Twins fans step into future, while remembering the past.
From her perch high above third base in Section 219, Sheila Heath inhaled the fresh air swirling around Target Field, smiled at her younger brother and uttered nine simple words that summed up Monday afternoon on the western edge of downtown Minneapolis:
"This is how baseball is supposed to be played."
Then Heath looked down toward the freshly cut grass, glanced at the spruce trees growing in center field, savored the aroma of charred sausages and shrugged.
For many of the 39,715 fans at the Twins' historic home-opening victory over Boston, the first taste of the team's outdoor future triggered a flood of memories.
"It makes me miss my Dad," Heath said. "He would have loved this place."
Bill Heath, who died around Opening Day in 1999, once hopped a freight train in the 1930s to report to work as an infielder for the McCook Generals, a low-level minor league team in Nebraska. In 1961, he pulled Sheila and her brother, Mike, out of school in Bloomington and took them to the first home game in Twins history at Metropolitan Stadium. She was 11; Mike was 10.
They were together again Monday under the sun at the ballpark. She's now 61, a retired elementary school teacher and administrator from Minneapolis. He's 60, a retired financial compliance officer from East Bethel.
"We've been waiting years for this moment," Mike Heath said. "We bought season tickets the last two years at the Dome just for this moment. And it couldn't be better."
Unless perhaps you were Preston Degerman, an 11-year-old from Moorhead who skipped school -- "my teacher said she's jealous'' -- to travel to the stadium to watch the game with his dad, Roger. Preston has grown up listening to his dad tell stories about how his late Grandpa Carl would drive Roger from their home in Bemidji to the Twin Cities for one homestand every summer. That's when Hall of Famer Rod Carew was batting a Major League-leading .388 and playing second base for the 1977 Twins.
Flash forward to noon Monday at Gate 29, numbered in honor of Carew, who stood in person on the other side of the locked gate. Roger hollered ".388" at Carew, who grinned, threw his arm around young Preston, put the kid's mitt on his hand and ushered the father and son into the park as the first fans to enter Gate 29.
"I spent my childhood chasing after Carew for an autograph, and Preston walks through the gate with him. Wow!" Roger Degerman said afterward. "I couldn't have written a better script."
Preston smiled and seemed only slightly less awestruck. "My glove should work good now," he said. "I'm never getting rid of this thing."
Like many of the fans, Roger Degerman couldn't stop gushing.
"This is like an intimate palace and everything just smells and tastes better in an outdoor ballpark," he said. "It's poignant and hits home and makes me remember my dad taking me to the Met every summer." Complaints were few and far between. Even the weather came to play.
Forecasts calling for a 50 percent chance of showers gave way to a sunny, 65-degree afternoon with a 10-mph breeze blowing in from left field as the Twins put two runs on the massive center field scoreboard in the first inning.
And after the fans sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch, outfielder Jason Kubel cracked Target Field's first home run for a 5-1 home team lead.
Glitches? There were a few.
Fans looking to buy programs in the upper deck couldn't find any upstairs. And many found it difficult to identify the hitters bashing batting-practice balls onto the plaza beyond right field. Team owner Jim Pohlad said the club should put the swingers' names on the scoreboard so fans know who's at bat, even in practice.
Other than that, most seemed to approve. And there were some quirky reminders that they aren't in the Metrodome anymore. To wit: A maintenance man's walkie-talkie squawked: "I need someone to light the fire pit on the party deck."
Brenda Stoel, the postmaster in Prinsburg, Minn., arranged for a sub to take her shift so she could take it all in.
"It's gorgeous and the sun just adds to a perfect day," she said.
Mike Bastian skipped three classes at the University of Minnesota.
"It's amazing and I couldn't be happier," he said. "And I really should get extra credit because I'm majoring in sports management."
Nobu and Takako Miyamoto brought their two young daughters all the way from Japan to check out the Twins' new digs. He used to work as a Mayo Clinic researcher in Rochester and they named their 2-year-old Cori.
"We liked Corey Koskie so we gave her his name," Nobu said. "We love this place and the Twins."
Even up in the 16th and last row of Section 330 out in left field, where Mike Roberts was bouncing his 17-month-old son, Boden, on his knee, the view was spectacular.
"When the view from the last row is this good," Roberts said, "that ain't bad."
On the light-rail ride to the game, freckle-faced Matthew Bell, 8, of Eagan, decked out in a Twins shirt, cap and backpack, asked his father, Andy, "Why did they need to build another stadium if the Metrodome is so close?"
Tracked down later in Section 303 in the right field corner, wide-eyed Matthew looked around, smiled and said, "Now I know."
Curt Brown • 612-673-4767