Twins are losing, but Minnesota has a great ballpark to show off.
Tuesday’s All-Star Game will be the third played in the Twin Cities since major league baseball arrived in 1961. Oddly enough, the 1965 and 1985 games were mostly about the games themselves, back when a big event didn’t have to try so hard to be a big event.
The names alone on the ’65 National League roster were enough to make the occasion monumental. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Willie Stargell, Ron Santo, Joe Torre, Frank Robinson and Billy Williams were all on the way to the Hall of Fame when they stopped by Metropolitan Stadium, the old erector set on Cedar Avenue, to beat the American League, 6-5.
The losing side — along with the likes of Al Kaline, Carl Yastrzemski and Brooks Robinson — included six Twins: Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Zoilo Versalles, Earl Battey, Jimmie Hall and Mudcat Grant. By October, those players would lead their team, and Minnesota fans, to their first World Series.
Twenty years later, a next generation of All-Stars gathered under the Metrodome’s synthetic billow, and again the National League prevailed, 6-1, overcoming an American League ensemble that included George Brett, Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Jack Morris. The Twins were a bad team by then and could manage only one representative — Tom Brunansky — although Kent Hrbek had appeared in the 1982 game. But Minnesota was loaded with youthful promise. Players like Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti and Frank Viola would soon be All-Stars themselves and would, over the next six years, propel their team to its greatest heights.
This year’s All-Star event has grown into a five-day festival that expects to attract 160,000 visitors and $75 million. But the host team is back in the dumps. Grumpy Minnesota fans can tick off the names of former Twins who are now starring for other teams: David Ortiz, Carlos Gomez, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau, J.J. Hardy, Denard Span, Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour, Vance Worley, Michael Cuddyer, Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse, R.A. Dickey and Pat Neshek. In that sense, it’s possible to see the game less as a celebration for the local team than an embarrassment.
The Twins do have a megastar to show off, however: Target Field, the stylish new ballpark that opened in 2010. Our hope is that Tuesday’s game, aside from offering a well-earned farewell to retiring Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter, will finally give Target Field the national attention it deserves.
The decade of political anguish that preceded the ballpark’s approval is worth recalling. The public’s financial contribution was a bitter pill for a state that’s more idealistic than most. But Hennepin County — and especially commissioner Mike Opat — saved baseball in the Twin Cities. Without the county, there would be no All-Star Game here tomorrow, and, quite likely, no team in Minnesota.
As for the ballpark itself, designers and builders converted an impossible site — small, tight and multi-leveled — into an absolute gem. Target Field is as cozy as the classic parks of a century ago. But its clean lines, warm native stone, glassy outcroppings and sleek canopy give off a vibe that’s modernist, joyful and forward-leaning.
Its function, too, matches the times. It is simultaneously a ballpark, a transit station, two civic plazas and a model for eco-friendly construction. Its seamless fit into the North Loop district makes it a triumph of urban design.
It’s too bad that the team’s talent for architecture exceeds its talent for baseball, at least for the moment. But perhaps that’s a reason for Twins fans, now enduring yet another miserable season, to relish tomorrow’s opportunity to watch the world’s very best players in one of the world’s very best ballparks. For true baseball fans, that alone should make this All-Star Game a match made in heaven — or close to it.
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