Sun-splashed fans taking in Thursday’s Twins game couldn’t stop talking about their favorite players. Or how great Target Field is. Even the team’s World Series victories in 1987 and 1991.

But discussion about one of the top teams in baseball going to the playoffs this year? Bite your tongue.

“We don’t want to jinx things,” said Mike Roberts, who came to the game with his son and a daughter-in-law. “The Vikings do a much better job of breaking our hearts.”

Beautiful weather aside, the too-good-to-be-true 2019 version of the Twins brought a mix of slightly curious and hard-core fans. Many dusted off lucky jerseys of past players, yet nearly no shirts could be found boasting past division or championship titles.

While children played on statues of Kirby Puckett and Harmon Killebrew on the ballpark plaza, people groused about pregame traffic jams and full parking ramps. Some had waited an hour for friends to maneuver congested downtown Minneapolis streets in search of an elusive space.

Fans have tried to avoid commuting issues by taking light rail and the bus. Ridership to Target Field has increased by 25,000 passengers compared to this time last year, said Drew Kerr, Metro Transit public relations specialist. He recommended Park & Ride lots as another option, especially for day games. Another option some fans turned to — zipping to the game on scooters.

Brandon Scherber came to the game from Zimmerman on a packed Northstar line with his 5-year-old son, Harry, who said he hit three home runs in T-ball games this week. It was the boy’s first train ride, and his father said he was pumped to see the Twins and try to catch a foul ball.

A hunger to tune in

If people aren’t coming to the ballpark, they are watching Twins games on television in record numbers. Ratings on Fox Sports North are currently up 38% from last year, and the Twins game against the Milwaukee Brewers on Memorial Day was the highest-rated game in May in the network’s history.

“The same excitement we see on the field, and at the ballpark, is also being reflected in the ratings,” said Mike Dimond, senior vice president and general manager for Fox Sports North. “There is a palpable and genuine enthusiasm for this team.”

And winning teams translate to huge ticket sales. Twins senior vice president of ticket sales Mike Clough has been with the team as long as they have been at Target Field. More than 32,000 people attended Thursday’s game, and the past three weeks have been the largest season group sales in the history of Target Field, he said. The next six games against Kansas City and Boston are expected to be sellouts.

“Well, yeah, I mean the crowds are great. I also think a lot of people are looking forward to this weekend, too, with Joe [Mauer] being here and everything going on around the ceremony and everything,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli., referring to the retirement of the former star’s number. “But having a nice full stadium, the energy associated with that. The players, the staff, everyone here — we feel it. When you walk out there before the game starts, and you open the door and you walk into the dugout, and you see a stadium that’s already full or filling.”

Sporting a Miguel Sano jersey he bought three years ago, Kyle Ratke may be the rare Twins fan who has seen the team lose three times this year. He said it’s easy to forget how fun summer can be when the home team is winning. He broke his losing streak Thursday after the Twins beat the Mariners.

Machelle Meekin and Sue Woodcock planned to attend Thursday’s game months before the team became one of the best in baseball. If it had rained, another plan may have been on the agenda, they admitted.

“We’ve come to other games, including the first game ever played at Target Field,” said Woodcock. “We wanted to relive the dream.”

Robert Howat and Scott Leal are work buddies who get together to see Twins games. Leal, who comes in from Atlanta, started bragging to his friend about the Braves’ first-place baseball standing. Howat and Leal have known each other since they played high school baseball against each other in Chicago.

“I’m totally excited about the Twins. Are you kidding me? Who would have thought?” said Howat, who was wearing a Rod Carew jersey.

Going to Twins games was a family tradition for Nikki Rebischke, and now she was exposing her young daughters, Sydney and Sophie, to the ballpark experience. They were adorned in pink Twins shirts and Mom brought baseball gloves, but “they are probably more excited about the food,” she said.

Rob Hunegs has been passionate about sports all his life. He’s 70 years old, and he puts in 70 hours a week at his shop, Twin Cities Sports Cards.

“My wife thinks it’s crazy,” he said of his long hours.

Hunegs recalls a time when Twins merchandise was in less demand. “Oh, you couldn’t give them away,” he said. “People are finally talking about the Twins.”

It hasn’t necessarily translated to purchases at Hunegs’ store, but he hopes for more business as the season goes on.

“The kids are becoming more interested, and they’re finally asking about the Twins. I think if this continues, even another 30 days, say to July 4th, it’s going to make a big impact,” he said.

If the Twins’ pitching holds up, Hunegs hopes they’ll make it to the playoffs.

Apparently he didn’t receive the “keep it under your hat” memo about the team’s postseason chances.

 

Staff writers La Velle E. Neal contributed to this report.