A tiny crew of cheerfully dedicated Twins fans showed up Tuesday at Target Field for the 2020 home opener — despite being locked out of the ballpark because of the pandemic.
Two hours before the 7:10 p.m. game time, Luke Widbin and Nathan Heerts had front-row seats with no view of the game.
“We’re going to stay here as long as we legally can,” said Widbin, a 31-year-old baseball coach at Northwestern University-St. Paul, who popped open a portable chair along with former Northwestern pitcher Heerts, 25, of Minneapolis.
They set their chairs outside the metal gates surrounding shuttered Gate 34, Target Field’s downtown-facing entrance near the fan-favorite catcher’s mitt sculpture. Translucent images of Twins players wrapped the gates, blocking a clear view of the field.
In a normal year, the Twins would have played their first home game in late March or early April. The ballpark plaza would have been buzzing with fans in knit caps and jackets buoyed by baseball’s promise of spring, summer and a pennant race. They would have arrived around midday to eat and drink in bars surrounding the ballpark.
But this is not a normal year and there was only a trickle of fans in downtown Minneapolis taking in the opener. Many popular bars were shuttered. Gluek’s had a “Black Lives Matter” board across its door and a “Rest in Power George Floyd” sign on the big front window. Kieran’s Irish Pub patio on Block E, normally spilling over with fans on big game nights, was closed.
As people work from home during the pandemic, downtown Minneapolis is a much quieter place these days, and the ghost-town feel carried over into Tuesday night. Not only did COVID-19 force Major League Baseball to delay its opening until last week, the 60-game season carries the caveat that fans can’t watch the game at the ballpark.
The LED sign above the closed Twins ticket windows encouraged fans to “stay home when able,” and to “wear a mask.”
Just before the start of the game, the crowd outside the gate had swelled to about two dozen. On a grassy area near the Target Field LRT station, about 40 people were waiting to watch the game on a big screen.
Listening for the bats
But some fans weren’t entirely dissuaded.
Tony Voda, a 36-year-old reinsurance analyst from Plymouth, put on a Twins cap, face mask and T-shirt and biked down to Target Field.
“Me and a buddy have gone to every home opener since 2010. So we’re meeting here, then watching the game at home,” he said.
Voda noted the contrast with the “party atmosphere” of Target Field’s 10 previous openers.
“It’s not [a party], which is also a good thing because everyone’s taking it seriously,” he said, referring to the pandemic.
Greg Rotunda, who wore a Brad Radke jersey and a Twins cap, drove in from Carver with wife Christy and three kids, Morgan, 11, Cameron, 9, and Teagan, 6, to also keep his opening-day streak alive.
“I just wanted to come down to say I was here at some point during the day,” Rotunda said, adding that he, too, has been to every Target Field home opener.
He looked around and pondered the moment. “It’s weird. It’s different,” he said. “It’s nice that they’re playing again but it is kind of sad to have an opening day and not be able to go to the game.”
Nearby, Emily Clausman stood in her whimsical hot dog headpiece to record a video for her social media page.
“I’m a super fan but I would never want baseball at the expense of anyone’s health or life,” she said. “Today is just another reminder we’re in this together.”
Season-ticket holders Rick and Ronna Gerber of Circle Pines had purchased more-expensive seats this year that were closer to the field. They drove in hours before game time to load up on new caps and shirts with their son Erik, who was visiting from Riverside, Calif. They planned to pick up dinner and gather at home to watch the game with other family members.
“It makes me sadder now that I’m down here,” Rick Gerber said. “We should be sitting in there on a nice summer night watching the game.”
From outside Target Field, there was no clear view into the ballpark.
But hours before game time, bats could be heard hitting balls during practice, just what the coach and his former pitcher were hoping for.
“Maybe we’ll at least hear some of the sounds and we’ll just enjoy a nice night,” said Widbin, who was wearing the cap of the Twins’ opponent this evening, the St. Louis Cardinals. Widbin said the Twins and Cards are his two favorite teams.
Heerts, a full-on Twins fan, was relaxed despite the obstructed view of the field. “We’ll listen to it on the radio and experience it as best we can,” he said.