Once in a generation, Minnesota plays host to a field of realized dreams.
Pity cities less fortunate.
Tuesday night, a gorgeous ballpark in the heart of a picturesque city will frame the greatest baseball players in the world. The All-Star Game, which previously graced creaky Met Stadium and the unsightly Metrodome, will stuff Target Field with astonishing talent and guaranteed poignancy.
Yankees star Derek Jeter will remember Target Field as the place he took his last All-Star at-bat. “I don’t even know how I’m going to feel,” he said.
Twins star Glen Perkins, a lifelong Minnesotan who chose to play for the Gophers and sign long-term, at a discount, with his hometown team, is bound to make his first All-Star appearance in his home park, after being left in the bullpen last year. “I can calculate a lot of numbers, like what percentage of the balls put into play turn into hits,” said the avid Sabermatrician. “But I can’t calculate the odds of me growing up here and getting to play in an All-Star Game here.”
Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki can envision the perfect ending: him catching a Perkins fastball for the last out of the game. “That’s what I’m pulling for,” he said.
For every Twin in the game, there seem to be a half-dozen ex-Twins wandering around Minneapolis.
Pat Neshek, who grew up in Brooklyn Park, endured the heartbreak of his first son’s death and has revitalized his career this season with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Justin Morneau returned to Target Field for the first time since he was traded last season, and participated in the Home Run Derby on Monday night, receiving the kind of ovation he heard so often during his MVP season of 2006.
And Carlos “Go-Go” Gomez, nicknamed one of the “Loose Cannons” by Twins manager Ron Gardenhire when he played at the Metrodome, vows to “put on a show” Tuesday, not out of spite for his former team but because that’s what he tries to do every game. “If I hit a ball to the wall, do you want me to put on the brakes at second base?” he said with a large smile. “I don’t think so.”
The 85th All-Star Game is a success, and it hasn’t even been played.
The event brings with it satellites of activity and attention, prompting Minnesotans to celebrate what downtown Minneapolis has become, and what Target Field, by consensus, is: one of the best ballparks anywhere.
Build it, and they will come: superstars and charming underdogs, baseball executives and rapt fans, national media and celebrities. For a few days, this is the home of Clydesdales and Miggy Cabrera. Watching Rickey Henderson slow-trot a home-run hit over a short fence in a celebrity softball game might have been worth the price of construction alone.
It’s hard to walk two blocks this week without seeing a Hall of Famer like Rod Carew … or St. Paul baseball royalty, in the form of Jack Morris … or one of those quasi-celebrities who makes you Google something like “Short rapper with funny hat.”
Sundays before the All-Star Game once were reserved for player travel. This Sunday, Target Field held the Futures Game, featuring a remarkable assemblage of young talent; a celebrity softball game in which Adrian Peterson hacked at a fastball from Jennie Finch; and fireworks that exploded in the gloaming and above the skyline. Monday, rain delayed the Home Run Derby but yielded to a rainbow that seemed to spring from the scoreboard.
“I don’t know if there’s a better park in baseball,” said former Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek. “And you know what? You look toward left, and this could be Cleveland, or a few other parks. But if you sit on the third base side and look toward right, with that skyline, and see the whole ballpark glow under the lights, that’s as good as it gets.”
In the All-Star Game, Minnesotans receive the rare, emotionally safe, big-time sporting event, one offering buzz but no heartbreak. There will be no Brett Favre or Gary Anderson moment on Tuesday night.
With Joe Mauer injured, Perkins is the de facto player host of this event. He said he’d be happy to act as a spokesman for the city or the ballpark, if that were necessary.
“But I don’t have to sell this place,” he said. “Players know. I hear from players on other teams all the time about how much they love this ballpark, and how much they love coming to town. We’ve got it pretty good.”
Morneau, in fact, planned to vacation during the All Star break at a lake resort in Minnesota. He didn’t divulge an itinerary on Monday but hinted he’ll be there by Tuesday afternoon.
Minnesotans have been able to cheer for everybody from Zach Parise to Andrew Zimmern to Morneau at Target Field this week. Early Tuesday night, they will get a chance to bid farewell to Jeter, a player of uncommon accomplishment and class.
Jeter will lead off for the American League in the bottom of the first. Monday afternoon, sitting at a dais, looking sleek and polished as a gemstone, Jeter was asked whether he would savor the inevitable ovation, or focus on getting a hit.
“I’ll savor the moment,” he said. “Then I’ll try to get a hit.”
Something memorable will happen tonight, whether Perkins earns the save, or Jeter merely tips his cap.
Jim Souhan can been heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10-noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org