it."
Pohlad wasn't trying to be flippant or funny. He was expressing his sincere wish, but right now, it's too far away. Right now, the Twins are staring at a record that's more than 20 games below .500, and the All-Star Game announcement was a needed bright spot in a discouraging season.
The Twins and Pohlad have already come so far. They have the trappings, the beautiful stadium and the looming major event. They have the dedicated fans and the history, but soon, that history needs a new, memorable chapter. So though the announcement of the All-Star Game means that the team's work has just begun, it also marks the end of one campaign. Now, the next begins.
The Twins have some pieces in place, some players who are already part of that growing history. They have Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. They have a new face in Josh Willingham who could factor into the future, and a promising young starter in Scott Diamond. They have other younger players who provide a fledgling hope, and they have the ability to acquire more. Doing so will be the next task.
The Twins deserve this All-Star Game, but they also deserve to win. July 15, 2014 is looming, and it can be a goal. Target Field will be on the national stage, and the night will be all the more special if the Twins can field a team deserving of every bit of the fanfare.
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