Nobody saw this coming.
A team that had for the past decade been mediocre at best and terrible at worst wasn’t supposed to have a season like this.
Wasn’t supposed to put fans in the seats and baseballs in the bleachers, transforming itself into the most fearsome collection of sluggers in Major League Baseball’s 150-year history.
But the 2019 Minnesota Twins ignored the prognosticators and delighted their fans, bashing their way into the postseason playoffs and setting up a confrontation Friday night with the evil empire — the New York Yankees. Twins ace Jose Berrios will head to the mound for the good guys, with the first pitch scheduled for 6:07 p.m. at Yankee Stadium.
As her beloved Twins take the field, Mary Wadlow will be watching at a party in a Minneapolis bar, wearing the jersey of her favorite player, outfielder Max Kepler, whom she’s been following ever since she saw him play for the Twins’ farm team in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“It’s order in the chaos,” Wadlow said, explaining her love of the game and her hopes for the Twins this weekend. “There’s 27 outs, three strikes.
“When you’re sitting at a baseball game, it’s all that gooey ‘Field of Dreams’ stuff without James Earl Jones.”
Wadlow, a customs broker who lives in Apple Valley, has surrounded herself with mementos of her favorite team, which she’s followed since she moved to Minnesota about 20 years ago. Her spare bedroom contains about 40 Twins bobbleheads, including a Gardy Gnome (after former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire) and a bobblehead recreation of former first baseman Kent Hrbek tagging — or wrestling — Ron Gant of the Atlanta Braves in a controversial play during the 1991 World Series.
She’s got signed bats, signed balls, jerseys and blankets. She’s got the giveaway hat from the first Twins game she attended in 1999, the start of her fandom. It’s from a “Turn the Clock Forward” game against the Seattle Mariners, in which the players wore futuristic uniforms. Twins third baseman Corey Koskie hit a grand slam, and she was hooked.
“It’s a way to relive it,” she said of her love of Twins memorabilia. “The item is attached to the experience.”
Wadlow has attended a Twins game in every major league ballpark but two, and she plans to hit both of those next year.
Her prediction for the series with the hated Yanks? Twins in five games.
“I think this is the year we finally slay the Yankees monster,” she said.
Young, fun and bombas
Throughout the Twin Cities, fans old and new have been thrilled by this team’s sudden emergence.
“It’s been a great season,” said Les Svendsen of Minneapolis, who’s followed the club since it arrived from Washington, D.C., in 1961. “Totally unexpected, which has made it all the more fun.”
Nick Haukom of Chaska was a toddler when the Twins won their first World Series in 1987. One of the first words he learned to say was “Kirby,” as in “Puckett,” the Hall of Fame center fielder who led the team to two world championships.
“It seems the team has a lot of fight,” he said. “A lot of the players are new, so they may not have that fear of the Yankees.”
David Limberg of Burnsville called the team’s season “incredible — to get over 100 wins with people you hardly know, and now everybody knows them.”
As good as the Twins have been this year, fans say, it’s a young team with the promise of more great seasons ahead.
“We have something to look forward to,” said Derrick Williams of St. Louis Park, “if we can keep them together until they want the big paydays.”
Therese Matykiewicz of Scandia confessed to a feeling of maternal protectiveness.
“They were so young,” she said. “As a mom … it was a little more stressful” watching them play.
And then, of course, there were the bombas. The Twins set a big league record with 307 home runs. Five of their players hit more than 30 homers, another record. Twins fans can recall entire decades that went by without even one Twins player reaching that mark.
“They were just a fun team to watch with the bombas,” said Ryan Pearson of Minneapolis, a fan since the early 1980s. “As a longtime Twins fan, it was fun to see the stadium packed.”
Before the season, baseball experts picked the Twins to finish in the middle of the pack. ESPN ranked the team in the lower half of the field, at No. 17 of 30 clubs. NBC Sports ranked them No. 18. Star Tribune sportswriters also rated them as a middling club, predicting a win total somewhere in the mid-80s.
Instead, the team won 101 of 162 games, the fourth-best record in baseball and the second-best total in the team’s 59-year history.
A few baseball outlets saw the promise, however. USA Today suggested the team could contend for a wild-card playoff spot, and Baseball America called the Twins “a sleeper playoff candidate.”
Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has been a Twins fan for as long as he can remember. As a boy, his mother taught him and his brother how to ride the bus from their Minneapolis home to Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, where the Twins played until the early 1980s. They’d make a day of it, attending a baseball clinic in the morning and staying after the game to get autographs.
Rybak claims to be the only person who predicted the Twins would win the World Series in 1987 and 1991 — “because I pick them to win it every year,” he said with a laugh.
“This is absolutely the best Twins team ever,” added Rybak, now president of the Minneapolis Foundation. “Along with being great, they are just a ton of fun to watch.”
After each Twins win, Rybak tweets out a rhyming couplet about the game, and he’s composed one that sums up the year:
“When Twins season ends
It’s usually a bummer
But now they’re the boys of fall
And not just the summer.”