Outside for a home playoff game for the first time since 1970, Twins face a familiar roadblock: the Yankees.
Fans often brag that they bleed their team's colors.
Patrick Kleinschrodt did his best to live the boast this year.
When the regular season opened in April, Kleinschrodt put the grill and the tailgating supplies in his friend's small pickup and headed to the swank new ballpark, only to be hit by a school bus that ran a stop sign.
"The pickup was totaled, I was rushed to the emergency room and got seven stitches on my left eyelid," he said. "But the doctors were quick and we ended up running about a mile from Hennepin County Medical Center and made it by the middle of the second inning to see the Twins win."
Tonight, Kleinschrodt and his girlfriend, Leah Hoechst, will be among the 40,000 Homer Hanky-fluttering fans who will pour into Target Field for the playoff opener against the dreaded Yankees, thanks to a Twins website raffle that netted them a couple of standing-room-only tickets.
"We don't need a seat because we wouldn't sit down anyway," said Kleinschrodt, a 25-year-old Sun Country airport ramp worker from Eagan. "And even though the Twins have had their issues with the Yankees, I'm optimistic. The Twins seem to have something going and this could be the year."
Never mind that the Twins have won only two of 11 postseason games against the guys in the pinstripes since 2003 and only 16 of 61 regular-season matchups since 2002. Forget about the Twins' 2-8 record in the 10 games since clinching their sixth American League Central title in nine years.
On the eve of Game 1, Target Field was calm before the storm. Some lucky fans, such as Pat Yelk of Brooklyn Park, wandered up to the ticket window and actually landed two lower-level tickets that the Yankees, Major League Baseball or someone had returned Tuesday.
"My wife was running errands and dropped me off," Yelk said. "She'll be thrilled. Now we just need a victory."
At the nearby Twins store at Target Field, Sue Johnson of Savage plucked down $49 for a pink hooded sweatshirt.
"My sons are 23 and 22 and they won't steal something that's pink and girly," she said.
Lois Kapteina of Edina bought a couple of winter caps for her sons, including 14-year-old Andrew, who was taking a science test and not yet aware that Mom had scored a couple of tickets for Game 2 of the American League Championship.
"Now we just need to beat the Yankees," she said.
A 40-year hiatus
The rising enthusiasm is in sharp contrast to the last time the Twins played an outdoor home playoff game.
On Oct. 4, 1970, the weather was just as nice as this week's, but only 27,608 showed up to see the Baltimore Orioles complete a three-game sweep of the Twins.
Fred Crorkin was supposed to be hawking his wares downtown as a Dixie Cup salesman at a Minneapolis Auditorium convention. But he skipped out early and headed to Bloomington to see that game 40 years ago.
"I remember telling my buddy I was going to see if we could pull one out, which of course we didn't," said Crorkin, 81. One of the Twins' longest-running season-ticket-holders, Crorkin has given his son-in-law his Target Field fifth-row seats to Game 1. He'll be watching at home in Richfield on the new 50-inch TV his kids bought him and his wife for their 60th anniversary.
"The Yankees are kind of scary," he said.
George Mitterwald will also be watching the game on TV.
Mitterwald, 65, the Twins catcher a generation before Joe Mauer, hit a double in the sixth inning of that 1970 game, the Twins' last outdoor playoff hit at home.
Like many Twins fans, Mitterwald is a bit worried about the Twins post-clinching troubles. He remembers playing in 1969 for Twins manager Billy Martin, before he took his volatile act on to the Yankees.
"Billy Martin used to always say you need to get momentum late in the season because baseball isn't like a faucet," Mitterwald said. "You can't turn it on and off."
A new song trumpeting the Twins' return to outdoor baseball is helping to pump up the fans, however.
Edina native and Breck alumnus Craig Finn of the band the Hold Steady wrote the lyrics and sings lead vocals on "Don't Call Them Twinkies." The tune is getting some airplay on the Current, 89.3-FM (click on: theholdsteady.net/category/news).
"From Nicollet to Hennepin, from St. Paul to St. Cloud, the Minnesota Twins are making Minnesota proud," sings Finn, who takes a shot at the Yankees' massive payroll when he points out "we don't buy our titles" (never mind Mauer's $184 million deal).
Finn's band will be in New York on Thursday when the Twins and the Yankees play Game 2 at Target Field. Those checking out his act at New York's Beacon Theatre probably wouldn't get the Bemidji reference, but Finn's lyrics include this spot-on rhyme:
"From Mankato up to Brainerd, from Burnsville to Bemidji, now we're playing outdoor baseball and that's the way it should be."
In a phone interview from his tour, Finn said he'll ask the tour manager to push back the 9 p.m. gig if Game 2 goes into extra innings.
"Since I've moved to Brooklyn, the Yankees have become even more irritating," said Finn, 39. "But they staggered late in the season and didn't even win their division, so they're not as dominant as last year. I think there is reason for cautious optimism."
Curt Brown • 612-673-4767