There's nothing like arriving at a ballpark four hours before first pitch. It's silent then, so the sound of Nelson Cruz swatting an early batting practice pitch into the seats reverberates throughout the stadium.
Sometimes no one is out for early work, allowing one to revel in the silence — unless you're entering one of the cathedrals of baseball — such as Boston's Fenway Park, where former Twins catcher Tom Prince once said, "The ghosts talk to you here."
Eventually, those intoxicating sounds of baseball take over. Batting practice begins, the gates open for fans, music is pumped, pregame ceremonies are held, the national anthem is played, and it all crescendos when the first pitch is thrown. Then you're settling in for three hours of entertainment — and not wanting to be anywhere else in the world.
There's nothing like watching a baseball stadium come to life.
For 23 seasons with the Star Tribune and three before that with the Kansas City Star, I never tired of the routine. The ballpark was my office. Covering baseball has allowed me to see the great cities of this country and how baseball is celebrated.
I became a sportswriter with the desire to write baseball. To be a seamhead, as they used to say in the business. And I did that for 26 seasons.
But a wonderful opportunity to write about more than that has presented itself. You will now get to read my thoughts on the local and national sports scene as I join a group of uber-talented and entertaining Strib sports columnists.
Surely, many of you have questions or concerns about this move. You're used to seeing my byline above a baseball story. Change can be hard, but I'm here to help with the transition in the form of a self-Q & A about my new role. I can't wait to see how I answer myself.
Q You're the new Sid, aren't you?
A Look, all you geniuses out there have another thing coming if you think I'm trying to become the next Sid Hartman. I don't intend to live until 100, first of all. Secondly, I have a lot of close personal friends in town who know that I'm out to blaze my own trail. Thirdly, I don't think Sid's parking spot at the U is available anymore, so I couldn't bug AD Mark Coyle and all the coaches over there anyway.
Seriously, there was and always will be only one Sid Hartman. I just want to share my perspective while being as entertaining as possible. Now, If I'm still writing this column 45 years from now, we can revisit this.
Q Does this mean more Bears and soccer coverage?
A I had nothing to do with being born in Chicago. I now have a responsibility to call it as I see it with the Purple and their opponents. Right now I'm baffled by how much criticism Kirk Cousins receives when the 2020 Vikings were flawed in so many other ways. Some fans here are dreaming of trading No. 8 and I think that's nuts. I see parallels between Cousins and another local athlete who could do little right after signing a big contract.
As for the other football, I look forward to writing about Minnesota United. Part of my journey here was proving myself as a young scribe. While working in Kansas City, I covered the U.S.-Brazil match during the 1994 World Cup, which is still the highlight of my career.
The Loons are coming off a run to the MLS semifinals. The national team has a Golden Generation of young and immensely talented players to show off. It will be worth following The Beautiful Game this summer.
Q Your arrival comes in the middle of the social justice movement. How do you plan to view sports through that lens?
A I'm heartbroken over the state of race relations in this country and how difficult it is to talk meaningfully about solutions. We can't move forward as a society without dialogue. We have to do this together.
Sports in 2020 will be remembered in part for athletes making a stand. Baseball is not known for athletes making political statements, but many players knelt during the national anthem on Opening Day while teams held a ribbon in support. That was significant. Byron Buxton, who was on the injured list at the time, drove from Minneapolis to Chicago just to take part in the event with his Twins teammates.
Athletes, locally and nationally, are backing up their statements about change with action, and that will not be overlooked here.
Q Really? Shouldn't you just stick to baseball?
A I've had a fulfilling 23-year run here covering baseball, but the journey has been more than that. I helped on the Wolves beat in my early years, did a couple of Vikings notebooks and covered prep cross-country and postseason football when we were shorthanded. And there was about a three-year run of covering an annual Bethel football game.
Best non-baseball event I covered: the 2007 showdown between St. Thomas Academy and Minneapolis Washburn for a berth in the prep football quarterfinals. While our prep writers were at the Bruce Springsteen concert at Xcel that night, I watched Washburn rally from 14 points down to take a late lead. St. Thomas scored with 1.4 seconds left, then went for two and the win, but Ra'Shede Hageman blew up a rush attempt to end the game. Washburn 42, St. Thomas 41. The Cadets' quarterback had one of greatest names I've ever typed: Foley Schmidt.
So it hasn't been all baseball.
Q Wait, before you leave, what are your thoughts about the Twins?
A The 2021 Twins should end up with at least 90 wins and another AL Central title despite the rise of the athletically superior Chicago White Sox. The Twins are going to score runs. Alex Kirilloff will take over in left field and get off to a fast start before the league adjusts. How quickly he responds will determine how his season goes. The top five starters can lead them to the division title, but there's not a lot of depth behind it.
They have difference-makers in Buxton and Josh Donaldson who need to stay out of the trainer's room. I think they will be on the field enough for the Twins to win at least 94 games, then deal with that 18-game playoff losing streak in October.
The Twins are just one story line as my journey heads down a new path. The Chris Finch era is just beginning with the Wolves. Kirill Kaprizov is the Wild's best offensive prospect since Marian Gaborik. Coyle has a tough decision ahead about the Gophers men's basketball program. The Lynx crushed it in free agency. And the NFL draft isn't far away.
It's a good time to get involved. It should be a lot of fun.
And there's nothing like entering a new role that could be a lot of fun.