Minnesotans rolled out the red carpet for Major League Baseball’s Midsummer Classic on Tuesday, as throngs of eager fans packed into downtown Minneapolis and sold-out Target Field to witness what has become a once-in-a-generation spectacle in the state.
No shade-hoarding or brow-wiping was necessary, with Mother Nature providing free air conditioning under blue-and-white skies. The rain that delayed Monday night’s Home Run Derby stayed away, and fans were treated to a 5-3 American League win that was wrapped up by hometown hero Glen Perkins, who pitched the final inning.
From the afternoon parade on scarlet-carpeted Nicollet Mall to pregame mingling on the field to the big event itself, the fan favorite was clear — the New York Yankees captain, whose name repeatedly rang out in chants and exclamations: “De-rek Je-ter! De-rek Je-ter!”
New Jersey resident Michael Volpe and his 13-year-old son, Anthony, were among the lucky few who scored autographs from the soon-to-be-retired baseball great when he came over to their group before the game. “Wait until my wife finds out,” Volpe said. “I wanted to tell him my wife’s in love with him.”
The other star of the day appeared to be the city itself.
Mike George and his family, in town from San Francisco for their third consecutive All-Star Game, praised Minneapolis’ layout, especially being able to be downtown and within walking distance of the ballpark. “Aside from the rain and the cold weather, it’s a beautiful city,” George said. Californians notwithstanding, the cool weather was a hit with fans, easing long downtown walks and helping keep energy levels high.
Waiting in line at the Butcher and the Boar stand at Target Field for beef tips, Peter Carlson, of Maplewood, looked at the skies and said, “Isn’t this great?”
He said he was thrilled with the lack of a heat index and had no time for naysayers. “They can [complain] all they want, but we love it here in Minnesota,” he said.
Actor and former NFL player Terry Crews, attending his first All-Star Game, was among those feeling no chill whatsoever. He said he was delighted to see the Twin Cities in the national spotlight.
“In L.A. and New York, there’s a coldness, but there is such a warmth here,” he said.
Thrills and treats
Through the day and night, a mix of out-of-towners and Minnesotans filled the streets, concourses and stadium seats with giddy, footloose festivity.
Fan energy, high all day, reached a fever pitch as the game began.
Fans warmly applauded 30 “All-Star Teachers” from across the country, selected via an MLB online competition, as Idina Menzel (the voice of Elsa in Disney’s “Frozen”) sang Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” Neil Johnson, a calculus teacher from Shakopee High School, was one of those recognized.
Jeter’s star status only rose as the game began. He received a standing ovation as he went to bat in the first inning and again when he scored the game’s first run. When he was pulled from the game in the fourth inning, it required a curtain call.
Jay Dirks and Matt Meyer, of Minneapolis, season-ticket holders decked out in Twins baseball caps and jerseys, said they couldn’t have been more excited to be at the big game.
“We’ve been waiting for this since 1985,” Dirks said.
Both said they were most excited to see Jeter and former Twin and Wisconsin native Pat Neshek. “It’s good to see him come back home,” Dirks said.
Just as at regular Twins games, the food was a big hit.
Buns by the thousands got buttered for brisket, beer cans with the All-Star logo sweated on ice awaiting purchase and the tantalizing State Fair-like scents of corn dogs, pork chops on a stick and mini-donuts wafted from the right field concourse.
The crew from the hometown favorite Kramarczuk’s seared heaps of sauerkraut for sausages and the All-Star limited-edition doubleheader treat — a brat and a sausage on one bun.
Lynnette Donahue of Kramarczuk’s said that novelty took time to catch on. “The first day, people didn’t really know about it.
Then they started seeing other people carrying it around and asked, ‘Where did you get that?’ ”
The expectation for Tuesday night was to move up to 10,000 sausages, about 2,000 more than a typical game.
Vying for views
During the afternoon parade, excited fans, many with children, filled the route from the south end of Nicollet Mall to Target Field’s gates.
After the ceremonial Twins — Rod Carew, Tony Oliva and others — went by, the fans’ clear favorite arrived, wearing a bespoke suit and a smile.
Jeter is “phenomenal,” said Justin Morris, of Minneapolis, whose 5-month-old son, Jahmir, snuggled in a blanket at his chest.
Fans peered from rooftops and skyways and stood on whatever they could climb, bus shelter railings, trash cans, even each other.
On break from work, Tom Parker, generously self-described as 5 feet 7, sat on the shoulders of colleague Greg Danielson, a 6-foot-8 former European basketball player.
“He’s a tall guy, and I couldn’t see,” said Parker, who laughed along with a passel of pals taking long lunch breaks and snapshots of the sight gag of a grown man sitting on the shoulders of another. Turns out Parker is also the boss in their workplace.
A west metro youth baseball team got VIP bleacher seating on the route and an unobstructed view of the player they most wanted to see: Jeter. Bruce Gulden, 12, said he couldn’t wait to tell his friends. “They’re going to be jealous.”
Giovanni Reyes, of Minneapolis, and his family were among those who spent the day basking in the feeling of being in the big leagues.
“Minneapolis is finally on the map. My son has something to brag to his friends about,” Reyes said. “We can’t wait for the Super Bowl.”
That’s when the Twin Cities will get its next chance to strut on the big scene — for 2018’s NFL championship game at the next new stadium, going up on the opposite side of downtown.
It’s safe to say that, too, will be a cool day.
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